A huge part of training for a marathon of this magnitude is the mental preparation for such an event. When I was a month away from the race, something started happening in my head that I was not happy about - I started psyching myself out. Suddenly long runs and short runs both became extra challenging because I just couldn't get excited about doing them. In fact, I dreaded running. For weeks leading up to this point I had been doing great - so what happened?
I think the reality of the race rapidly approaching began coming into focus and since this marathon is really important to me, my nerves started to get the better of me. Instead of rising to the challenge of that anxiety, my fight or flight response began kicking in and my brain started telling me I should quit.
What?! Not on my watch, brain. We are doing this thing and we are giving it our all.
I knew that I needed to get my head in the game before race day or I would be doomed. At this point in time, I am most definitely physically ready for this marathon - but if my head isn't in it, this will be the longest, most difficult 26.2 miles anyone has ever run.
So how do I get myself psyched up and mentally ready for the challenge that lies ahead? First, I use logic. I am a person who needs facts and evidence to truly believe in something (love me some science), so one way to convince myself that I am capable of completing the NYC Marathon is to remind myself (over and over again) that I have done a full marathon before and I can absolutely do it again. Sometimes it's a mantra I find myself repeating to myself as I am running, "You've done this before. You've got this." If I need additional convincing of my capabilities as a runner, I review my training log over the past 13 weeks and read in black and white print the evidence of my hard work. Long runs, short runs, hills, trails, treadmills, early mornings, stair work - I have been pushing my body physically and mentally for weeks now; I can do this because I have put in the time and effort to prepare for it.
In addition to using actual evidence to get psyched up for the marathon, I also work on mentally pushing myself to a place outside of my comfort zone. For example, I went for a 5 mile run this past weekend and during that run I did not listen to music, nor did I use a GPS to track my pace. For an hour I ran on the streets of my home town and the only sounds I heard were my feet pounding the pavement and my rhythmic breathing. Did I mention there were hills involved? Oh yeah, there were. I hate hills (who doesn't?), but I tackled them - and I did so without any music to distract me.
You may wonder, how does this help? Running in silence is very uncomfortable for me. Actually, doing anything in silence is uncomfortable for me - I fall asleep listening to music or TV every single night. I even listen to the radio during the day while I am at work. I tend to feel anxious if I don't have some kind of noise playing in the background of my life. Running is hard and music tends to help distract me from how hard it is. But sometimes I need to unplug from everything and let myself marinate in my discomfort. (Now there's an image, huh?)
I think that sometimes I need to push myself into a place of feeling uncomfortable so that later, when I am back in my comfort zone, it feels a million times more awesome than it normally would. And oddly enough, this type of mental exercise can pull me out of a funk when I am starting to psych myself out. Being uncomfortable is often times my much-needed "control-alt-delete" to get mentally charged up for a big challenge. Spending time outside of my comfort zone is like a reminder that things could always be worse. What if I have to run the entire marathon without music? That probably won't happen - but imagine if it did! I now know I can handle running for long periods of times in silence, and if I can do that, I know I am mentally strong. I can handle this race. And just like that, my anxiety is mitigated and my head is back in the game.
This mental exercise probably sounds weird to some. But I will tell you this - after running for 5 miles with no music on Saturday, I ran 2 miles today listening to my marathon playlist and I felt super energized and happy.
Pushing myself a little helped get me back to a good place. I can't fully explain why this worked, but I am glad that it did.
Like a lot of people, I actively choose to be comfortable most of the time. I don't enjoy adrenaline rushes or feelings of being scared or uncertain. I tend to choose the path of least resistance a lot of the times, it's just my nature. But there is a benefit of being uncomfortable. If there weren't, why else would I choose to run marathons? 😊