Sunday, 23 May 2010

The Power of the Brain

What a hot weekend!! Managed my 20 miles in the heat, very slowly, and I finished dead on 11.30am, so not bad timing. I ran with 3 friends for 8 miles, and was very glad of their company, it kept me ticking over. However, I was also very sorry to see them stop, and have to run on for another 5 miles. The route I'd taken was all down hill on the way out and uphill on the way back. So waving goodbye to company and knowing the hills were waiting, wasn't much fun. BUT, I have never been so motivated. It seems the bigger the goal, the more ooomph it gives you.

Whilst out running, one of my friends asked at what point in a long run do you think "right that's it I've had enough, I want to stop now". Which was a very interesting question. At the time I answered I rarely felt like that, but on second thoughts I often have that thought lurking at the back of my mind. It's just that once you are committed mentally to however many miles, whether its 2 or 20, that's what your mind is programmed to cope with. The thought of giving up is often lurking, but I very rarely allow it to the forefront of my thoughts. In fact in races, I am often struggling to keep it pushed way back, and employ every ploy possible to overwhelm the negative thoughts with positive thoughts. My sister in law Hannah a consultant clinical psychologist suggested that wallpapering over feelings like that was very old fashioned therapy, and what might be more helpful would be accepting the feelings and working with them. This is definitely something I have used in races. "My legs hurt, my lungs are burning, and there's another hill, oh my god!" to which I now mentally reply, "That's ok, its normal to feel like crap, you know you've felt this way before and survived, so HTFU* and get on with it"

The only 2 runs I can actually remember feeling negative enough for it to affect my running dramatically were firstly when it was terrifically hot, out on my own in the Black Mountains, with another 2500 ft of ascent to go having already done 2000ft, and I stopped to walk, and felt utterly dejected for a while. The other was an early off road long run, 18 miles I think, where I got my fuelling all wrong, felt really hungry, my stomach was already rumbling, I'd completely run out of food, and I had another 8 miles of really rough terrain to go, with no shops in sight. That one really taught me a lesson!

The power of the brain is amazing. It means so much more in the longer, tougher runs and races too. You learn to do all kinds of things to deal with the negative thoughts. I have counted, mentally made an entire meal start to finish, had whole conversations with myself and others, repeated mantras, and of course torn myself off a strip and sworn lots (usually in silence, but once out loud, which scared a few sheep!) I think to run long distances you really have to want to do it. Running across Wales is going to be the hardest work my brain has ever done. Let's just hope it's up to the job!

*HTFU - Harden the f*** up

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