Sunday, September 28, 2014

External Focus Best for Marathoners

If cognitive strategies during a marathon won't exactly make or break your race, they are still among
the most important weapons you have in your arsenal against fatigue. Below are the  four mental strategies to be the most common:
  • Internal association: This focuses on how the body feels while running.
  • Internal dissociation: This is essentially distraction: examples include playing songs over and over in your head and solving mental puzzles;
  • External association: This focuses outwardly, on factors important to the race: passing or being passed by other runners, looking out for fluid stations and calculating split times;
  • External dissociation: This, too, focuses outwardly-but on events unimportant to the race: enjoyment of the scenery, attention to throngs of cheering spectators or glimpses of outrageously costumed runners passing by.

Research has shown that the greatest percentage of those who hit the Wall said they had relied primarily on internal dissociation. It seems all-out distraction may make it difficult for you to judge your pace and to know other vital information, such as when you're dehydrated. It's therefore not a good idea to avoid monitoring your body altogether.

Internal association, while the most prevalent of the four strategies, magnified discomfort among the runners, who reported the Wall appearing much earlier and lasting longer than others.

Interestingly, external association seems not to lead runners into the trap of hitting the Wall, as you might expect from the results of internal dissociation. The researchers speculate that the observance, however unrelated to racing strategy, of passing by other runners and spectators may provide enough of the focus needed to keep the correct pace, effectively anticipate hills and so forth.

Similarly, runners using external dissociation didn't experience the Wall as often or as intensely as the internally-focused groups.

So, what's best practice for marathon racers? Check in on your body periodically-if briefly-and focus most of your attention externally: on both factors important to the marathon as well as on the enjoyable atmosphere. The latter may be unrelated to performance in any direct sense, but it nevertheless has the power to surround and energize you as you strive to keep your head up, your confidence high and your feet moving toward that finish line.

(Marathon & Beyond, 2003, Vol. 7, No. 5, pp. 61-72; BJSM, 1998, Vol. 32, No.3, pp. 229-234) © American Running Association, Running & FitNews 2004, Vol. 22, No. 1, p.5)

Friday, September 26, 2014

Strategies for Mentally Attacking a Half Marathon

Running a half marathon tests your mental strength as much as it does your physical fitness. Each part of the half marathon has different mental battles. Here are some tips on how to win the challenges throughout the half marathon and run a successful race.

First 5 Miles: 
Start out slow. When you start your half marathon, you'll feel strong and confident, but you have to tell yourself to hold back. Running your first half slower than the second half (called a negative split) is the key to running a smart and enjoyable half marathon. Take it slow. Your body will thank you during the later miles.
Run your own half marathon. Don't be worried if you see a lot of people passing you. Remember the tortoise and the hare? They may be starting out way too fast, so you'll catch them later—at your own pace. Going out too fast is one of the most common racing mistakes.
Here are some ways that you can avoid going out too fast: 
  • Deliberately run your first mile slower than you plan to run the final one. It's tough to do, since 
  • you'll most likely feel really strong in the beginning. But keep in mind that for every second you 
  • go out too fast in the first half of your race, you could lose as much as double that amount of 
  • time in the second half of your race. 
  • Try to make sure you're in the correct starting position. Don't start yourself with faster runners 
  • because you'll most likely try to keep up with them. 
  • Start your race at a comfortable pace and make sure you check your watch at the first mile 
  • marker. If you're ahead of your anticipated pace, slow down. It's not too late to make pace 
  • corrections after just one mile. 
  • Keep telling yourself that lots of other runners are going to pass you in the first mile. But you'll 
  • be passing a lot of those same runners later in the race. 
  • Practice starting out slow during training runs. When you do your long run each week, try to 
  • hold back during the first few miles, so you get used to the discipline of not going out too fast. 

Don't get too emotional. Try to stay as calm as possible for the first 5 miles. You want to conserve your mental energy for the rest of the half marathon.

