Running is mental

Running is mental

What can we do when we don't doubt ourselves?

They say running is mostly mental. That can’t be true of course, because it’s one of the more physically challenging pursuits humans take on. There are days when you are so excited to get out on a run, and the body feels terrible. There are days when you don’t want to go out at all, and the body performs so well. And there are days that fall in between.

A wise soul once told me, “The body follows the path of the mind.”

So, I guess running IS mostly mental. But how, exactly?

After voiding it for 2.5 years, I came down with a mild bout of Covid exactly 6 days before I was slated to race a 5K with a friend. It was her first race and I agreed to run also and support her in all the race day fun.

I was so fortunate to have a truly mild case and the race fell on the first day my quarantine ended. I told myself I would definitely accompany her, I would run a warm up to see how I felt, and if it all felt ok, would run the race. Not RACE, but just run. For fun. After all, I had spent the better part (read: 90%) of the last 5 days in bed.

I changed the view on my watch so I only saw the stats from each mile, not the cumulative time or distance. Since I wasn’t racing, I didn’t need to know any of that. I wanted to run evenly, consistently and neither cared nor considered my pace.

The run felt ok. I was happy to be well enough, happy to be running. Since the time of my last 5K, I committed to a regular strength routine of glutes, abs, and arms - nothing crazy but consistent. While I was running, I felt strong. My body remembered the efforts I had put in at the track, my mind remembered how to handle the desire to give up, and my muscles remembered how to activate with their newly developed strength.

When I can around the last turn, I saw the clock and was shocked to the time, instantly realized I could PR this race and kicked it into high gear, as best I could while trying to figure out how this happened. I did PR the race, but it felt like I didn’t try.

When people say running is mental, they don’t really expand on what that means. I learned in this race it means much more taking a more nuanced approach. It wasn’t about sheer will power to demand a certain time out of my body. It was using my brain to access the tools I’d already built up and decide which tool would be most appropriate to use when. It was also about deciding to remove any expectation from my thought pattern. It wasn’t by choice, but it freed up space in my mind to focus on the curated tool choosing.

It IS all mental, man.

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