I can’t remember when I heard it first, the comment that runners know to be one of the truest in the sport and non-runners know that it just HAS to be fiction. But in the years since I must have said it myself more than 1,000 times.
“Running is more mental than physical.”
I know it comes off as trite and can sometimes add to the view that runners are an egotistical, elitist group – looking down on those who do not participate in or see the value in our sport. But I also know that it is simply a fact. After you reach a baseline of physical fitness, being able to move your body forward for 20 minutes at a time without stopping, bending over out of breath or having to break up the exercise into running portions and walking portions – once you reach that point everything beyond that is mental.
It is simply finding the will to run up that next hill and then the next one. Running an extra mile on tired legs when a previous version of yourself thought that would be impossible. Fearlessly running 5 miles away from home on your first 10 miler, knowing the only way back is to retrace those 5 miles.
And lastly, when it comes to racing, there comes a day when you charge across the mat at a pace that a year ago, two years ago or 5 years ago you would have simply been scared to death. But instead of letting the numbers on your watch tell you that you are going too fast, you listen to your inner-self, that tuning fork inside of you that says, just keep the pace here for another mile and see what happens. Then you run another mile, and another, and another and a funny thing happens to you that day.
You start to believe in yourself like you never have before. You now “know” what you are capable of and you realize that it is much, much more than you have ever given yourself credit for. You cross over some magical line, one that when it is in your rear view mirror, you may never see it again.
That is when a mile is more than a mile.
But the runner psyche is a delicate one. A poor workout, a poor race or God forbid an injury can rob us of that confidence. The only cure I know for it is to keep pushing, keep seeking, keep looking for that mile again.
For me, coming back from this nasty Achilles strain robbed me of a lot of confidence. For a runner that as late as December 16th felt more confident than he ever has in his life when it comes to running – coming off back to back PR’s in short distance (5K) and Medium, long distance (half-marathon) within 8 days – I knew we were in a word “perfect”.
Now the thought of a single mile under 7:00 minute pace scared the daylights out of me – let alone 26 of them.
But feeling healthy for the last week I decided to push things on Sunday. A 6-mile progression workout over the hill route.
Each mile faster than the one before, up and down hills to test that Achilles in a real way – not just flat, easy miles.
Mile 1: 7:45 – just a nice warm-up mile straight uphill 125 feet of climbing.
Mile 2: 7:25 – a rolling mile – dropping the pace a bit to tick the legs.
Mile 3: 7:19 – another rolling mile up and down inclines with my breathing starting to find rhythm.
Mile 4: 7:09 – for the first time in weeks I was focusing on form, my foot strike and not my Achilles.
Mile 5: 7:03 – I started preparing for the turn back into the neighborhood and the final mile.
I cooled down with a nice walk down to the end of the block. No limp, no favoring anything, just a runner getting ready for Sunday morning breakfast. In that one mile, just 6 minutes and 34 seconds long I came to a powerful realization.
For all you guys training for the Cooper River Bridge Run out in the Low Country of South Carolina. You better spend these next 6 weeks sharpening your game. It is often said about this sport that “Somewhere out there another runner is training when you are not. When you race him, he will beat you.”
Well guess what? I’m back to being that runner.