Monday, February 16, 2009

Half Way to Half Way

Every distance runner I have ever known has struggled through a run. It goes something like are in the first mile of a 10+ mile run. You are feeling like...well...crap. Every stride is an effort, the feet feel like lead, lungs are burning, breathing is like sucking air through a straw, legs are like jelly and the pavement feels twice as hard. And you are less than 10 minutes into an hour and a half run.

This is where the runner Gremlin kicks in. That's the little voice in the back of your head that relentlessly whispers "Why am I out here doing this?". "I don't need to run today, I should take the day off". "I'm not really a runner, I can't do this". "If I feel this bad now, imagine how bad I'm going to feel in another mile". "I'll never make it another hour, I might as well quit now". Come on, admit it...if you've run, swam or biked you've heard that Gremlin.

In a marathon it is even more extreme because you are out there for so long. To cope, we have all developed ways to "negotiate" with our Gremlin. Some runners don't think about the miles, they negotiate from milestone to milestone. I'll make it to the Framingham train station, then the girls at Wellesley, then the bottom of heartbreak, then the top of the next hill, then the next street corner, then the next telephone pole. The more pain, the shorter the distance to the next milestone and the louder the voice from the Gremlin to stop. I know runners who count down the miles one at a time, telling themselves they will just make it to the next mile. Tried this once...the first 13 miles it was tedious and the last 13 it was agonizing. My strategy is two fold...pummel the Gremlin with the knowledge that I have been here before and I know I can make it, and second, implement the "half way to half way" strategy. The first temporarily turns down the volume from the Gremlin (and I love the mental image of beating the crap out of the Gremlin with positive images) and the second breaks down the challenge in front of me into something I can mentally digest.

The reality is that a marathon is 80% mental and 20% physical. OK...maybe 50/50 but when you are in the last few miles it definitely feels like 80/20. By the time you get to 18 miles you have used up all your stored reserves and beyond that point you are literally digesting your muscles to fuel your body. This is why some people "hit the wall" between 18-20 miles. They just run out of fuel for the engine. At that point putting one foot in front of the other can take all the mental tenacity that a runner can muster. It's also when the Gremlins go from muttering in the background to picking up the megaphone and screaming in your head.

Why does any of this matter? Because dealing with the Gremlins on those tough training days, especially when you can barely drag your butt out of bed and the road feels like a tar pit that is sucking at every stride, is the mental training that will teach us how to deal with the Gremlins when we are in the final miles.

I also find that it helps to remember that as mentally challenging as it is to face each mile at the tale end of a marathon, it is nothing compared to the mental challenges of facing another day without a job, without food, without medical help or without a place to live. The tenacity to do that day after day without losing hope or giving up dwarfs my marathon efforts. Know that the help that many of you have offered provides the hope that allows them to silence their Gremlins for another day.

Oh...and how is my training going. Wellll...I'm half way to half way, and taking one day at a time.

Until next time....

No comments: