Just last Sunday I ran entire marathon (42.2km/26.22 miles)…for fun! Yes, I did a leisurely 42.2k on a rainy and cloudy Sunday afternoon. Why?
Well I have some secrets to share with you on how I was able to mentally prep and endure 4 hours of running for “leisure”. A lot of people complain that the main reason they don’t enjoy running is that they find it to be so utterly boring that every kilometer seems like an eternity. I’ll be honest here, everyone has an activity they enjoy more than others. I would rather run a full marathon than sit and meditate for 10 minutes or do a yoga class. I have a lot of respect for people that go on retreats and perform hours of meditation; an outlet that is extremely cathartic for some. Unfortunately, for me, I would rather break my own legs than sit and meditate for an extended period of time. I have so much respect for those that can endure it.
That being said, ask me last year if I would’ve run a leisurely 42.2k and I would’ve said: “no thank you, hard pass”. A lot of self-induced change has happened to me over the past year. I set a goal in January to run 10km for a consecutive 31 days. Before that, I was running around 4-6km every day at higher intensities. Recently I completed a challenge of running 74 consecutive half marathons (21.1km) every day. It’s safe to say that I thrive on the intensity that encompasses running challenges. Now running a 10k seems short to me. I’ve been running long distance since 2008 and have learned over the years how to distract my mind during these runs.
What really tested my mental limits and determined whether I was going to have a good or bad run was mostly my mindset. It’s astonishing the degree to which the #RUN70 challenge was mental, which is something that I had mentioned in my challenge recap blog post.
When I first announced the challenge to the world, I received an influx of radically different perspectives. A lot of encouragement and exciting messages, but a lot of doubtful people who were genuinely scared for my health. Yes, I knew that running that much every day was not good of my body and that’s why I purposely didn’t consult a doctor beforehand…I knew what they would say..”you’re an idiot”. They were probably right, but I decided to avoid that confrontation altogether. The first few weeks were tough because although I felt strong and determined, I let some of the negative messages get to my head. On the 8th day of the challenge, I remember feeling sore in a part of my legs I’ve never felt before and found myself limping the rest of the day, unsure if I would be able to even complete the 9th day of running. The rest of the week got progressively worse. I felt sorer each day and really struggled with completing a few of the runs.
I knew I needed to pull myself out of this rut so I did a few things. I forced a shift in my mentality and I started consulting with other runners on tactics they used to help them recover after long runs.
As sort of a “disclaimer”, the top mind tricks that helped me complete the #RUN70 Challenge may not translate as well from person to person, but I wanted to share them with you regardless with the hopes that even a sliver of my advice can resonate with someone:
- Break massive goals into small milestones
This isn’t a completely innovative concept as I’m sure a lot of people have heard of doing this before. Running 70 consecutive half marathons was for sure daunting, but I was able to break it up into digestible chunks and make it fun. Some people need to visibly see their progress in order for their goals to feel rewarding, and I definitely fall into that category. I created a calendar to track my progress on a day-to-day basis and once my run was completed, I would receive the instant gratification of crossing a big “X” on that date with a sharpie. Man, did it get me going. Seriously, celebrate the small milestones, because even something as trivial as drawing an “X” can feel as good as Nutella tastes (which is saying A LOT). I would also remind myself to take it 1km at a time. I tried running consistent routes in Port Credit and Toronto along the waterfronts because they had washrooms and water fountains strategically placed along the course to remind me of each run’s milestones. Take a quick break at 6.5km, then again on the way back at around 14km, and then stop for some water in the last 2km. It sounds small, but rewarding myself with washroom and water breaks really helped me get through each run. I never thought I’d hear myself say that going to the washroom was “rewarding”, but god do you start to recognize how nice a good pee and water break can really feel. It’s the small things in life, you guys. You know that feeling when you’ve finished a big race? I let myself feel that everyday once I completed my runs, and I held onto that feeling; I carried it with me every morning before my run as motivation. I also used some of Mel Robbins tactics in her book, the 5-Second Rule to beat procrastination and get me physically out the door by doing her famous countdown. Essentially the rule says this – when you have an instinct that moves you towards a goal, countdown from 5 then physically move or your brain will talk you out of it. Now, I knew that quitting wasn’t an option, but this would really help me beat procrastination and get my ass out the door.
2. Distract your mind
The runs that went by the fastest for me were the ones where my mind was fully engrossed by either the book I was reading, the telephone conversations I would occasionally have or the company of a fellow runner who decided to come along for the distance. I listened to a lot of amazing fictional audiobooks (specifically thrillers, which are my absolute favourite) and did not allow myself to continue listening until the next day’s run. Sometimes I would reach an extremely climatic part of the book at the very end of my run, and would force myself to pause until tomorrow’s run; a true testament of my willpower. It was a game I played with myself throughout the entire challenge and it worked extremely well for me. Running with people also had a similar effect. I ran with some strangers during the #RUN70 Challenge and got to learn about other people’s lives. Not to say running with an old friend would change that, but there’s something so novel about meeting someone new. Those runs definitely went by the fastest and we had one another’s encouragement to finish that day’s run. I typically paced a bit faster on the days I ran with others as well. On the flip side, if I was listening to a boring book, was in a bad mood or stressed out about something, my runs would be horrible..I mean horrible. The 2+ hours would drag on forever and my mind would start going to bad places. I would worry about my legs or feet hurting, focusing on how stiff I was feeling, remembering that Donald Trump was President, questioning my abilities and having negative self-doubt talk about not being able to finish the challenge. I can’t stress the importance of being mentally prepared for long runs like this, because if you can’t execute the mental preparation than the physical preparation will follow suit.
3. Share your accomplishments with your social network
I never used to be one to share my achievements (big or small) with my social network, but when I started using the Nike+ running app to share my runs, it opened so many new (and exciting) doors for me. I don’t mean to sound like I need external recognition to validate my self-worth, but the commentary I received from people’s comments and messages sent my dopamine levels spiking. Seeing and hearing people’s reactions to my posts felt like such an enabler, pushing me while I was running (Oh those Instagram likes). #RUN70 would not have been the same, or even possible, if I didn’t have the support of my social circle fostering this aura of encouragement. People I haven’t talked to since high school reached out, strangers sent me gifts and cards, and it seemed that any new followers who were following my journey were running there right beside me. It also created accountability – I had my reputation and a commitment on the line to everyone I shared my goal with! Quitting was not an option now. I also love seeing people achieving their goals on social media – it’s a refreshing change-up from all the memes, insta-model promotions and downright depressing stories that are circulating the news right now. It’s so refreshing to see some positivity and people making a change to sincerely better themselves. I personally find it inspiring, and encourage others to share their goals publicly. It’s scary at first – I know I was full of self-doubt before announcing #RUN70 and the 10k Challenge, but peoples’ reactions will surprise you in the most amazing way.
I tried and tested a million tactics to help me complete each 21.1 km in #RUN70, but the most effective way to stay positive and determined was to literally train my mind to steer clear of any negativity. Our minds naturally gravitate towards feelings of doubt, worries and fears and it’s so easy to succumb to that overwhelming blanket of pessimism. One of the first epiphanies I had throughout the challenge was that I’d have to find an outlet to combat those insecurities, which is obviously easier said than done. It took time and discipline. Reassurance and fortification. It certainly wasn’t a smooth trajectory for me, but once I learned how to erode my inhibition, the clouded pathway to the finish line started to clear a bit more, day by day. What mental tactics do you use to tackle your goals, whether that be physical, intellectual or mental?