Before I started running regularly, I’d hear people say that a big part of running is mental. I have to tell you, I thought that was about the craziest thing I’d ever heard. Believe me – it was hard to run 3 miles and there was nothing mental about it. My lungs burned. My legs were tired. My feet were sore. My head? My head was just fine, thank you very much.
Then I got to the point where a 3 mile run was a light workout. Then I suddenly felt like I was missing something if I didn’t go out for a run every couple of days. Then somehow I found myself running a half-marathon (still not quite sure how THAT happened). Later this summer I was standing on the beach waiting to start my first triathlon. I looked around and felt like I was surrounded by hard core athletes. Everyone looked intense and very focused on taking this race on. Then it hit me – I was standing there too. And I realized with a moment of clarity that all the running and biking and swimming I had done. All those days of hard, serious training? It was all an exercise in mental toughness.
Don’t get me wrong, you have to train your muscles and your lungs and your heart to physically accomplish a big race. But once your body gets to the point where it can physically take you out for a half mile swim or a 6 mile run – it’s all a head game. There are days when a 10 mile run feels fantastic. You get that runner’s high for the rest of the day. You feel strong, you’re in tune with your body and you feel like nothing can stop you. And there are days when a 5 mile run feels like it’s all uphill. You can’t catch your breath. You’re tired and you can’t shake that feeling of having failed somehow.
But here’s the thing – if you’re out there running and you don’t quit – you’ve already succeeded. Those days where the runs are hard? That’s when you’re really training. Because there will come a point in the race where you feel a shadow of a doubt. And those runs where you pushed yourself to keep going even when you wanted to turn around at 3 miles… those are the runs that will get you through.
That training? It’s really a mind game we play with ourselves. And we win when we cross the finish line.