Saturday, March 29, 2014

MENTAL TOUGHNESS

Let's face it - in simple terms, running is about placing one foot in front of the other. Technically, the difference between running and walking is that when you run, there is a moment in time when both feet are simultaneously off the ground; when you walk, one foot is always on the ground.This is what typically makes running a more vigorous activity than walking.  In and of itself, running is a pretty simple activity -- yet, training for, and running a marathon is about so much more...

perseverance

resilience

discipline

emotional fortitude


The name of the game is mental toughness!  I have entered and completed 29 out of 29 marathons. My experiences have taught me that athletic ability is a non-factor.  I have witnessed many runners sustain the 26.2 mile distance who have had horrible running form, were very overweight, or had multiple injuries.  Sure, it is important to train properly and if you happen to have good running form, you will conserve some energy that will come in handy in the last 10 miles.  However, more than any one physical factor, you need true grit to endure the journey and cross that finish line!


I believe that running a marathon is 75 percent mental and 25 percent physical.  Yes, the marathon takes a physical toll on your body, but humans have a tremendous capacity to endure pain -- most of us are just not used to doing this.  When you are at the starting line of a marathon and the gun is about to go off, you are "pumped" with adrenaline.  Adrenaline is a wonderful hormone that will make the first 10+ miles of a marathon just fly by.  However, shortly thereafter, you can "kiss the 'adrenaline rush' goodbye!" 


It is often by mile 16 or 18 that the adrenaline surge is over.  "Hitting the wall" is a phenomenon that happens to most marathoners typically between 16 and 22 miles into the race.  When you hit the wall, your body becomes depleted of carbohydrates;  it is at this juncture that many runners want to call it quits because without any more carbohydrates stored in their bodies, fat has to become the main fuel source to sustain their efforts.  Carbohydrates and fats are the two nutrients that our bodies use to get fuel (namely, oxygen) to our exercising muscles.  The problem is that It takes longer to break down a fat molecule than a carbohydrate molecule -- therefore, when we run out of carbohydrates and have to shift to fat metabolism, we must slow down.  This process is emotionally difficult because we know that it will now take that much longer to reach the finish line.  This is when the mental game truly comes into play.


Very often, this is the time when I begin talking to myself.  I try to stay very positive, but sometimes, the negativity wins out and I will start asking myself "Why are you doing this?" or say,"If you stop now, you can get a cappuccino at Starbucks...(yes, Starbucks is another one of my obsessions)...  Then, I have to turn that negativity around.  This is when I start bargaining with myself..."Judy, when you cross the finish line, you will feel so much better, and that cappuccino will really taste good because you will have earned it..."  Then, I think about the physical pain that I am enduring, and suddenly, I realize that it is really no big deal compared to the pain that the children with cancer that I am running for are going through (I run for Fred's Team - www.fredsteam.org).  By mile 23, I often think of my dad, who at age 17, voluntarily enlisted in the Marines to serve in World War II; he was at Iwo Jima where he endured so much both physically and emotionally.  I begin singing the Marine Corps Hymn to myself and I run the last 3.2 miles for dad - I realize that this is really no big deal... just one foot in front of the other...

Semper Fi