Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Random Thoughts on the Mental Side of Racing

Thank you all SO much for your incredibly sweet comments on my marathon recap. I had such an incredible day on Sunday. I've continued to listen to my marathon playlist throughout the past few days. I brought my medal in to work to place by my computer. And every time I got an email with a comment notification, I smiled at your support and got to relive one of the most amazing experiences of my life. So thank you, thank you, thank you!!

(Oh, and my legs continue to remind me about the miles I ran on Sunday. I'm not sure they're giving me positive reminders, though.)

Pre-marathon -- AHHH!!!
I wrote on Monday that my legs never felt great on Sunday. From the start, my right piriformis was angry, and my right hamstring and other muscles hurt pretty early on. What felt great was my mind.

I exchanged a bunch of emails with Beth yesterday, and in the continuing post-marathon high, I dumped a ton of thoughts on her about the mental aspect. Not that I'm an expert by any means, but I've gone from feeling so shitty during races, mentally, to feeling really strong. These are the things I've done and what I did on Sunday. So, in no particular order:

  • I let myself say it was hard but never that I couldn't do it. I told myself nothing but things like "you are killing it! You're doing SO well!" I didn't let a single negative thought creep into my head. If something negative started to appear, I'd read a sign and repeat it to myself. (NOT the "worst parade ever" ones -- can we retire that sign please?? -- but things like "someday you won't be able to run 26.2 miles ... today is not that day!")
  • I planned for the rest of the race thinking I'd do well, not that I'd fall apart. Think about what you'll do if that happens before the race, and have a plan, but don't let those thoughts get to you during the race. 
  • I thought about all the tough training runs I'd had: up the Hollywood Hills in 85 degree heat, hilly trails at 5,000 ft elevation, running tempo runs on tired and tight legs. The last part of the marathon was so hard -- reminding myself of how I'd powered through discomfort time and time again in my training helped a lot.
  • More importantly, I kept thinking about the two best long runs I had. First, the 10 miles I ran at all under-10:00 miles, after running 10 miles already that day. Then, the 20 miler that I did completely alone, slowly to protect my hamstring, but was still able to speed up in the last two miles. Especially as I sped up after the first ten miles, I thought of that broken-up 20 miler, and how I finished with those sub-10:00 miles at 4,500 ft elevation.
yes, I'm a race photographer ham.
  • Saving music for the last ten miles really helped. I had a list of songs that amp me up, and I didn't listen to them while training for about 2-3 weeks prior to the marathon. I wanted to save them so I'd have all of their boosting juice to power me through miles 17-26! It really worked well, and I was so happy to hear music that makes me want to go fast.
  • As for which songs to pick, I went with the ones that helped me get through tough tempo runs and mile repeats. I associated that music with the pain of pushing but also the incredible joy I'd feel at hitting paces I didn't think I could. Having those songs play in the toughest miles reminded me of kicking the ass of speed workouts, and helped me push hard.

These are the things that helped me through 26.2 miles. They may or may not work for you! However, I hope you'll think about how to prep your mind before your race day. Study after study shows that physical limits are far past what our brain tells us our limits are. Positive thinking can go a huge way to overcoming the mental hurdles our brain creates. 

Also, here's my marathon playlist! A few are Chicago-specific, but I think there are some awesome amp-you-up tunes on there.

Tell me -- what are your mental techniques for race day? 


  1. Great post! As I get further into running and triathloning, I'm continually reminded just how much of racing is mental. Like you wrote, it's OK to tell yourself it hurts and it's tough, but as soon as doubts trickle into your mind, that's when you're done. When I feel myself struggling and getting close to a bad spot mentally, I remind myself of the challenging workouts I've logged, the pain I've worked through before ... and I tell myself I can relax once the race is over. ;) Also, I'm loving the race photos. You have to have fun with it!

  2. Great tips. I also find when I can't get past the negative thoughts, overcoming those thoughts and running through them can be just as empowering as combating them with positivity. If your brain is set on trying to work something out, sometimes it's better to sit with it than try to stifle it. And, sometimes, all I need is to walk for 5-10 seconds, acknowledge my thoughts, and start running again.

    Therapy-goer since the '90s :)

  3. Love these tips! I will try not to let any negative thoughts creep into my mind. So when you felt pain in your hamstring or piriformis did you just not think about it? I've been having shin issues so I'm scared pain will pop up.

    I also like the idea of not listening to certain music for a few weeks before hand...great idea! I will also save music for the end IF I really need it. I'm so nervous!

    1. Thanks, Patty! Yep, I just ignored the pain and focused on my surroundings, the podcasts I listened to (they're nice because they're a mild distraction but let you still enjoy the cheers from the crowds), and later on my music. Of course, if you can't ignore the pain, it might be because something is seriously wrong, in which case you should stop and seek medical attention! But for more mild pain, distracting yourself on race day works well.

  4. Great tips! I love all of your pics, you look so happy! I need to start working on my playlist for NYC!

  5. Beth @RxBethOnTheRunOctober 16, 2013 at 9:04 PM

    This post was fantastic! So much of a marathon is mental. Your body gets you through the first 20 and the rest is all heart and an interminable will and spirit, right? I will definitely be re-reading this MANY times between now and November 3rd.

  6. I love this, it's so accurate and true. SO much of running is about the mental game and getting your head in the right place. I know for me the second I start thinking negative thoughts or start judging my pace it's when I completely fall apart.

  7. Great tips! This totally helps me for Sunday! AHhh!

  8. I totally agree - a positive mental outlook works wonders! The more I repeat positive things to myself, the better I feel. We get to choose how we react...and nothing good ever comes from being negative :) So proud of you!