Most people new to running immediately jump in, focusing on the physical exercises and changes. Those are all helpful, but as those who stick with it learn, running isn’t a physical sport – it’s a mental sport.
When I began running, I would frequently stop for walk breaks, but I noticed that at the finish line I still had energy. I didn’t fall over like those who finish in the front of the pack. At the time, I thought it was just because I wasn’t running a 16:00 5k. Partly, yes. But that’s not the only reason. The reason I finished with energy to spare was because I wasn’t putting it all out on the run.
It took me a while – okay, several years – to learn that the mental component of running is just as important as the physical component. Our bodies are designed to avoid pain and suffering. If you try stretching beyond your comfort zone, your body sends pain messages to the brain telling you to stop. But if you pass out, your ligaments and joints will stretch well beyond your comfort zone – simply because there are no messages telling you to stop. (I just read an article on this a few weeks ago, but can’t find it right now – as soon as I do I’ll post a link).
The same happens with running. “Your mind, not your body, gets the final say in determining how fast you run in races.” One of the most important components of training is training your mind. Your mind is what makes the final decision between stopping and going. Your mind will tell you to stop when there’s pain, but you need to determine when it’s pushing-it pain versus actual, injurious pain. I found out, while training for the Baltimore Half back in 2012, that you can silence your mind – that training cycle was the first time I ever ran two miles non-stop. And last year, during the Sole of the City 10k, I experienced yet again what happens when you tell your mind to shut it – I ran 4 miles non-stop for the first time ever. Unfortunately, I also experienced the downside of telling your mind to mind its own business when I had my stress fracture last year. I had been dealing with persistent shin splints, and didn’t realize when it had gone from annoying pain to actual pain, and ran myself towards 3 months in a walking boot.
You’ll never know what your body – and mind – are capable of if you just keep going to the end of your comfort zone. Only by pushing through the discomfort, only by pushing your own boundaries, will you ever discover what you’re truly capable of. Only when you find out what you’re truly capable of will you be amazed by just how much you can do.