Friday, September 20, 2019

The Running Mindset: Is Distance All In Your Head?

frustrated runner
A new runner joined our running group. She just moved here from New York and mentioned how she was a volunteer for the New York Marathon for years. When I asked her if she'd ever run the race, she said she couldn't imagine running that far. The conversation got me thinking about mindset and how my own mentality shifts based on the distance I'm running. There are distances I absolutely love and distances I absolutely loathe. But I'm not quite sure why or how I set these mental limits.

For example:

running, race, 5k
Feeling ROUGH during a 5k; BUT...
(finish reading for the payoff)

  • I loathe 5ks (3.1 miles) because I feel like "I need to run for my life! no excuses! because anyone can run 3 miles and I need to PR or I am an utter failure."
  • I enjoy 10ks (6.2 miles) because the first 3 miles feels like a warmup, and during the second half, I compete with my time, daring myself to run faster. 
  • Half marathons (13.1 miles) are difficult but satisfactory. I want to keep a faster pace without burning out, so I focus on my breathing and footfalls. It's a nice meditation for about 2 and a half hours, give or take, and I feel so accomplished when I'm done.

Here's where things get really interesting:

    street sign, running
  • 15-mile training runs are the worst! So I do crazy mind games to distract "the suck" of it: Like, "Why does this street name sound so familiar? OMJ, I'm thinking of Woody Harrelson's character in Anger Management! Perhaps Galaska is Galaxia's evil cousin! hahahahaha" But then, 'll glance down at my watch thinking I must have run at least a mile—only to find out I ran less than a quarter-mile since I last checked. *insert wailing sob here!* Why, oh why, does this distance hate me? Furthermore, why do I always think it's a good idea to sign up for a 25k (15.5 miles) race when I know this distance is out to get me? 
  • Running 16 miles makes me so, so happy. It's like a three-hour jog through meditation land.
  • The 20-miler is my anxiety distance. It's four hours of me telling myself that this is Do-Or-Die
    food, distance running
    Post-run meal for two, please! haha
    —If I fail, how will I ever finish a marathon? This anxiety keeps me moving, and before I know it, I'm at 20 miles. I stare at my watch to make sure I'm not dreaming. "Yes, Sera, you've hit 20 miles." Then, I check that watch three more times before believing I'm truly done.
  • I devote my entire day to 25-milers (part of my training plan for ultramarathons) because they are a time suck. Knowing I don't have to do anything other than run and eat, eat, and eat some more—ooh, and soak my sore legs in the tub with some epsom salts—makes this distance tolerable. Really, I'm just preparing my brain for the monotony of running for hours more than preparing my legs to withstand the distance. At about mile 24, I get excited and wonder if I should just run that extra 1.2 miles! But by 24.7, I equate that excitement to depletion of oxygen in my brain! I just want to get through this last quarter-mile and be on to all the amazing food I dreamt about while racking up the miles. 

Now we're really getting into the chaos of the mind distances: Marathons (26.2 miles) have highs and lows throughout the race. 

marathoner, chowdah challenge, cape cod, runner, finish line
Racing to the finish line at the final stretch of
Day 2 of Cape Cod Chowdah Challenge
  • I usually hit 10 miles before I realize how far I've run. 
  • I praise myself when I hit 13.1. HALFWAY, WOOT! 
  • Mile 15 sucks because...well, because it's mile 15! 
  • Miles 16–20 get me in a groove! I'm really doing this!  
  • At mile, 21 I convince myself to walk. After all, I'm way ahead of my estimated finish time.
  • Mile 23 sucks because I have 5k left, and I hate 5ks. Also, why did I think I was ahead of schedule? At this rate, I'll NEVER finish!
  • At Mile 24, I recommit! "Sera, keep one foot in front of the other: left, right, left. Just two more miles to go!" 
  • Mile 26 makes me question the logic of that extra point-two miles. Who the hell thought this nuance was a good idea? Satan, that's who!
  • That final stretch speeds me up as I run as fast as my little legs will carry me because "there is the finish line and all these people are cheering and I hope my lungs don't burst from running so fast while crying tears of relief and joy and pain from tired muscles!"

Ultramarathons (50ks actually) are my absolute favorite distance because I run on a high until the very end (with the exception of mile 15, which naturally, SUCKS!)

  • Hooray for mile 16! I'm past the halfway mark. That went by so fast!
  • Mile 23: Whoa! I've almost hit a marathon! Time to speed things up.
  • 26.2: Woot! Woot! I've just run a marathon, baby! Less than 10k to go!
  • Mile 29: Maybe I'll walk for a bit. Why overdo it? You're running a 50k, Sera! Isn't that badass enough?
  • Mile 29.5: Okay girl. Suck it up and finish this thing already! 
  • Mile 30: Just one more mile to go! Omj! I am a badass! Is this real life? 
  • Mile 31: I run straight through the finish line, feeling on top of the world!

Why do we set these limits on ourselves? Whether it's believing we can't actually run *insert said distance here* or the negative mentality we have at certain distances, it definitely puts a damper on the love of running. I'm trying to get out of my head, find that zen balance that we runners are always chasing. I don't have the answers...yet. But I think acknowledgment is the first step to getting over this negative mindset.

So my question is: How can I adjust my thinking to love 5ks as much as I love 50ks? How can I push through that brain fog, slog, or bog to find my ultimate flow no matter what distance I'm running?

Can you relate? What distances do you absolutely love? Which do you despise?

It was my FASTEST 5k ever! 2018 Westfield's Flat Fast


  1. Agree that longer runs get you into the zen zone! Once you start them 5k are just too short!

    1. Yes! I agree. In fact, I think that 5ks are the hardest races because you have to be in the present moment every. single. second. Way too short!


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