Monday, October 21, 2013

Runner's Log #5 - Mental Games

The human brain is a wonderfully amazing complex of tissue.  But the brain is also a chatterbox.  After skipping my long run last week, both to recover from my near death experience in Minnesota and also to be able to run the Arlington 8k with my daughter, a long run this past weekend was a must do.  And so all week long I’ve been receiving little messages from behind my eyes like, ‘Are you crazy or what?’ ‘You’ve lost all your momentum, you’ll never be able to run that far again;’ ‘All those other long runs were a fluke;’ ‘Your real self is about to show up and you won’t even be able to do a 10k.’  It is very annoying to live with a brain that’s saying these sorts of things.

So I put the chatter to the test and did my usual 8 and 9 mile runs during the week and discovered that I could still do them no problem.  Even so, Saturday morning loomed in front of me, like a trip to the dentist – no, (let’s just be age appropriate here) like a colonoscopy.  Ugghh.  I was amazed at how fixated my brain was on this one long run.  I mapped it out.  It was going to be 21 miles.  On a route I’ve been on before.  Moreover I had gone further twice before.  But that hypothermia/hitting the wall thing in the cold rain at Lake Minnetonka rattled my confidence.  So I began to realize midway through the week that, endless loop backtrack aside, this was an important run for me.

I learned from my previous shortcomings and made some adjustments.  I decided to eat my chomps three times en route instead of two and to have three gatorade/water drops instead of two.  I also decided that I would eat something before I started.

So Friday afternoon I did my water drops.  And I packed two packages of chomps in my belt.  I set my alarm for 5 AM and went to bed at 9:30.  But my brain was not finished with me yet.  Starting at 12:30 AM, I woke up every hour antsy about the run.  Eventually 5 AM came and I got up and dressed.  And then Mr. Know-It-All-Between-My-Ears obsessed about how cold it was going to be.  These thoughts took a while to beat back into some semblance of sanity.  At which time I decided to have a bowl of cereal.  Which of course led to another cascade of mental scenarios all revolving around me throwing up at various points on Virginia Highway 250.

At this point there was nothing left to do but drag the contrarian inside my head out the door and start running.  It was dark.  And quiet.  And once I locked into my pace, my running reality kicked in and the obsessive-compulsive naysayer gave way and then disappeared altogether.

Twenty-one miles is a long way.  And it took this middle fifties guy three and a half hours to run it.  But my new food and drink regimen made a huge difference.  I didn’t get cramps of arm or leg pains.  I actually felt pretty good (except for the unexpected and sudden GI incident that sent me bounding over a fence and into the woods for relief!).

All the literature that I’ve read, as well as the people that I’ve talked to who have done this sort of thing have all said that half of training for a marathon is mental.  This past week has demonstrated this truth in spades for me.  And the mental battle is every bit as tough as the physical battle.   

So two more long runs to go.  Then all the plans say to taper off .  And then the race.  But in the meantime, me and my brain are gearing up for another long run this coming Saturday.  23 miles this time.  Only five days away!  Yay.

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