Going mental

Yesterday’s run was some weird hybrid of a speed session and a tempo run: 10 miles general aerobic including 2 x 2400m in 10:00 (that’s 1.5 miles at 6:42 pace) with a three minute jog inbetween. Since we’re still buried under snow, I did this one on the treadmill.

Heading into the run, I was already doing battle with myself. I’d gotten a lousy night’s sleep, my resting heart rate was high to begin with, and my ever-present groin issue was again bothering me. My plan was to run roughly 3 miles as a warmup (with the first 1.5 very easy, recovery pace). Then do the two intervals, and then finish the run at whatever pace yielded a HR in the low 80%s.

Oh, one other requirement: Don’t stop during the fast interval sections no matter what.

That last requirement is one that I’ve introduced very recently. I’ve had a couple of experiences lately in which the voices in my head successfully cajoled me into stopping, after which I felt terrible about the run and myself. In thinking about those times when I’ve quit (even for 30 seconds to “catch my breath”), it’s become more and more apparent that the danger in stopping isn’t that I’ll compromise my physical development as a runner (although that’s certainly one side effect).

The real danger is in the mental realm. After all, you can’t stop during a race to catch your breath. Those voices are bad enough when you’re training. In a race, when someone’s on your heels for several miles, or that headwind is worse than you’d expected, or you put your sock on slightly wrong and now have a blister, your mind is the thing that either breaks your spirit or pulls you through. Every time you let your mind be your adversary, you get that much farther away from making your mind your ally.

With each speed or tempo session, I realize that these assignments are there to build physical and mental strength in equal measure. So I’m committed to doing them properly from here on out.

As it turns out, my mind and I got along very well yesterday. In fact, due to my mind’s inability to do remedial math I ended up running the first repeat a quarter mile long (1.75 miles). Such are the dangers of leaving “autolap” on during a run when you’re manually recording laps too. During the last minute or two of the repeat I was thinking, “Jesus Christ, this really hard. But I’m not going to stop.” Had I only known I could and should have stopped already. Or maybe it’s better that I didn’t know, as it was a discovery that made me laugh (and had me more than a little tickled) after I downloaded the run data and noticed my mistake.

19 Responses

  1. Stopping. I agree with almost all you say. When I do intervals or tempos, I stop between them. And I’ve been known to stop in races.

    In a 20 minute tempo, there is a huge mental element, getting through minutes 12 to 17. Same thing for quarters 9-12 of 16. I think the general view is that it’s that third-quarter of any run that’s the worst mentally. That’s where you must keep it together.

    Stopping in races is generally bad, and I’ve had even shorter (4 milers) when I’ve done it to my lasting regret. It’s a sign of surrender, even if I get going again and have lost only 5 seconds.

    But in my last (OK, second) marathon, I stopped at 21, 22.5, and 23.75. (BrightRoom has a picture of me walking at that last one). I found that the short break allowed me to collect myself and get going again. I happen to have a photo of me before my second stop. I still beat most of those around me so I don’t think it cost too much time. On the other hand, it was during the second stop where I was nearly in tears for having blown it and was convinced I’d never try this again.

    It’s mental and it’s physical. But it’s a bad habit to get into, what we lawyers call a slippery slope. You always want to hate the unscheduled stops in a run or a race and channel that emotion into making it less likely you’ll do it again.

  2. Thanks, Joe. Great insights and observations in there. You are dead right about the three-quarter mark being the low point, regardless of distance. Although I’ve also found that something odd nearly always happens to me right around mile 10-12 of a marathon. I have an overwhelming desire to stop — not just the current race, but stop running forever.

    I have done a kind of stopping in a few shorter races, in the form of walking through water stops. It has helped (and perhaps even saved a race in presenting the opportunity to pull myself together, as you describe in your marathon example).

    But for what are probably reasons of either unfounded fear or overcompensation, I won’t allow myself to stop during a marathon. During my last marathon, in which the last six miles ranked among the worst 45 minute stretches of time in my life, I was surrounded by people walking the hills during the last three miles. I’m so glad that I didn’t walk, because I truly think it would have been all over for me had I done so.

  3. I confess to never having made the full 26.21875 miles. In my first marathon, I suddenly stopped on Central Park South – less than a mile to go — after I saw someone walking. It seemed a sensible thing to do at the time. I was tired and hungry and wet (this was Rod Dixon’s year) and I just wanted it to be over. Plus Central Park South turns out to be slightly uphill and I was just not ready for that. And my super goal was already gone and my I’ll-be-happy-with goal was well in hand. I stopped for a few seconds and then cowboyed up and made it in.

    For my aborted 2008 effort, I was determined to make it all the way by eliminating the course-management issues (screw-ups) that put me in distress in 2006. Indeed, in 2006 I knew I was in trouble very early because I was going much too fast and it was only a question of when I’d blow up, and whether I’d make it through the Bronx before it happened (I did).

    But had I run it correctly, I agree, it’s best not to stop even in a marathon. As I said, those were dark moments in my 2006 race and, more important, a sign of not running as well as I’m capable of running.

    Of course, I’ll note that in the year I DNFed NY, 1984 (or MCMLXXXIV as it was then called), the winner of the race stopped a good 10 times.

    Also, I’ll have to figure out how to program my treadmill. Kudos on that brutal workout there.

  4. I don’t program these workouts. I just hit the buttons and try not to fly through the back wall into our backyard.

  5. When I went out to watch the NY Marathon in November, I was standing at mile 20 when I saw James Carney’s wheels come off in spectacular fashion. There was something so sad about watching that and I actually found myself feeling protective of the poor guy. I just wanted one of the wagons to come pick him up so I wouldn’t have to watch him staggering around anymore.

