“Hitting the wall” is an aptly-named phrase that is commonly associated with Mile 20 of a marathon. Most training programs for “normal people” (read: you and me), end the long runs at mile 20. The problem with this training method is that in a marathon when you get to 20, you still have 6.2 miles to go.
And as you learn from training, when you go over your previously longest distance, it hurts. If you ran 10 miles last weekend and are running 12 this weekend, that last 2 will be hard because your body is saying “WTF” and your brain wants to listen to your body. This, dear readers, is where mental toughness comes in.
In running, whether out for a long run or 3 miles, you have to get used to the voice in your head saying no and then ignoring that voice in your head and keep running anyway.
I know we’re trained to trust our intuition, listen to that inner voice and be present. I want you to suspend that sound advice when you go running. (The only caveat being in case of pain or injury. Or if you are running in an area and you feel uncomfortable. In these cases, trust your gut and either stop running or move to a safer spot).
This head trip can happen in an instant or it can be present the entire time. Here are a few things to try that may help you get over this bump. I’ve used these techniques myself and they have worked. (Note: while the following are running-specific, these tips can come in handy on a long ride, swim or any other endurance sport).
Slow down. Back off the pace, catch your breath and re-group.
Clear your mind. Doubt (why did I ever think I could do this?). Frustration (I’m running so slow, what’s the point?). Panic (I have 8 more miles to go and I’m tired at 2). When these thoughts start to clutter up your brain during a run it can be distracting and will make for a very difficult run. Say “Stop” silently, or out loud and focus on clearing your mind of any thought. Focus on 2 things; your breath coming in and your breath going out. In and out. In and out. In and out. If a thought starts to dance across, say “Stop” and again focus on your breathing. Do this until you are back on track.
Stop. Sometimes you just need to stop for a minute. Take a drink of water, walk, and talk yourself down from the ledge. Breathe, clear your mind, and focus on what you are trying to accomplish. Now start running again.
Plug In or Plug Out. On long runs I clip my iPod Shuffle to my shorts and tuck my ear buds into my bra strap and forget them. I like having music at the ready but don’t always use it until the last few miles of a run or if I’m at a part where I just need to run and not think. Crossing back over the GG Bridge is a prime example of when I need to plug in. Now, the opposite can also apply; sometimes music can be a distraction. I find that if often the case on long runs when there’s a lot going on around me such as sars, bikes, walkers, or even a big hill. Silence helps me focus.
Enjoy the struggle. Sure, it’s tough to run sometimes. And while your 3 mile run on Tuesday was great, today’s may not be and that’s fine. I’ve laughed out loud on an impossibly hard marathon course because I honestly couldn’t believe I had to climb “that” hill. I’ve also stopped dead in my tracks during a run because my head was in my way. I’ve run home in frustration and then turned tail and ran back out. These struggles as a runner are not something odd, they’re not an anomaly. They are perfectly normal. So suck it up and keep going.
Now go run!