Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Mental Game

Yogi Berra is credited with saying the game of baseball is 90% mental and the other half is physical. A similar percentage is true for a competitive runner on race day. Prior to toeing the starting line, the runner has invested countless hours physically training. But the training is now done. On race day, the challenge becomes more mental.

I think the mental part of the race is where we often fall short. Somehow we find it easier to train the body than to prepare the mind. And of course some runners neglect mind preparation altogether. Then when our race results fall short of expectations we almost always look back at the running portion of our training plan for answers. Rarely do we even consider the problem to be mental preparation.

For me, I’m normally mentally tough in races up through half marathons, but marathons and ultras test me. I cured my mental weakness issues in ultras years ago. I quit running them. However I still occasionally run marathons, so I’ve developed a mental tool to help me get through the last 6 – 8 miles. Sometimes, around 18 miles into a marathon, my body starts sending the message that it has had enough. By 22 miles, the message can be screaming loud. Although this doesn’t happen in every marathon, it happens enough that I know I need to be mentally prepared. So I plan in advance exactly what I’m going to think about if the race gets difficult. This year, I picked Greta. I’ll assume the 2 or 3 people who might read this blog know her last name.

For a little history, back in 1978 Greta ran her first marathon - New York - even though her longest training run was just 12 miles. She was in a lot of pain during the late miles but pushed through to the finish. In doing so she set a world record. She had no idea she had set the record. She only knew she had pushed through the pain. The pain did not win. She went on to become the “Queen of New York” winning 9 times and setting additional world records.

Greta had always been an inspiration so it was an easy choice to pick her to help me through my marathon. Prior to the race, I read several articles about her. I read the RW's article about her first marathon several times. The more I read, the more I got inspired. I admired her toughness and knew I’d made the right choice.

As it turns out my marathon didn't go to plan. I didn’t feel well and was tired early. The last 8 miles were extremely painful. Had I not been mentally prepared, I may have stopped. But I didn’t. I focused on Greta. I thought about her toughness in that first marathon. I saw her image in my mind’s eye. And I kept going with everything I could possibly get out of my body. I missed my goal but I pushed hard the entire way and still ran a respectable race. I didn’t allow negative thoughts to enter my mind. The pain did not win. I was mentally strong because I was mentally prepared. My body didn’t live up to my goal, but my mind was a big time winner. I finished proud.

Yogi is also credited with saying "If you don't know where you are going, you might end up somewhere else". Maybe he was talking about mental preparation.