Friday, March 11, 2011

Mental Limits

I just read a great blog post from Kenyon Neuman regarding mental barriers and it resonated with me and memories of things I have observed over the years. So often, runners seem fixated on numbers, making the training data the goal over all else, and in doing so inadvertently limit themselves and what they can do. I, too, have fallen into this trap in the past. If I did not hit the times I desired for the first couple of repeats in an interval workout, I would just get frustrated and tense and lose enthusiasm and desire for running the workout. Fixation on numbers does not help anything. Over time, I learned to emphasize a focus simply on effort and form and do not concern myself with split times or pace or distance until after the run or workout is completed. Just being relaxed and focussed only on the sensory feedback from the body. The entire blog post (including some inspiring videos of awesome performances) is worth taking the time to check out, I am excerpting part of it here:

I was thinking about how often we let our minds get in the way of running fast. I had this run over CU’s 20-mile loop at Magnolia Road last year that I kept thinking about. I chose not to look at my watch over the entire run. I didn’t once give in to the temptation to check my time, figure my pace, and go into this mental routine of determining whether it was too fast or too slow. I gauged my entire effort on “sensory data” which is an invaluable tool Mark Wetmore always told me to use. I just relaxed and turned my legs over the entire way. Somewhere near the end, I knew I was running fast, but I was starting to work a little too hard on the last few hills. So I slowed up and decided not to trash myself for our track session on Tuesday. I figured that I’d get pretty close to the fastest time I’d ever seen anyone run on the loop (2:03 – Brent Vaughn). When I decided to slow up I thought I’d probably finish a bit slower, maybe 2:06 or something. I knew that it was worth slowing down and making the effort reasonable so as to run well in the coming workouts. When I finished, I stopped my watch, crossed peak-to-peak highway and then took a gander at my time. It was far faster than I had imagined, and I’m convinced the key was not thinking about time, just worrying about effort. The key was not overthinking things, putting up these walls & telling myself that the pace was too fast. When you know you’re running fast, you begin to worry about the worst scenarios. You begin to think you might blow up, and then, you just do.

I just finished reading an article about Daniel Komen in Competitor. It must have been fate, because it just reinforced the very thing I’m writing about. Komen didn’t want to hear his splits. He didn’t care about time. He just ran his ass off and listened to his body. He’s the only man to ever run two sub-four minute miles back-to-back. Mental limits didn’t exist in his world. “Too Fast” didn’t exist either. Doubt didn’t exist. It was simply about beating people and pushing it fire-to-wire. The guy was apparently pretty confused when someone asked him about pre-race nervousness. He was dumbfounded. He didn’t get why anyone would be nervous before a race. If Komen had heard “3:59.4!” at one mile in his world record 2-mile, and worried about whether the pace was too fast, or whether he was going to blow up, that record never would have happened. He didn’t care about the splits. The pace was never “too fast”.

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