When I signed up to do my first marathon in 2005, I was told that a lot of getting through a marathon is mental. I mean, you do have to train for it, but if your body can get through the first part, your mind will get you through the rest. That year, we only did 18 miles as our longest training run. For those of you counting, that still left 8.2 miles that I had no idea if I could conquer or not. But I did. And I learned that a lot of running IS mental.
So I found it interesting when I got my latest copy of Runner's World magazine in the mail. There is an article in the October issue titled "Think Fast". The tag line is: "Yes, you need to train your legs, but it's really your brain that dictates your pace." Hmmm. So not only is running mental, but your brain controls your pace? My brain must be slow then.
The article is actually very intersting and one of the researchers theorized that when you perform a task, "your brain focuses on the endpoint (a finish line; when the treadmill clock hits 30 minutes), and it works backward from there, calculating how hard you can push yourself and still complete your workout." When I read that sentence, I thought "that makes so much sense". That's why I can push my pace for a 5K (knowing it will be over in less than 30 minutes), but I can't maintain that same pace for a marathon.
I also have problems sometimes when I run on the treadmill. Sometimes I'll get on and say to myself that I will run 4-5 miles. Almost always when I give myself a range, I stop at the lower end. It's mental. So last Thursday, I did a mini experiment. I probably should have run 5 miles. So instead of telling myself I would run 4-5 miles, I told myself I would run 6. Then, if I only ran 5, I would still get in my workout. And you know what? I hit 5 miles without any problems at all, so I went ahead and ran that last mile to get 6 in.
Then Friday night I went out to do a long run. I started out outside and told myself I'd run as far as I could before it got too dark and then I'd finish on the treadmill. I ended up running 7 "easy" miles outside before having to come back inside. I felt like I could have kept going and kept up the pace I was at. But once I hit the treadmill, I felt like I was done. It was a struggle to get in the remaining miles.
So a lot of it IS mental. You still have to do the training, but if you tell yourself you can do it, you can. Which makes me feel good, because I haven't really done as much of the physical training as I should have for the upcoming half ironman I have in two weeks. But, I've done it before so I know I can do the distance, so I have no doubt I can finish. Can't say I'll have a great finishing time, but I should finish within the time limit.