By Megan Stansberry
On some days, running just SUCKS. Your legs feel heavy, your breathing seems labored at a slow pace, 3 miles seems to last an eternity – everything feels OFF. You feel like your hopes are dashed for your upcoming race, or you feel like you aren’t improving at all – we are all very skilled at these self-defeating exercises. Sometimes, we even convince ourselves to just not even start the workout or to stop in the middle of it. After all, why should you continue to force something that isn’t enjoyable, right? Wrong. I have found that these moments are actually important to seek out and that they are as much a part of training as the physical aspects. I like to think of mental training much like physical training, and just as you stress your cardiovascular and muscular systems with speed work and high intensity interval training, you should consider stressing your system with mental “speed work”.
One aspect of mental training is what I like to call “embracing the suck”. I think I first started thinking about this when I read about Michael Phelps’ training for the Olympics. In one article, I read that his coach would purposefully get water in Phelps’ goggles right before he started his swim workout – in an effort to help him plan for the unexpected and to still be able to perform well. This led me down the path of thinking that we should invoke obstacles in training – whether physical or mental. To be sure, there will be many surprises and obstacles on race day – to name a few: bad weather, a malfunctioning GPS watch, dead iPod, etc. That being said, one would be ill-prepared for race day if every training run went perfectly.
So, just as you add harder workouts into your training week, seek out mental obstacles to include. For me, sometimes they just happen unexpectedly – stress at work or in personal life, but sometimes I can plan them – running on a “dread”-mill, not using sunglasses on a sunny day, taking a route with lots of stoplights – things like that. The list is inexhaustible! Then, figure out what helps you overcome these obstacles – perhaps with visualizing your success or maybe with a mantra (as simple as “I can do this!”). This practice of embracing obstacles will surely help your running but also at work and in your personal life! Happy training! 🙂