    It was his second full marathon, and when I went home and watched the recorded coverage, I saw how he started the race (uphill, into the wind) like a bat out of hell. The resulting blowup 20 miles later was textbook. He’s a great runner, and I’m certain he’ll only make that mistake once. But it was still a vivid reminder of how the marathon can humble the best of us.

  6. I’ll tell anyone who asks, and those who don’t, that Brooklyn is the most dangerous part of the race, particularly if you’re a relative newbie at the distance. Going through the half in just under 1:20 did not enhance my chances of finishing strongly. Hence the foreboding about getting to the Bronx.

    The problem, and a reason for getting in long MP runs, is that I knew it was too fast — clocks every mile — but couldn’t do anything about it. As Franklin (and others presumably) said of second marriages, the triumph of hope over experience.

  7. ugh how i struggle with the longer tempo runs too! yesterdays was a 30 min temppo run sandwiched between two 11 mins w/up/downs. i dreaded it all day long but was soooo happy with myself when it was done.

    i dont have much to advise as to how to get through them without stopping…other then just think about how little amount of time, say, 7 mins is in the long scheme of life!! :) one thing i did in yesterday’s run (which was on a treadmill) was to down the incline from 1.5 – 1.0 once i got to 15 mins. i kept it there for the next 5mins and then put it back for the last 10. gave me something to ‘look forward to’ as i got to the mid way mark and then i just gritted my teeth for the last stretch. and i dont think i jeapordized too much in the workout doing this??

    your training is amazing julie…you have so much running behind you that you can make it through any workout!

  8. I like your approach, Stephanie: selectively reducing one source of discomfort as a “special treat.” Runners are sick, sick people.

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who obsesses over and dreads such workouts. At least I’m pretty good at giving myself little pep talks. But it’s during the tempo runs that I can see the value of having a training partner to help keep you honest and get you through the work to be done.

  9. I’ve been told that remedial maths gets harder the faster one runs, due to the lack of quality blood going to the brain.

    I agree with not stopping in workouts with two provisos – stop if you feel a sudden calf or hamstring pain. Stop if the workout goes badly pear-shaped (e.g. a scheduled 10 x 1k in 4:00 goes 3:57-4:03 for six, then goes 4:08, 4:12).

    Stopping in marathons can be advantageous. For example, the pit-stops of Steve Jones and Paula Radcliffe. Also, on stinking hot days, walking briefly at aid stations to hydrate well can pay off with a better time (or non-collapse).

  10. Ewen, the day I have to take a dump in the street* is the day I give up marathon racing. Even I’m not that committed. And I don’t race on stinking hot days anymore, as I’m a lousy hot weather racer (yet, conversely, a kick ass cold weather racer).

    But I appreciate the points you make nonetheless.

    *If that’s what you’re talking about; I’ve seen the video of Paula relieving herself, but not Jones.

  11. In huge agreement about the mental fallout from thoughts of stopping, and I get them, though less in intervals (nowadays I say “I can go slower” instead of “I can stop”). In the midst of the 10K last weekend I was saying lots of crap to myself and at one point “I could just stop. Right here, right now” came into my mind, though it wasn’t anything I was going to do but I hated that it even entered my brain.

    That said, I did have to stop and walk a bit during Steamtown (first and only marathon) towards the end. I had never walked once in training, but my feet were a mess and I didn’t drink enough at the end. Even so, I was surprised at how the walking didn’t harm my time that much, I still got a BQ with padding. Of course, I’d love to never have to walk again, but I no longer find it to be a shameful thing, as previously imagined.

  12. Steamtown? Isn’t that, like, all downhill? I kid; Julie’s already testified to the myth of downhills being easy.

    This thread did come into my mind today in the last mile of a 10-miler on Pondfield Road, falling apart, thinking, if I stop I’m going to have to come on here and admit it and become the subject of a mix of sympathy and ridicule. So I kept going. Cause as they say, there’s no crying in baseball.

  13. […] posted a few responses in JT’s Races Like A Girl entry “Going Mental.” She speaks of the evils of stopping and of the good that knowledge of the evils of stopping […]

  14. Hey, joegarland, I’ve not been o Steamtown, but I’ve seen reports and pictures. There’s a nasty uphill late in the race that’ll nail those who are a little short of gas. Myself, I’m a slower rather than a stopper. I have had some success with this suggestion from Jack Daniels: “When Struggling, Speed Up”. It sounds insane, but often works.

  15. Jim,

    I don’t know about the uphills, but Steamtown is notorious as a promoter of its downhill orientation and, as the author of this blog can attest, that’s not necessarily a good thing for a marathon. The course demands the ability to handle the abuse that downhill running can cause and so requires a good deal of specialty training. I understand that Boston’s downhills are what get you, and that’s a reason I would never do that race. I’m awful on the downs.

  16. * Yes. Jones’s was in London – I think a #1 in a tunnel. I thought Paula’s was also a #1. Maybe if it meant the difference between running 2:08, or staying with the lead pack in the Olympics you wouldn’t give up marathons. I always thought they should have porta-loos with no doors every kilometre in Olympic marathons. Just as quick as the street, and not such a bad look for television.

  17. I forgot to mention about a running friend of mine who flew to the states a number of times to run the St George marathon (due to it’s downhill second half). Not all his runs were fast. Running downhill to finish a marathon isn’t easy!

  18. […] get to Fenimore Road.” Right onto that with an up and then a down and then, nothing. I stop. I simply can’t hold this pace. 12 seconds and run again, but only briefly. I’m […]

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