Mentally Training for Boston

(Some of the below was part of a post I wrote for Women’s Running)

If you have been following me on social media or reading here for a bit, you probably know that I am not the strongest racer. It’s been a frustrating couple of years for me. I have these strong, successful training cycles (and yes, they ARE successful cycles even if I didn’t reach my goal on race day). I work my butt off during the cycle, but there was always something missing as each race began— and as a result, I came up well short of my goal.

philly marathon

The mental strength was missing. I had spent months strengthening my body— nailing workouts, completing long runs. But I paid zero attention to the mental side of running. As a result, I was not prepared to quiet the negative thoughts when they started creeping in during the later miles of the marathons. My mind would quit long before my body was ready to. Once the mind gives up, the body doesn’t stand a chance.

Learn to use your mind or your mind will use you. Actions follow our thoughts and images. Don’t look where you don’t want to go. – Gary Mack

After each training cycle, I’ve jumped back into physically training my body to run the time I am capable of. But that’s been the problem. Physically, I have been (and am) prepared to run a PR race. It’s the mental side of racing that has beaten me during marathons the last few years.

The mind messes up more shots than the body. – Tommy Bolt

For a long time I was embarrassed to openly admit that I was a poor racer. I didn’t even think that was my issue because I don’t quit during training runs. I’ve had countless, awesome training runs – both outside and on the treadmill – where I’ve hit paces that surprised even me.

You can’t perform well if you’re afraid of embarrassing yourself. – Ozzie Smith

But it’s a totally different story on race day. I don’t think it’s from nerves. I think it’s more a fear of failing and inability to get out of my own head.

It’s important to look at yourself and identify your gremlins. In sports, as in life, the first step to success is getting out of your own way. – Gary Mack

I am a pace stalker during a race, especially as the race goes on and I start to feel fatigued. I go from checking my Garmin every couple of minutes to checking it every 30 seconds. The MOMENT I see my pace start to slow, I panic. It’s the same exact story every single race. I’ll see the pace slow and I’ll hold on and push for another mile or so. And then once I see anything even 15 seconds slower than “goal” pace, I quit. I think back to NJ in 2013. I was through 18 miles and was still running strong splits. But I looked down and saw a pace I didn’t want to see and was done. I walked off the course by mile 21. Physically, I 100% could have kept going. But mentally, I was done.

(Edited to add) I’m convinced that once my mind gave up, my body completely gave up and all the pain I was feeling was exacerbated. I know I had gone out too fast and I had hit the wall, but looking back, I think if my mind had been stronger, I could have kept moving forward – not at the pace I wanted, but at least moving forward to the finish

. My fear of failure and embarrassment of coming up so short on my goal (sub-3:10) led me to just quit.

The only marathon (where I was racing) in the last few years where this didn’t happen was last year’s NJ Marathon. I wore a Garmin but set the display to only show me total time. It would give mile splits but it took away the ability for me to obsess over my pace. The only thing I could do was run as hard as I could. And even though I didn’t PR, it was a successful race for me because I didn’t let my mind win that day. The last 8 miles were into a 15-20 mph headwind – which was absolutely brutal. My splits, while slower than I had intended, were all steady and consistent (8:00-8:20). I’m not going to make assumptions about what I could have run sans wind. The important thing is that I didn’t walk, I kept running and I didn’t quit. Which, in and of itself, was a HUGE victory for me.

Physical strength will get you to the start line. But mental strength will get you to the finish line.

This training cycle has been different. I’ve spent some time looking inward at myself and focusing on my weaknesses (rather than my strengths) to find ways to improve them.

Build your weaknesses until they become your strengths. – Knute Rockne

Here are some ways I’m focusing on the mental side of running this training cycle:

