I really do pour my heart into my race recap, and share my fears, my struggles, and my demons with you. It means a lot to me that you enjoy them, and I love that I am able to help you feel like you are not alone. And I have even put all of this together in my Mile 20: Mental Training to Win your Race Course to help you step by step through your own mental freak outs.
Running is such a lonely sport, and at the end of the day, we are out there battling our minds on our own, day after day, so knowing we have others there who are going through the same thing, it just helps.
I had never thought about it that way, but its true. There are a lot of similarities, and we can help one another get through either situation.
Support makes all the difference, and your support of me helps so much
I told you last week that I wanted to dig into meltdowns or freakouts during races.
I am sure there is a more scientific or technical term for this, but I think you will get what I mean, and this is a lesson I would like to share with you.
Most people say that it takes around 6-10 marathons to truly understand it, if you ever do, so I am still at least two away from being considered a trustworthy source, but all I can do is share with you what I noticed, something that made a difference to me, and if it helps you, then fantastic, worth me sharing!
During a race we tend to have both physical freakouts and mental freakouts.
There are the two ways that our bodies panic during a race, and by reading the signals, by approaching them correctly, we can stay on target, and stay consistent.
What is a physical freakout?
The physical freakouts are when your body suddenly experiences symptoms that are very unpleasant or even terrifying.
You may feel the squeeze in your lungs like I felt when I had my panic attack. You may feel a sensation of tingling fingers or cramping. These are warning signs from your body; back off.
For the majority of my racing life, when I was in a race, running as hard as I could, when I reached that moment where my body started to cave in, where the voice in my head was SCREAMING “Mayday! Mayday!”, somehow, that had led to me digging deeper, running faster.
Even though I gave off the body language that said “I am in serious trouble”, I would pass people, my ugly form and through brute force, would power past people. That grit I consider one of my greatest strengths would allow me to push on and get to the finish line.
Steve always used to say to me that the more tired I got, the faster I went. If it was windy, I ran faster into the wind than with the wind. If it was hilly, I ran harder and faster up the hill than down the hills.
This was because of that grit. I did not want to back down, and no matter what my body said, no matter how much it hurt, I was going to force it to get the job done, even if that meant risking my long-term health.
I had tried to use this tactic in the marathon.
When parts of my body started to shut down, I would dig in harder, you do NOT back down. I would take it as an insult, almost punishing my body for showing weakness.
But in the marathon, you cannot do this.
If your body is struggling, and you force it, it will find another way to get your attention, shutting down another part so that you listen.
This is where I had ended up in trouble the first few, how I got to the point where I had to run/walk the last few miles of my first marathon, completely delirious.
The marathon can be cruel, and it does not celebrate heroes or martyrs, it celebrates those who are smart, and those who respect it.
I did not respect it. I believed I was better than it. I am tough, so I can do anything.
However, somewhere along the way, it started to make sense. Your body is giving you that warning sign for a reason. It is telling you something is wrong.
When this happens, when dangerous warning signs hit you, rather than pushing on, thinking that it will get better, it probably wont, and if you do keep forcing it, you will be in trouble.
Okay, so what is an example of this?
If you are running along, pushing yourself, but in control, when suddenly something changes, drastically, that is a serious warning sign.
Or this could also be if something is bothering you, and rather than warming up or easing off, the pain is getting stronger.
In the London marathon, I had these at miles 8, 20, and a BIG one at 25.
When one of those happen, you do need to listen, and by backing off for just a few minutes, you allow your body to “recover” and calm itself down a little, so you can get going again.
Unfortunately, there are no rules when it comes to this. I cannot tell you which symptoms will appear for you, or how bad they have to be to stop, but once again, it comes down to intuition.
You know in your heart whether this is just your mind playing tricks or whether something is seriously wrong.
There is being tough, and then there is being stupid.
If you are too stubborn to listen when your body is screaming out that something is wrong, you are putting your health at risk, and that is more important than anything.
Yes, you may get away with it, but it is only a matter of time until it comes back to bite you, trust me I know.
So when you are in a race, and some kind of physical chink in your armor appears, take a second to listen to what your heart is saying.
Not your head.
Not the part that does not like being in discomfort. Not the part that is afraid of what will happen if you really challenge yourself, but the part of you that keeps you safe.
Now these are the ones you need to battle, you need to recognize that it is a tough patch, and you knew there were going to be tough patches, and if you back off the pace for a few miles, you will be fine, and your legs will come back to you.
For me, it is my breathing. That is my weakness, and something I do intend to work on with Max and Todd this summer (going back to UVA for a 3rd visit!!), but when something goes wrong with my breathing, I know that I HAVE to listen, or I will never make it.
So take some time to think about what your weakness is, and learn to listen to it, try to improve it, strengthen it, and care for it, but if it has become a serious problem in the past, do not let it become a serious problem in the future.
In the past, those were the ones I had always ignored. I had always tried to keep running through the wall, and for the shorter distances, I could get away with them, but for the marathon, if you try to brute force your way through them, you ARE going to pay for it later.
These are the freakouts you need to slow down for.
If you listen to your body, those waves pass, and you can keep going.
If you do not, well, a DNF may be in your not so distant future!
Apologies. I had actually planned on talking about the mental side too, but will save that for another day now, especially as that is the one which can be more difficult to deal with.
What is your weakness? How are you working on it?