Happy Spring Marathon Season to all of you runners out there! Some of you are just waking up out of hibernation and going outside to enjoy the gorgeous spring weather, after your New Years resolutions of getting in shape fell flat, and others have been running in the cold all winter to prepare for their local and destination spring marathons.
For those of you who don’t know a marathon is a race with a distance equalling 26.2 miles. Now many of you are thinking to yourselves “I could never run a marathon,” or “I could never run 26.2 miles…” Well, the truth is, you can’t, but only with that attitude. Only because you “think” you can’t. And let me tell you, that is a big enough road block to stop you from doing anything. Anyone can run a marathon if… they believe they can. And that is where it starts.
The body is an amazing machine, and through my own marathon training and the training of a few of my fellow first time marathoners as well, I’ve learned that it is capable of unbelievable things – remarkable progress, unbelievable recovery, and astounding endurance. People think a marathon is 26.2 miles, but in all honesty, it’s actually about 400+ miles, with the actual race begin the last 26.2 miles. During training runners will run anywhere from 15-20 to 40-50 miles per week. The race itself is not the hard part, it’s the 4-6 months of training leading up to that day and its keeping a positive attitude the entire time. The reality is – if you think you can run a marathon, or you think you can’t, either way you’re right. You can only start running a marathon, by believing that you can.
Fact: While running, your brain gives up way before your body does.
Marathon training is 70% mental, and 30% physical. When you first start running you may only get a few steps before you’re winded, or tired or about to fall on the floor. While you’re running you’ll start to hear your vitals, your breathing and your heart rate, your sweat running down your face, the lactic acid building up in your legs and your mind will start running thoughts through your head. “I need to break, I need to rest, I need to stop, I can’t do this…” But guess what… you can, and you are. No, 26.2 miles doesn’t happen over night. It happens step by step… run by run, week by week. When I first started running I couldn’t get 20 seconds outdoors without having to stop. It would take me an hour and a half to run/walk five miles. But I never gave up. I would pick a spot on the trail, the farthest point I ran to and I’d tell myself that I know I can run this far, because I’ve already done it — All I need to do is get a little bit farther each time… a few yards, a few seconds… anything – as long as I pushed myself a little farther each time. What I started to realize was that after I’d run a little bit farther my brain would start to tell me “ok, its time for your break…” or “Ok, we’ve passed the mark, your legs hurt you can walk now,” or “I’m tired, I need a rest,” – and I’d start having a conversation with myself — “Do I really need to rest?”, “Am I actually tired, or am I just so use to quitting at this spot that my brain thinks I should be tired…” I’d ask myself, “Does something really hurt? Do I really need to stop? Legs– they seem ok, they’re not going to fall off. Breathing? I’m not hyperventilating or having any chest pains… and it would just suddenly dawn on me that I DID NOT have to stop. My brain was quitting, but my body, was telling me, “Hey… you can keep going, I’m doing alright.” It’s all in your head. Your ability to push through a burn… your ability to keep going when you have no fuel left in the tank, your ability to go a little farther than you’ve ever done before – if you put the effort in, the only thing that stops you is yourself.
If you are running and you start telling yourself over and over again “my legs hurt, my lungs hurt,” guess what, they will. If you run and tell yourself, “this is not so bad…” you will go farther. It’s really that simple. Your body can go 10, 20, 30, or 100% farther than your brain thinks it can, and sometimes you need to ignore your brain and listen to your body. You can never judge a run by the first mile. Typically, its slow and tight, because your body hasn’t had the opportunity to warm up yet. Running gets easier as you loosen up. In running there is also something called a “runner’s high” and it’s a state of euphoria while running, typically a little over an hour of constant running. Your body is releasing endorphins due to the extended exercise and you almost feel like you’re floating along. You feel as if your body is doing the running on it’s own and you are just along for the ride. Let me tell you, its a hell of a feeling, and it’s the time when you will first become undeniably addicted to running. Your brain and your body will both be on the same page for once and that is, “Yes you can!” You’ll feel so good your brain will even begin telling you that you can run 30, 40 or 50 miles! It’s a wonderful sensation and it has contributed to turning many “pleasure” runners into competitive long distance runners.
Getting your mind to believe you can do it is the biggest challenge you may face, but I learned a very useful trick that will definitely help you run faster, and farther and longer… and that is to actually distract your brain! If your brain forgets that you’re working hard, it won’t give you a hard time about it! Many athletes use headphones and music to distract them on runs… They zone in and put their mind to work on other things… It hides their breathing and footsteps and the music helps to encourage you to keep up the pace. What I’ve found works even better, is running with a friend. Not only does “talking while you run” fun and entertaining, your brain completely forgets that you’re running, or how fast you’re running, or how far you’re running because you’re engaged in the conversation. You push yourselves harder because you can’t argue your way out of “running less miles today” and swearing you’ll make it up next time you run. The first time I ever ran with a “running partner” I took 30 seconds off my PR time and it was the easiest run I’d ever done. We were so busy laughing and joking and talking that I didn’t realize we were going so much faster, and I was running so much father without ever having to stop. You put in a bigger effort to keep up and you can’t get in your own head about what you can’t do…
Running 5, 10, 15 or even 20 miles is a long time… and its a lot of time for your brain to talk yourself out of being great and into something much easier and less exerting… like eating or sleeping. You have to control your thoughts and tell yourself what is possible, every step of the way. As soon as you let your brain tell you that you can’t, you won’t. It’s that simple. When I first started running, running 3-5 miles straight was a huge distance for me. By month 4, I was complaining to people that I ONLY ran 10-12 miles today… Running a marathon, and pushing through and going the distance is all in your head. You work up to it step by step, but how fast you get there depends on your ability to tell yourself that you can keep going.
I dare you to run a marathon and not have it change your life. It doesn’t matter if it takes you 3:30 hours or 5:30 hours, you are all still completing the same distance of 26.2 miles. You don’t even have to train for a marathon, if you’ve never run a mile before, start by training for a 5K. Start your training by telling yourself that you can do it, and then get out there and get it done. Every time your brain starts to tell you it’s time to stop, that you need to quit, that you can’t take another step – take 30 more. Your body can handle it – what needs the training is your brain. Yes there are medical and health limits that may slow you down or delay it – so you have to be smart and listen to your body, work with a trainer and talk to your doctor about what is best for you. But most of all, you have to stop believing that you can’t and tell yourself “yes you can”. Tell yourself why you can, tell yourself that you will. If you put the time in and push though, and don’t give up until you cross that finish line, I promise you, your life will change. You can accomplish anything after you’ve ran 26.2 miles – and you will having a feeling radiating from yourself that you can do anything. Absolutely, anything… But it starts with believing that you are good enough, believing that you are capable, believing that you can push through, and believing that you can do it. Because you can, but only if you believe.
Then take what you’ve learned – concept can apply to anything in life… the only person who can keep you from accomplishing anything is yourself. Practice on small goals, or apply them to 26.2 miles of a big goal… either way, get out of your own way. Do not let negative thoughts form a road block that allows you to give up. If you think you can, you will. ANYONE can run a marathon. You just need to start by believing that you can. If 26.2 miles seems so far beyond your believe, start by believing you can run one mile. When you accomplish that, believe you can run two… and make it happen.