  • Embrace and acknowledge your weaknesses so that they become your strengths. This was the biggest step I made last fall. Once I came to terms with my weaknesses, I felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. It opened my mind and heart to opportunities and ways to improve my mental stamina.
  • Become a book worm. There are a plethora of great books, guides and self-help books available for you to build your mental “muscle”. My favorite so far has been Mind Gym by Gary Mack.mind gym
  • Visualize race day. I have visualized race day plenty of times in the past. It’s easy to imagine yourself running the last few miles with a smile on your face and a new PR to your name. But I had never visualized the negative. These days I’ve been imagining myself working through the low points of the race so that when it happens, I’ll have the confidence to keep moving.
  • Positive affirmations. Last week, I began standing in front of the mirror and repeating positive mantras to myself that I plan to use on race day.
    • You are strong.
    • You are physically and mentally prepared.
    • You can run this pace for a few more miles.
    • You can do this.
  • Get rid of the self-defeating thoughts. My mind immediately thinks of what I don’t want to happen. “I don’t want to go out too fast. I don’t want to hit the wall. I don’t want to fail.” Rather than filling my mind with things that I don’t want to happen, I’ve been working on filling it up with positive thoughts. “I will start conservatively. I will be ready for the pain of the later miles. I will give it my best.”

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(Note: Most quotes are from Gary Mack’s book, “Mind Gym”)

Do you work on the mental aspect of racing?

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I don’t post here every day, but I post all of my workouts (and other happenings) on Instagram on a daily basis {NYCRunningMama}.

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    15 thoughts on “Mentally Training for Boston

    1. Pingback: 2015 Wineglass Marathon Race Recap – 3:12! |

    2. Pingback: 2015 Boston Marathon -> One Week to Go |

    3. Hopefully men are welcome here too. I like stopping by every once and a while to read your posts. I can relate to many things you have talked about. I’ll be at Boston again this year also. I can’t wait. I’m getting excited already. I’ll be in wave 1 coral 6 bib 5887 if you are in that area stop and say hi. Maybe i’ll see you in the village. You are gonna have a great run. Don’t worry so much. Just relax and run your race. Let it flow. You have trained very hard this winter and you bring all that physical and mental strength to the starting line. Use that power you have built up for the past 16weeks. Stick to your plan. Don’t be afraid to fail, just let it go. You are strong and you are ready. The race is the fun part. I hate the taper. I’m a mileage junkie and my body is craving the mileage right now. This is the hard part for me. Running slow when I’m ready to fly. Have a great race.

      • Of course!! It can be a bit intimidating since like 99% of my readers are female! =)

        Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your kind words and support. My two favorite marathons (that I raced) were many years ago before I was caught up in trying to run certain times. My PR race is Boston – I ran without a GPS and just ran and loved every single minute. That’s the outlook I’m hoping to bring on Monday.

        Best of luck to you, as well! I hope you have an amazing race – I am in wave 2 so I probably won’t see you at the start!! But I’ll be hanging around the expo on Saturday!

        Thank you, again!
        nycrunningmama recently posted..2015 Boston Marathon -> One Week to GoMy Profile

    4. This post really spoke to me. I’ve been working on mental strength for the past year and really believe it’s JUST as important as physical training. I ran three marathons last year and was only happy with one of them—not the time on the clock but what was in my head for 26.2 miles. The first two marathons (Boston and Baltimore), when things got tough and I started to hurt, I started mental whining : “This is hard!” ” This hurts!” “When will this be over?” Really defeating thoughts lead to slower legs and very disappointing finishes. For my last marathon last year (North Central Trail), I decided that while I had had stellar training cycles, with times that were fast for me, I had no “mental game plan.” I was going into races with plans for the neck down, but none for my head. So–I sat in the car before the race and gave myself a talk. I said: you cannot control the weather. You cannot control the course. You cannot control how you feel on one day out of 365 this year. But you CAN control how you talk to yourself for the next few hours. You know you can do this and do it well. You know what running too fast feels like and you can rein that in until the second half of this race. You also know what it feels like to hurt and you EXPECT that. Say hello to the pain and keep going. Smile at it and move along. Guess what? I went out comfortably, took it up a notch at 13 miles, and cranked it up more at 20 miles. Felt tired at the end, kept running. Smiled at the volunteers. Told myself I only have to be brave for 1 more hour, only ½ an hour, only 10 more minutes. I cheered myself on, sometimes just saying “lock it in, lock it in, lock it in..” like a metronome to keep myself steady. I finished strong, faster than my other two marathons, smiling from ear to ear, negative split, and so happy. Number of times I looked at my watch: ZERO!!! I trusted my knowledge of my body. By this many years of running, I know what running and racing and going all out feels like and I controlled it without being a Garmin slave. I was my best friend on that course and every time a negative thought or pain crept in, I would hear it and replace it. I didn’t hear it and listen to it or internalize it. It was a HUGE shift for me to run this way. I tried practicing this same technique at a recent ½ Marathon a few weeks ago and it worked again. Lesson learned: while not an elite athlete, really only an average runner, I still work very hard at my hobby and want something to show for all that WORK. By putting my brain in the drivers seat next to my body, all engines were firing.

