“OMG! You ran a huge PR! Did you feel amazing?!”
I’ve been asked this question a few times since my 4th place finish at the USATF Marathon Championships and my response has been the same every single time.
“Every step over the last 5 miles hurt, I felt like I was running through mud and I couldn’t wait to see the finish line.”
Running PRs are fun BUT they hurt really, really bad about 99.9% of the time–judging from the picture of me at the finish, I’m pretty sure I was in a ton of pain even if I felt nothing after crossing the finish line. How many athletes are interviewed after winning an Olympic medal who tell the media that their performance was easy?? I can’t recall a single one but I could be wrong.
From the time I started running in 7th grade, I can only think of ONE race in my entire career where it felt so dang effortless…1 race in 11 years which probably equals 1 race out of about 150 races. I’ve probably had other races that didn’t hurt too bad but if I were being honest with myself, I wasn’t racing…I was running which probably led to a sub-par result at the finish.
Becoming mentally tough when things get tough in a race isn’t easy and it isn’t mastered overnight but here are 4 things I do (especially in those final 5 miles of the marathon when I am hurting) to help me finish strong and fight through the pain.
- Have a personal motto
I know it sounds corny but I tell myself three things when racing (or workouts) get tough. “I’m strong. I’m confident. I’m fit.” It is simple but powerful. When I first started doing this during my final collegiate track season, I had to make a conscious effort during workouts to repeat this to myself. But 5 years later, it’s second nature…when things get tough, these 3 things pop into my head.
- Break it down
When I started to hurt at mile 21, the last thing I wanted to do was think about mile 26.2 because that seemed so far away. Instead, I took it one mile at a time. There was not a single doubt in my mind that I could run 1 mile at 5:50-5:55 pace. I focused on the moment I was in rather than 5 miles ahead of me. Each mile went by and it was no longer daunting…yes, it hurt but it seemed more manageable.
- Focus on form
Every two or three minutes throughout the final 5 miles, I made sure to mentally dial in and do a checkup on myself. I made a conscious effort to make sure my form was in control and efficient.
- Take a deep breath and smile
I find it crazy that when I take a deep breath and tell myself that I can relax, I actually run faster without trying–or in this case I was able to stay on my pace a tiny bit easier. Anyone who knows me also knows that I smile…a lot. Smiling and enjoying the moment helped me — take advantage of the fans and friends along the course when it’s tough. It’s amazing what focus, a deep breath and a smile can do when your body is in high stress.
Racing is never easy so the best thing is to come to terms with that now. Identify where you can make progress every day whether you are on an easy run or in a workout because you become a great runner in practice not on race day.