I ran my 6th half marathon last Sunday, March 24, in the Rock CF half marathon in Grosse Ile, Michigan.
I had trained for this race all winter. There was quite a bit of build up to this race for me personally.
This winter was particularly harsh for the Michigan distance runner. Temperatures were consistently frigid, gray skies persisted, and the winds were relentless. There were many days when I simply did NOT want to run, but my early-spring race on the horizon kept me from taking a training day off.
My running went pretty well, and I stayed healthy all winter until early March, three weeks before race day. One day at work, I had a mysterious cramp in my hip that caused me to limp, even when walking. What made matters worse, the pain migrated to the opposite knee, probably from favoring my hip. I spent the next 3 weeks getting massages, therapy, and chiropractic treatment, stretching, and resting. I was determined to do this race.
One the eve of my race, I admit to having a negative mindset. My hip and knee had improved, but were not 100%. I was down on the fact that I was going to run a race with a less-than-ideal body. I kept worrying about if and when I would experience hip or knee pain during the race, and if I did experience acute pain, whether I would be able to finish at all.
On race morning, the coach in me took over. I refused to be negative anymore. I pushed the doubts and worries aside. What good did worrying do? Absolutely nothing. I spent the 45 minute drive down to Grosse Ile repeating my favorite pump-up song: Titanium.
I sang the lyrics on the top of my lungs the entire way,
I’m bulletproof, nothing to lose, fire away, fire away….shoot me down, but I won’t fall, I am titanium…you shoot me down, but I won’t fall, I am titanium….
My goal was to run 8:20′s as long as my legs held up. At mile 6, I had a piercing pain in my left knee, and I couldn’t believe I was feeling pain this early. NO! This can’t be happening already! But I told myself to keep good form and to stay relaxed. I continued for another half mile or so, and stayed focused. I looked at my Garmin, and I was still on pace. I was pleasantly surprised that in spite of the pain, I was still right where I wanted to be pace-wise. I carried on. By mile 7 the knee pain went away.
Discomfort during a long race often comes and goes in waves.
I hit each marker: 8:20, 8:17, 8:19, 8:19, 8;20…up through mile 10 I was right on pace or a bit faster. Then I came down with a horrible case of “lead legs.” I told myself, stay focused, and keep good form. The strength training I did all winter long kept my upper body with good posture and my arm carry strong. My turnover was slowing down, but I pushed as hard as I could.
By mile 11 I started feeling really fatigued. A gradual uphill stretch became a challenge for my heavy legs, but I pumped my arms and told myself I could do it. My pace slowed to an 8:50 pace. When I really wanted to give up, I reminded myself of all those long, Sunday morning runs, where I ran in sub-20 degree, windy weather. I had sacrificed so many cozy mornings of sleeping in, and stayed committed to my training.
I don’t ever race with an iPod, but I sang the lyrics over and over in my head, I AM TITANIUM.
Why would I throw that all away now, with only a few miles left? All that work would have been for nothing. Every time a doubt popped in my head, I reminded myself of all my hard work. I kept my eyes up, and my focus 2-3 people ahead of me.
When I came to a slight down-hill grade, I sped back up a bit to an 8:35 pace on my last mile. I realized as I approached the finish line, I didn’t have my usual kick. There was nothing left. I hit my stop watch as I crossed the line, but I didn’t look at it right away. I feared disappointment. As I meandered wobbly-legged from the finish line, I looked down and couldn’t believe what I saw: a personal best by 40 seconds.
My previous personal records were on days when I felt fresh and at my very best. This was my first p.r. when I ran through pain, tightness, cramping, and heaviness, and yet I still did it.
I realized everything I have told my own athletes about mental toughness is true:
- You CAN have a good performance, even on days when you don’t feel good physically. It’s all about mindset.
- Reminding yourself of how much you have invested in your training is motivating. DON’T EVER forget about the sacrifices you have made to be a runner.
- Discomfort goes in waves during a race. Stay tough when you start to feel bad, because chances are, the pain won’t persist the entire race.
- Keep your head up and eyes ahead. Key off other racers. Once your eyes go to the ground and you lose focus, you are finished.
- No matter what, keep good form. When your legs get tired, your upper body and arms will carry you through to the end.
- Never let doubts take over. You will doubt yourself from time to time, but push the negativity aside. A positive mindset is everything.
Do whatever it takes to be mentally strong. It takes practice, but without mental toughness, you can’t grow as a runner. Sing those cheesy song lyrics in your mind…whatever it takes to have a mind of titanium.