My coach’s stated goal for Week 10 marathon training was to work on mental toughness. It is self-evident, I suppose, that a runner cannot coax her body to run 26.2 miles without it. However, as the week rolled on, my initial view of the meaning of “mental toughness” changed as both my runs and life threw challenges my way. A recap:
Sunday, 16-mile Long Run:
This scheduled long run was two miles longer than my last, and the farthest I have run since 2002. The first nine miles were great. My pace was on track, my body was feeling good, and, in keeping with this week’s theme, I spent the first half of my run focusing on “mental toughness”. I proudly and assuredly reflected on the fact that my body knows what to do. It knows how to settle into my marathon pace, it knows when to hydrate, and if I don’t over think it and just let my legs do their thing, then I’ve got this. My thought literally was this: “Don’t let your mind get in the way of your body.” It was going to be my mental toughness mantra.
Famous last words.
Just after mile 9, my toe caught an uneven crack in the pavement sending me, full out, down to the concrete. There were a few seconds of panic that I had cracked a kneecap or my hand or both and that my NYC Marathon dream would be finished. Fortunately, I just was left with a badly bruised and bloodied knee and matching wounds on my left hand. I walked a bit, rinsed off a bit, and then had to face a choice: Do I take the shortest route possible (2 miles) back home, or do I run the remaining 7 to make it the full 16?
I finished all 16 miles. Running past the short-cut turn off and deciding to take it the full distance, banged up body and all, was hard. “Don’t let your mind get in the way of your body” no longer cut it. I had to dig deeper than that to get it done, and I did.
That was supposed to check off the “mental toughness” lesson of the week. But then Thursday happened.
Thursday, 7-mile Tempo Run:
Even as compared to the clumsy fall, this epic fail was my fault entirely. A seven-mile tempo run was supposed to be a piece of cake. I mean, 7 miles when I just did 16 while bleeding from my leg? No problem. Which is probably why a) I did not pay any attention to nutrition that day and b) I paid dearly for that lapse in judgment.
For anyone wondering, it is not physically possible to run a competitive 7 miles when you run at 6:30 p.m. and the last thing you ate was a 290-calorie pre-packaged bowl of microwaved wonton noodle soup at 11:30 a.m. at your desk.
There is not much to say about this run other than it was a slow train wreck, with increasing split times with every mile. Physically, there was nothing in the tank to get me all of the way home. The only things that got me there were ticked-off mental determination arising from the fact that I put myself in this predicament to begin with, and verbal coaching from my husband. This disaster of a run earned me a concerned “what the hell went wrong” email from my coach the next morning (completely deserved).
Again, I wondered, can we now, finally, call it good on mental toughness? Apparently not ...
Sunday, 12-mile Long Run:
This was a scenic ocean side run, under perfectly blue skies, with low temperatures, accompanied by my amazing husband … on the day that we dropped our first born off at college.
Mental toughness that day had nothing to do with the run. It had everything to do with choking back the tidal wave of emotion that came with the realization that on Sunday, for the very best of reasons, we would be leaving our daughter so that she could begin to live her own adult life. She is ready. I thought I was ready. But when the day actually came, I most assuredly was not.
I ran with the knowledge that after it was over, my husband, son, and I would say our good-byes and head home alone. Let’s just say that I do not do well with change and I am prone to cry. It was a beautiful day and an ugly run. The only good thing I can say about it is that I got it done. With confidence, our family will get through this life-transition too, and will be better because of it.
Week 11 is finished. Mental toughness lessons learned. It is now time to move on, stronger as a result.