In Search of That Mental Edge

Let’s just take a minute to recap my previous marathon experiences:  I train my a$$ off – logging the miles and the quality of workouts that are necessary to BQ.  Come race day, I feel like I am physically ready.  With the exception of the first marathon (where I naturally had doubts about even covering the whole distance), I even feel like I am mentally ready.  And then something happens during the race to derail me mentally, which eventually derails me physically.  And I blow up.  Bad.  (In all my marathons, I’ve been aiming for 3:45 and I’ve ended up with 4:27, 4:17, 3:56, 3:59, 3:49, 4:08, 4:14).

I KNOW what I need in order to finish where I want to (which is now sub 3:40, thanks to the new Boston registration standards, so that I actually have a chance of toeing the line at Hopkinton and not just getting a BQ, which I technically already have for 2012 with my 3:49:41).

I need to find That Mental Edge.  You know what I mean: that mindset, that focus, that toughness, that willpower, that determination.

So where is it?  How come it is so elusive? How do I get it now?  And how can I make it stay with me for 26.2 miles on race day?

This whole training cycle, for me, has been about finding That Mental Edge.  Things that I’ve done to find it:

  • Having a coach this time around has been immensely helpful in my mental game.  Coach MB provides personal and written encouragement, tips, inspiration and feedback to me (and the whole group).  He makes me feel like I AM a good runner and like I CAN accomplish whatever I want to.    Having a real live person (as opposed to my virtual running buddies/blog followers) tell me that I am a kick-a$$ runner is starting to make me believe it.
  • Having a coach has significantly improved my physical game, by pushing me beyond what I was doing on my own.  By pushing me beyond my comfort zone.  My making me work harder than I ever have at running.  So how will this help me find That Mental Edge?  Because I’m more confident in my self, physically, and there are literally certain workouts where I can (and have) called them up in my mind during other hard efforts or races and they have pushed me forward, when I normally would have quit.  Two examples come to mind:  One, a hilly tempo run about 3 weeks after I started the group.  Coach was running with me and another girl, encouraging us to push up the hill and keep up with him.  The other girl did it.  I fell behind.  I was disappointed, but whatever.  Then a couple days later he sent a group email with something about gaining mental toughness by pushing through hard workouts.  I immediately thought of the hilly tempo where I fell behind, mostly because I gave up because it seemed too hard.  But, after reading that email, I KNEW that if I had forced myself to push it harder, I would have been able to keep up.  So I vowed that in future workouts, I wouldn’t give up.  I’d push myself just a tiny bit harder and finish them strong and knowing that I gave that workout all that I had at the time.  So, the second example that I know I will draw on during the marathon happened a couple weeks later on a HOT long run day, where we did those crazy hill drills and then ran back to the club.  I started running with Coach MB because I was asking him something – his pace was tiring for me in the heat and after the drills.  Another guy from the group came up and ran with us.  And I stayed with them, even though it hurt and I was tired.  The other guy started to fade and dropped back, but I stayed with Coach and even did the last miles at sub marathon pace and was the first person from the group to finish.  When I was done with the workout I felt really good about it, like I had given it all that I had that day and, most importantly, like I didn’t give in to the mental demons (it’s too hot; you are too tired; you just did hill drills; this is just a training run) that were telling me to quit.
  • Training with a group this time has helped.  How?  They are all so inspiring.  They make me want to push myself harder so that I am inspiring too.  Examples from this weekend:  one gal shaved 6 minutes off her HM PR to finish in like 1:36; another gal shaved 10+ (!) minutes off her HM PR to finish in 1:51; another gal is training for her first marathon and ran a 1:44:59; a guy who hasn’t run a marathon since 1996 ran a 1:32 HM this weekend; one of the girls, who didn’t even own a bike until this spring, finished a half ironman this weekend.  And it goes on and on.  All of these people are tearing it up out there.  And if they can do it, and I’m doing the same workouts and getting the same coaching as them, than so can I!
  • I’m also reading more and more about the mental aspect of racing.  Like the Mark Allen “No More Holding Back” stuff I blogged about a few weeks ago.  Reading stuff like that makes it all fall in place for me.
This time around I know That Mental Edge is gonna be with me for 26.2 miles.  I just know it!
Anyone else have tips/tricks/stories about how you keep it together mentally on race day?

12 thoughts on “In Search of That Mental Edge

  1. Hope you don’t mind if I share your blog with a couple running groups on Facebook. Your’s is probably my favorite running blog to read!

  2. i plan to use some mental strategies on my 22-miler on friday so i’ll let you know what works! my biggest thing is to not let my brain get control and tell me that i’m tired and i need to slow down/back off when i know i still have some gas in the tank. what do they say? run the first 1/2 with your head and the last 1/2 with your heart…i’m going to try and do that. i don’t want my brain talking me out of anything.

  3. missy lai

    hi cindi! i don’t get around to reading your blog as much as i would like but i wanted to say that it sounds like your running is headed in a great direction! i’m SO glad you are finding coaching helpful. i’m glad it is falling into place for you and am excited that you are on the right track!

    back in the days when i used to race (that makes me sound old!), i picked key words to use when it got tough. sometimes it would be a word i thought of during tough workouts, sometimes it would be a word i picked up two mins before the race started. right before the gun went off at OBX, maria took my arms, looked into my eyes and charged me with this message: “be courageous!” i took that with me and used it when it got tough.

    i also used visualization during my training; for months before every run, i would visualize crossing the finish line with the clock reading sub 3:40:00. on race day, i would conjure up that image when the going got tough or i had a few miles off my pace. i found it calming because it was a familiar image.

    you are over due for a break through and i can’t wait to hear/ read all about it. the triumph.. the ecstasy of a race goal met especially in a race as long and arduous as a marathon is unlike anything i’ve ever experienced. the euphoria coarses through your veins… forget drugs, dude! 🙂

    keep plugging away. you’ve GOT IT, cindi. its in you.

    1. Missy! You are a fabulous, inspirational racer. As soon as AK grows up a bit, you will be back at it, stronger than ever!

      I’ve read about, and tried the key word and visualization techniques too. The key word thing has worked. The visualization thing, not so much. I think my problem is that I try the visualization thing at bedtime and I’m so darn exhausted that I fall asleep right away and never end up visualizing the finish line! 🙂

  4. Wow this was really helpful! I’ve been struggling to find a way to achieve that mental edge as well. Looks like I need to push myself to find a group to run with…being inspired by others can do wonders.

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