Mind games

Confession: I’m a little freaked out about Sunday.


I may need someone to carry me across the finish line…

Honestly, I go back and forth. I can feel those nerves like I felt the week of Just a Short Run (scene of my last two PRs, including my recent 1:52, a 7 minute PR), where I was going in with a pretty big (but ultimately attainable) goal without my usual support system. The level of nerves is pretty much the same, but the type of nervousness is different.

For one thing, I will not at all be lacking for a support system this race. I have a ton of friends running this one. NF will of course be there (and there’s a chance he may be pacing me? But I”m not counting on it – I need to rev my own self up, and let him run his own race if his IT band cooperates). His high school buddy Danimal will be there (he’s chasing a similar time as I am, so we’re probably going to try to stick together, if the corrals allow). And lots of our local friends, including other friends from NF’s program, and who knows – I may bump into some familiar twitter faces in the corrals.

The course is familiar. For once the course didn’t change from last year, and even then, a lot was similar from my first year running it in 2011. I know it’s hilly but not THAT hilly (not for Pittsburgh, anyway). I know Birmingham Bridge is freaking brutal. I know basically where the water stops are, where the flats that I can charge are, where I need to start kicking if I have it in me.

But I also know how humbling this course can be, especially if it’s as warm and sunny as is currently being predicted (50-72* low to high, partly cloudy so the sun could be beating down on us. Plus the forecasts have been undershooting the high temps all week). I have visions of the half/full split last year, heading into that last 5K, where I’d hoped to start picking it up in the thinner crowds when the marathoners left, and then kick the final 1.1, and as I came onto Birmingham, feeling dizzy and dehydrated, I had to walk.

I had a lot going against me last year, as I see it. Yeah it was a milder winter but I won’t be any more or less acclimated to this heat. Last year my iPod was on the fritz (yes, I’m still heavily reliant on music while racing – so sue me) and the fact that it was randomly pausing and skipping songs was distracting and frustrating, especially since it started happening just as I was really starting to need the boost music gives me. My new iPod has worked flawlessly (having a better, non-moisture-trapping armband helps).

But all of this, honestly, is meaningless. Sure, having music helps. Knowing the course helps. Being able to brave the heat – or lucking out and getting cool weather – helps, but as long as I’m hydrated and not feeling dizzy, what I really need is guts. Tenacity. I need not to give into those demons. The ones that I know I will hear chanting when I hit a low 8-minute pace, “you’re going too fast, you’re going to blow up.” The ones that cackle when I fade to 8:40s, “and you thought you could break 1:50 – ha! You’ll never get it now.”

The ones that will tell me I didn’t do enough hill or strength work to handle the climbs and bridges (even though I know I did – we can always do more, but I hit the hills at least once a week this training cycle, and tried to do squats and lunges regularly).

Part of me wants to give myself a pass: I got my massive PR this season. Why not just take it easy, come in at a respectable 1:55ish (which would be a major course PR, considering this course has beaten me to a pulp both years I have run it), enjoy the sites, then come back stronger than ever for the next training cycle, when I’ll get another crack at the flat-and-fast course at the Air Force Half? Why not try to just eke out a slight PR (breaking 1:52 would be cool).

The truth is, I’d be pretty happy with all of that. But when I toe the line on Sunday, and in those first few miles, if I”m feeling it, I want to go for it. I want to bang out the 8:24s I need for that sub-1:50, even though trying to do that the last month has thrown me into a mental tailspin for the runs that involved race-pace miles (moving up from 8:40s to 8:20s because I had undersold my abilities is cool, but, um, also very hard).

Then, of course, there’s Boston… I want  leave my heart out on the road for them. Dedicate every mile to them. Miles for those injured. Miles for those left permanently scarred or maimed. Miles for the first responders. The last 5K to the three lives lost.

A lot of people talk about the value of a mantra. I’ve cycled through a few:

Dig Deep. Brooks even put it on the shoe laces of my favorite racing kicks, the Launch. I also put it on my Road ID

image yoinked from willrunormargaritas.com, via Google Images

Suck it up, princess.


Keep pushing. Don’t quit. One more mile. Up and over. Relax. Patience. Grind it out. Reel him in. Thrown down the hammer. Push.

But one I came to recently has been giving me a little extra edge. One that actually came from a totally different sport (one I’ve practiced since I was 3, but haven’t gotten the chance to do for a couple years).

Commit to the fall line. 

In the technical sense, it’s about leaning down the mountain, rather than back up against it, which allows you to carve your turns properly, rather than making jerky, stop-ridden turns. It can be terrifying, especially for  new skiers. But you have to commit to it. It’s actually a mantra my mother adopted for life in general, and I found it working well for me, even just shortened to one word.


As I laid down almost perfect 7:20 mile repeats a couple weeks ago, every time I wanted to slow down, even just a little. Commit.

As I ran with the pack of women at the 10K the other week, telling myself to be patient, to relax, to just ride their current, when I saw one trying to surge and pull away, Boston and I pulled abreast, with one word singing in my brain. Commit.

As I glance at my watch during my last, quick, rust-shaking 2×1600 workout on Tuesday, going balls-to-the-wall, the first digit on the second repeat a “6.”  Commit.

I’ll need to listen to my body on Sunday. I’m getting all the sleep I possibly can. Doing a long stretching and foam rolling routine every night before bed. Hydrating like crazy, and will be adding electrolyte tablets to my water the next couple days to keep it balanced. I’ll be wearing sunscreen and a hat and as light and lean an outfit as possible (singlet and shorts or Oiselle bum wrap, leaning towards the latter) to try to keep cool. If I start to feel dizzy, feel woozy, disoriented, I know I”ll need to slow down, even walk.

But if it’s just the demons, just the nagging doubts in my mind, I know what I need to do. How great that 10K felt, and the 8 mile tempo with almost perfect splits just a few days later – which felt, not quite effortless, but fun. I know what I need to do to complete the race I know in my heart of hearts I am capable of.

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I'm a 35-year-old writer and runner. This is my running blog.

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