Don't Let Your Mind Be The Thing That Defeats You

That was the text I got from Ben on Saturday's 15-miler after I had to walk up a giant hill that I didn't even think could have possibly existed in Virginia Beach and sent him a series of texts with the theme, "This is stupid. Running is stupid. I don't want to do this anymore. This was a stupid idea."

Everyone I know who has ever run Shamrock agrees: Fort Story is the worst part. It hits at just about the worst time in the race, especially for the marathon (miles 19-23). It's an army base so it's pretty desolate, both in terms of things to look at and in terms of spectators out cheering, and it's absolutely the most mentally defeating part of that race, and maybe of any race I've ever run. So, logically, doing a 15 mile training run through Fort Story sounded like a great idea.

The winds howled the night before the run and all morning leading up to it. Driving up to the base, we could see the waves of the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ovean whitecapping. The wind blew so hard that sea foam looked like snow falling. As soon as I got out of the car and felt the wind whip through my jacket, I immediately lowered any expectations of having a phenomenal run. Instead I wanted to focus on getting through it.

I tried to remain calm and positive. I pushed out all negative thoughts about the wind and just put one foot in front of the other. I listened to music. I watched the sea gulls flying around and reminded myself how happy I was to be back running at the beach. And for the first 7 miles, it worked. 


I hit the first hill around the halfway point and that's when the wheels started to come off. I texted Ben (remember that exchange above?). I saw my dad as he was coming down the big hill for the first time and I was about to go up it, and I stopped him to confirm that he wanted to do another loop to complete all 15 miles. I wouldn't have fought him if he had said, "No." So I started on my second loop, running right into the wind, and I swear it must have started blowing ten times harder than it had been. None of my mental games worked anymore and I had almost 6 more miles to go until the finish line.

Under normal circumstances, in normal conditions, I probably would have been mad at myself for getting defeated so easily. But the more I run, the more I realize that each run has its purpose. That run wasn't about getting through 15 miles. It wasn't about checking that workout off my training plan or about practicing pacing. It was about getting through Fort Story. It gave me an experience to keep in my pocket and look back at on race day, so that when I'm at mile 22, and I'm so close but so far and I just want to them in the towel right then and there, I can remember that I've run so much farther through that base, in (hopefully) worse conditions, and that I made it through.

I think nearly everyone who runs, whether it's the mile or ultra marathons would agree that the mental struggle is the hardest part. The mind gives up long before the body does. That's been the case for me ever since I started running, and even though I've gotten better at managing it, it never really goes away. My mind is always the thing that defeats me. Sometimes I let it beat me during a run, but I never let it crush me permanently. I always get back out there, no matter what happened on my last run. Not every run is perfect, and some are harder than others, but one way to another, I always keep going. I know there's a good chance I'll find myself in the same position on the day of Shamrock, running through Fort Story and wanting to throw my hands in the air in surrender, but I won't. My mind is not going to be the thing that stops me from finishing my 3rd marathon. 

13 comments :

  1. So true. It's all about convincing your mind you are strong. Your legs have it.
    What a great experience to draw on for the upcoming race.

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    1. You're absolutely right about that! Physically, I think I can handle almost any challenge. Mentally is definitely a different story!

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  2. very well said :) i totally agree - mind is always what gives up. apart from pain, i have never thought 'i should stop running right now because my body is tired' it's always my mind that just wants to stop and be lazy. hopefully you will be able to look back on this run and it will give you a little more oomph during the marathon because you know you've been through worse, like you said. i like to remind myself that my body is capable of more than i give it credit for. or at least, i try.. lol

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  3. I always say we are our own worse enemy... the things we convince ourselves of...
    Training the mind is just as important

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  4. I love this post! I totally agree that the mental struggle is the hardest part and that pretty much applies to every aspect in life. I always know how things are going to turn out based on my mental state, so the key for me is definitely trying to conquer that. Good for you for powering though. There are so many hills in Halifax that even some of our walks were a struggle when we first moved here. It's a little different than the flat Prairies I grew up on!

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  5. This is SO great, and so so true. If I can just turn my mind off, I can run and run and run.

    When I was new, I was having a LOT of mental struggle getting through my runs. I kept telling myself, "don't let your mind cheat your body out of greatness". I would put it on repeat until I could push past that mental block.

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  6. My mind is almost always what defeats me when I struggle with something!!! This is so true.

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  7. Such perfect advice, and I think most runners can relate. The mind is always ready to throw in the towel — or tell me I'm not strong enough, or tell me there's no point in continuing, or that no one care so why should I? — well before my body hits its limit. I'm actually not sure I've ever even *actually* hit my physical limit, ya know?

    But I was thinking a few days ago about what you said about each run having a purpose, and that the purpose is sometimes just letting yourself know "I can do this, because I've done it before." I say that to myself SO often, and sometimes it's the only thing that helps me keep going.

    I'm proud of you for toughing it out and pushing through.

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  8. The mental struggle is definitely the hardest part. But I love your perspective that ever run has its purpose. Ben's quote might me my quote of the year. No joke!

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  9. Well said Tracy. I know most of my running barriers have been mental as of late. Such a wonderful last paragraph, will be rooting for you during Shamrock weekend!

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    1. Oh I hope I didn't scare you about Fort Story! At least the hilly part isn't included in the Shamrock course ;)

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  10. My mind gets me a lot, usually at the very beginning and towards the very end. I have to talk myself out of giving up and tell myself that I'm stupid for wanting to stop because I've come so far already! And I usually just end up taking is slower instead of stopping if I can. I think it's awesome that you tackled Fort Story and you are so right in that it will help you during Shamrock for sure!!

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  11. I can hardly stand to be outside for like two minutes walking in that kind of weather so I can't imagine a 15-mile run- that's amazing! That quote is such a good thing to remember-- about running and a lot of other things in life :)

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