Miles 6-10:
Break up the half marathon. Start breaking up the race into smaller segments. It will make the distance feel more manageable. At mile 10, for example, think, "It's just a 5K to go." Stay mentally tough. Your mental toughness will really start to be tested during these miles.
Don't give into periods of self-doubt and discomfort. Remember all those miles you ran and the training you did, and have faith in it. Think about how hard you have worked and how rewarding it will be to complete your half marathon.
Beat boredom. Do whatever it takes to keep your mind occupied: Sing songs, play mental games, count people, talk to other runners.
  • Give yourself mini-goals: If you're really struggling, don't focus on how much farther you have 
  • to go. Just worry about getting to the next mile marker, the next water stop, or another 
  • landmark. Keep giving yourself small goals, so you don't feel overwhelmed by thinking about 
  • how far it is to the finish line.
  • Go fishing: Focus on someone in front of you who you think you can catch. Imagine you're 
  • casting out a fishing line and hooking that person. Then imagine yourself reeling that person in, 
  • as you keep getting closer and closer to him.
  • Find a mantra: Picking a short phase, such as "One step at a time," that you play over and over 
  • in your head while running can help you stay focused and centered. It can be your inner 
  • motivation when you need it most. 
  • Talk to yourself: Who cares if the person running next to you thinks you're crazy? Sometimes 
  • giving yourself a little pep talk and saying things such, "I can do this!" or "I'm staying strong" can 
  • help you through a rough patch.
  • Distract yourself: Try to take attention away from how you're feeling by focusing on 
  • everything outside your body. I always like to look at the spectators' faces and see them smiling 
  • and cheering. It helps me take my mind away from any discomfort I'm experiencing.
Miles 11-13.1: 
Think outside the body. You may feel a little discomfort during these miles. You'll certainly feel tired. Let your mind take over from your body and try to focus on the outside—the spectators, the signs, the other runners, the scenery.
Talk to yourself. At this point in the race, you need to dig down deep for extra strength. Use your running mantras. Remind yourself what you've sacrificed to get to this point. Remember how you've worked through fatigue during your training runs and how you can do it again. Set small milestones. Continue to break up the course, mile by mile. Start counting down the miles and the minutes.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Find Your Marathon Moxie

If you're training for a fall marathon then many of you are now about halfway or a little over half-way into

your training. Many of you are feeling some doubts about your training. Yep, you are not alone.

Runners are a warm, caring, sharing group, but often when we begin to feel doubt about our abilities, we hold this info within. So, know you are not alone. Others are feeling the same doubts and lack of confidence.

Also know, this is common. We are often our own worst enemies. Training is tough. It's a huge time commitment. It's a lot of wear and tear on your body and mind. About half-way through your training, is the toughest part of your training. You're into the longer runs. The speed work is longer/harder. You're body is still acclimating to the demands. You're feeling tired, worn out, fatigued. When this happens, your brain goes into preservation made letting doubt creep in. Are you good enough? Why are you making your paces? You suck!

It's hard to fathom when in this pit of self-loathing, but things are about to get better. You will pull out of this pit. Does this mean charge on and run yourself into the ground? NO!! Listen to your body. If you need a rest day. TAKE IT! Rest is a good thing. If you're fatigued mentally and/or physically a rest day will do you much more good than that speed workout. But don't confuse taking a rest day for buying into thinking you're not good enough.

Evaluate why you are fatigued. Are you doing other things that are draining you? Can you get rid of those? Should you really have done that 2hr crossfit session the day before your progression run? Are you properly fueled? Hydrated? Have you been getting enough sleep? Was it a bad day at work? Was the temperature 90 and the dew point 75? All these are things that we may or may not have control over but have effects on your training. Also remember that a plan is just a prediction, a guide, a schedule to guide you and help you reach your ultimate goal. It's not law cut into stone.

If you're having doubts, I want you to do some reflection. Sometimes writing down and documenting all that you've done during your training can visually confirm all your hard work and the commitment you've exuded over the past several months. This doesn't have to be a long and tedious task, just use a brainstorming web like I've done here. Once you see all that you've accomplished there's no way you can doubt yourself! (See my attached pic. This is a web I did a while back when I was training for a marathon.)

According to, moxie is the ability to face difficulty with spirit and courage. It goes on further to say that the term was used as far back as 1876 as the name of a patent medicine advertised to "build up your nerve."

Too bad there's not bottled "marathon moxie" that you can gulp down just before a workout or race. Man, whoever invents that will become a millionaire! Until that day, marathon moxie does not come from a bottle, it comes from within you.

Having a marathon mantra is also a great way to remind you of your marathon moxie during the race. When the going gets tough later in the race, having a mantra to repeat to yourself can really make a difference. I've done this during many a race and it really works! I'm not sure if it distracts you from the pain or if it actually causes a physical reaction that overrides the fatiguing of your muscles. Really doesn't matter as long as it works.

So, be thinking of what kind of mantra may work for you. Here's a few ideas.
• Trust. Believe. Conquer!
• Can't Stop! Won't Stop!—Janel
• No regrets!
• If you don't, you rust!
• I'm a running machine, not going down without a fight!
• The pain of discipline or the pain of regret.
• Relentless forward motion
• Make Mom proud!
• Run like you're being chased!
• This too shall pass.
• Perpetual forward motion
• Not today, I will not be broken.
• Not if. When.
• I will keep on.
• Define yourself!
• Not everybody can do this!
• When the going gets tough, the tough get going. So get going!
• With God all things are possible, so you CAN do this!
• I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.
• Do this today and you can eat your weight in chocolate tonight!
• Of course it's hard, if it was easy everyone would do it.
• I hate you Thad. I hate you Thad.