      When I read your post, I could totally empathize. I have been there, nailing workouts and crashing in races. Love love love reading your blog because you tackle issues that we all face. I will be thinking of you next weekend and absolutely know you are going to have a BLAST!!!!

      • Judith! It’s so great to hear from you!! =)
        I can’t tell you how much I love everything you said. I especially love this -> I was going into races with plans for the neck down, but none for my head. And could not agree more.
        I plan to use a few of the mantras and tips you suggested.
        Thank you so, so much!!
        xo
        nycrunningmama recently posted..2015 Boston Marathon -> One Week to GoMy Profile

    5. It’s ALL about the mental game for me on race day. What the mind fights, the body fights too. I absolutely use visualization and think about the hard efforts and all the training runs that didn’t go well – they push me though the tough points in races. I love “Mind Gym” and I have no doubt you will reach your goal in Boston. I’m rooting for you!!!
      Allie recently posted..Double TalkMy Profile

    6. It’s inspiring to hear how you are tackling the mental part of the race. Physically you are so ready! And now, mentally you are going to crush it.
      I’ve said it before, but I am so excited for you!! You got this! :)
      Natalie recently posted..Staying motivated!My Profile

    7. Pingback: Friday Round-Up: Progress and Mental Training - Love Life Surf

    8. I am going in to the NJ Marathon this year (in less than 3 weeks) totally undertrained thanks to runner’s knee that kept me down for 6 weeks and a torn rotator cuff from a snowmobile accident which also caused some training woes. Then of course add in the crazy winter we had. My long runs went like this….7 miles…6 weeks of no running… to 13 miles to 16 miles to taper. Um, not the 16 week cycle I am used to. And no speedwork or tempos at all. Not to mention my average pace is about a minute slower per mile at the moment. So basically I’m running on a wing and a prayer this year. I am REALLY focusing on the metal aspect as it’s going to be what carries me all 26.2. But the thing I am hoping will happen from this is that when I cross the finish line I will know how hard I fought not to have to drop out or back to the half. I hope that it will always leave a lasting impression on me about how lucky I am to have discovered running and that I’m able to follow this passion and enjoy every step. So that’s my novel! LOL. Mental toughness is the surefire way to a successful race. Oh! And the removing of current pace from the watch is really the best. I started doing the same. Of course I still find myself doing the math all the time.
      sally @ sweat out the small stuff recently posted..16 miles with bunny earsMy Profile

    9. This is a great post. You’re absolutely right, the mind gives up waaaayyyyy before the body. I totally get it, but for me, Boston is different. Since 2013, I see Boston as more of a celebration of the marathon itself, rather than a test of my ability or a way for me to see how well I can perform. Sure, I train hard and want to do well, but my #1 goal is to enjoy myself and the experience. So few marathoners get to run Boston. No matter our performances, let’s all be thankful we’re there, celebrating! :) Happy taper, I love your blog!

    10. I can definitely relate! Training has always been the “easy” part but race day is a whole different animal. I too fall apart when my Garmin tells me my pace is slowing. I partially want to start running without a watch and run by feel for a while. The numbers seriously mess with my head and I spend too much time doing mental math instead of having a great time on the course!
      Holly @ Broccoli Trees recently posted..Random Thoughts 4.7.15My Profile

    11. Love this! One of my favorite mantras on long runs/races (whether I’m feeling good or bad) is “You ARE doing this!” It was something my PhD adviser would tell me as I was finishing up my dissertation, and it applies so well to anything that is hard, takes a long time to do well, and requires you to be mentally tough. I also like it “you ARE doing this” more than “you can do this” because ‘can’ feels more like a possibility that may or may not be realized, while ‘are doing’ is an active phrase that gets you to focus on all the awesome things you ARE accomplishing right now! Btw, I love your blog– I don’t comment much, but I love your posts :)