Monday, December 29, 2008

5 ways to make it through the run

Sometimes running feels great. You're not even breaking a sweat. Your body actually feels good. You start to think your marathon dreams aren't such a crazy idea afterall.

But sometimes running just plain sucks. Weird parts of your body hurt. You're overheating or too cold. You start obsessing about what it would be like to walk just this once. Or on the worst days, what it would be like to give up the marathon training completely.

On those dark days you need tricks to get you through. Mental games so you're not counting down each .1 or every other lamp post. They might not be pretty, or make you feel like you deserve your subscription to Runner's World, but they work:

1. Smile. It's so cheesy, but it really does work. I'm a believer in the idea that your face shows what you're feeling inside, and if you can change your face, you can change what you're thinking. Plus, when you're smiling, other runners tend to smile back, (at least when running in my small home town), and that makes you feel like you're not in this whole thing alone, which makes you want to keep going.

2. Play the "if he/she can do it, so can I" game. This one works by conjuring up stories of friends and other people you've met or seen running marathons. Basically, if my friend Jen, who wasn't a runner to start, could run the NYC marathon, so can I. If my friend Holly, who was super in-shape, but seems to believe that anyone can do it, than so can I. If that guy you saw running the NYC marathon with titatanium legs could run the marathon under four hours, so can I. Repeat with any example you can think of until the doubt passes.

3. Sing. Well, for me, it's more like humming/wheezing/singing along to whatever song is on the iPod. This can work for more than 20 minutes or more. You get out of your own head, and the rhythm helps you stay on pace.

4. Plan. Take a future dream entirely unrelated to running. Start breaking it down into parts, thinking through dream scenarios for each little part. For example, what would my dream apartment look like if I could decorate it entirely based on the pages of Domino? Unintended benefit: often other solutions having nothing whatsoever to do with what you're thinking about will pop into your head unprompted.

5. Repeat one word over and over. Sometimes the negative mental loop is unrelenting. Terrible thoughts invade your brain like stormtroopers and you think you'll never be able to beat them. "Why did you sign up for this?" "You're running SLOWER than you did last week--and the three miles feels HARDER, not easier than when you ran four last time." "You said you didn't care about your finish time, but at this rate, you'll be walking half the race and be the last one to finish." Or the worst..."That chubby girl you were growing up is still in there, and she's never going to be able to do this." That's when you bring in the big guns. Like turning up the volume on an old school boombox to cover up the measly iPod speakers, you mentally repeat one word over and over and over until the chatter subsides. I use "in" and "out," along with my breathing when I'm too lazy to think, "om" when I'm feeling woo-woo-y, and "love," when I've been reading a little too much Deepak Chopra. Sometimes it takes five minutes or more, but eventually it works every time.

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