Thursday, August 16, 2012

A One Track Mind

Have you ever met someone, and through regular conversation, they ask questions that you’ve never pondered? Questions that spurn deeper self-reflection, requiring more than some run-of-the-mill answer? This recently happened to me.

As a runner who is constantly in some sort of training cycle (and hence waking up early, abstaining from drinking, not eating certain foods, etc.), the fact that I run marathons inevitably comes up. Usually that conversation evolves to how long a marathon is, and then onto how long it takes to run. This time, however, the interrogation went one step further, and I had to explain what I think about during a four-hour run. After giving the superficial answer of, “I just turn on my iPod and it’s me with my music,” I realized this is far from the case. There’s no way I could spend that much time alone and not have more rattling around inside my noggin. So that left me wondering, “What DO I think about while running a marathon?”

When people say that running a marathon is 50 percent physical and 50 percent mental, they aren’t lying. The physical stamina and endurance that is built up during training doesn’t just reside in leg muscles, but in your head as well. I can speak from countless experiences that once you reach mile 16 of a marathon, all bets are off. Those last 10 miles are filled with more twists and turns than most runners can imagine, no matter how well you know the route.

Early on in my marathon running career, I’ll admit that I was an emotional mess when I’d finish a race.  The first couple times I competed at the distance, I literally teared up somewhere between miles 16 and 18, and then again at the finish. We’re talking full-on heaving with possible whimpering. It was a guttural reaction to a realization that I’ve gone from barely able to run 2 miles to being able to run 26. Throw in poor choices in music on my running iPod (thanks a lot, Lee Ann Rimes), and I couldn’t keep it together. Fortunately, race day chaos and a breathing pattern that sounds like I’m searching for my last breath allowed me to play off my emotion and keep my dignity. After this blog, though, I may be turning in my “man card.”

As I put more notches on my belt and complete more races at the marathon level, my amount of self-confidence has improved. I no longer spend time during races questioning my abilities; instead, I have more time to think about what I want to do in the future. This ranges from anything short-term, from what lies around the corner in the remainder of the race, to long-term, such as which future races I want to participate in, how can I improve my training for those races, who I can rope in to doing future training and races with me, and which body parts I’m willing to part with to pay for those future races.

I’ve realized that as runners, we evolve and mature. Physically we get stronger, run faster, set higher goals, and gain endurance. However, emotional maturation also is a major part of becoming a better overall athlete.  With the approaching full running season, I look forward to seeing how my growth improves my game.

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