Sunday, February 12, 2012

Warning: Entering the Mind of a Marathon Runner can be hazardous to your health

Ever wonder what marathon runners think about when they spend all that time out on the roads? It’s probably not one of those things you think about until someone brings it up (like now).

No question that long distance running can be a lonely sport. A typical non-elite marathoner will train somewhere around 40- 60 miles a week which will put them out pounding the road for 6 – 10 hour (assuming of course that they are not doing a gerbil imitation on a treadmill at the local gym). This much alone time to think might be a good thing if you are sitting comfortably in an overstuffed chair in a warm room with a nice cup of coffee, but the perspective changes a bit when it’s below freezing, in the dark, on an icy road and you are chipping the ice off your water bottle (and in my case my mustache too).

Through the efforts of exhaustive research (I asked a couple of my running friends) and untold hours of field studies ( own running) I came to the following conclusion. It depends.

To say marathon runners can become obsessive would be a significant understatement. We obsess about under training, over training, injuries, and potential injuries (will the hang nail on my little toe turn into a run stopping infection?). We worry about getting sick and missing a run, bad weather on days we have long runs, getting enough fluids or drinking too much (a marathoner recently died from over-hydrating), using GU (energy gel) or no GU. And don’t even get me started about race day obsessions, especially the ones having to do with porta-potty timing.

The definition of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) in Wikipedia is:
Obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder characterized by intrusive thoughts that produce uneasiness, apprehension, fear, or worry, by repetitive behaviors aimed at reducing the associated anxiety, or by a combination of such obsessions and compulsionsThere should be a picture of a marathon runner next to the definition.

If you are the obsessive type and you happen to be one of those people who don’t like their own company (or fit in the “misery loves company” category) it can be helpful to seek out other likeminded (equally mentally imbalanced) running partners to share your training runs and your anxieties. It may not solve your problems but it may make you feel better to know others are worse off than you.

Then there are those who simply focus on their running, constantly checking their form, taking inventory of how their body feels, checking their watch to see how far they have gone (or more importantly how far left) and ultimately wallowing in their pain. If you happen to be in this category long runs can be very, very, long.

On the flip side, there are those that find running frees their minds to think about other things. The act of running becomes second nature and the experience of being out and mobile supersedes everything else. It takes a while for a new runner to get there but it can be addictive once you do. And what do they think about? Anything their little heart’s desire, from exploring the world around them, to going totally into themselves problem solving. I once heard an ultra-marathoner say I think about anything but how far I have to go. If I thought about that I might talk myself into stopping.

For me it’s a bit of all of the above. When I’m out of shape or injured I obsess over getting in back in shape or healing. But when I’m healthy and the running is good it is not a chore, it’s a privilege.

Regardless, come race day it is a whole different mindset and whether you are an elite runner or a first timer, getting through 26 miles will test your ability to manage your pain and thoughts.
And for a humorous look at what goes through the mind of a marathoner during the race check out the YouTube link below.


1 comment:

Edmund X. DeJesus said...

Great column and great video!