Mantras in Action

Our marathon training plan called for 15 miles today with 4 miles of marathon pace in the middle. If you asked me yesterday if I was capable of this I would have said, “Yes, of course!” I have run much longer distances than that and have run more miles than 4 at marathon pace. So, yes I knew I was capable. But if you asked me if I was going to be able to do it, deep inside there was that niggling of fear.

Last Saturday there was a similar workout. 13 miles with 4 at marathon pace. After the four mile warm-up, we started running at marathon pace. Except I didn’t. I ran 41 seconds slower than marathon pace. I tried to speed up for the next mile. But it didn’t happen. I went into the woods to go pee. I changed my playlist. I took a walk break. I tried for marathon pace again. And went even slower. So I gave up. It was my first workout ever that I remember giving up on. I was miles away from home so I just slowly ran/walked home and listened to a Running on Om podcast. I may have cried. Ok, yes, I cried. But I was also ok with it because I knew I would try again the next day. I knew that I had not pushed my body too hard and that I could try again the next day.

And I did. Sunday afternoon I ran 3 easy warm-up, 4 miles at marathon pace. And then 2 cool down. Except my marathon pace miles were a little slow. Not exactly 8 minute miles. More like 8:10. But hey, I was proud of my comeback. Proud that I tried.

This week I had an awesome track session on Tuesday. I hit the times I hoped for and felt almost giddy with disbelief that I did it and it did not feel awful. 4 by 200m, 4 by 400, and 4 by 200 with same amounts of rest in between each and I hit 6:30 pace by the end of most of them. It felt doable too. Not too hard. Pushing hard but not too uncomfortable. That was such a gift.

So going into this morning’s workout, I should have had that confidence. Should have been bolstered by the reality that yes, I am capable of this shit.

But during mile 4 of the the 7 mile warm-up, my stomach felt nauseous. By mile 5 I was dry heaving, prompting my sister to ask me if I was dying. I felt that I couldn’t breathe, that my throat and nose were filled with mucus. I was coughing and gagging while running and hoping I would barf to make it feel better. Was it because I ate too much yesterday? Or because I drank too much water this morning? Or did I not sleep well?

But then something deep inside my brain clicked. And I started to repeat “I am strong and ready. I am capable.” over and over to myself in my brain. For about a half of a mile, I was just in a trance repeating it over and over. And my body relaxed. I felt my muscles relax. I felt my face forming a small smile. I was strong and ready. I was capable.

We stopped for one last potty stop at mile 6 and sitting on the toilet I had the strangest idea. I should watch funny cat videos on YouTube. But I don’t like cats. So I searched YouTube for cute goats instead. And while we ran our last easy mile, I watched a video of cute baby goats. I laughed out loud and exclaimed over them. It was so cute! One was jumping on a trampoline, another walking on top of a dog. So ridiculous sounding but it worked. I relaxed.

I ran those 4 miles stronger than I have run miles at marathon pace for a couple of months. I felt strong and capable. I did not feel worried about being able to maintain the pace but just pushed and did it. Mile 1 and 2 were easy. Mile 3 I had to push a bit at first but then my pride of how I was doing kicked in and it was fine (It ended up being my fastest- under 8!). Mile 4 was hilly and the first half I pushed a little too hard- 7:30/40 and paid for it climbing the last hill in 8:30s. Mile 1,2, & 3 were exactly on pace. Mile 4 was around an 8:10 pace.

Looking back I am wondering if my mental game started in on my again on mile 4. Did I let my excitement and pride turn into relief that it was almost done and let back a little. I don’t think so – I remember pushing so hard- but I also know that my running mental dragons are like deep underwater creatures. Sea dragons don’t float along the surface of the ocean waiting to be slayed. No, they are deep down. Waiting in hiding till they come out to attack. But today, for some reason, I was able to slay some.

I feel like I came away from that one run learning so much about my running dragons.  And how to slay them.

To start, usually before races and important runs, I watch inspirational videos on YouTube. Whether its Lauren Fleshman running a race, or a sports apparel ad, or a clip of the Olympic Trials. Something to pump me up. I listen to certain playlists that I know will get me going.

But somewhere along the way- those tricks have stopped working. And instead of just being ineffective, they now cause anxiety. Each race or hard workout gets built up to be this huge success or disappointment- a reflection on who I am and how hard I can work.

Which is bullshit.

Each run and even each race is just a run. Just a couple of hours of time passing where I am choosing to spend it running. No matter my speed, that time spent is not a huge reflection on who I am and what my capabilities are. But it definitely can feel like that. Especially when you flop badly a couple of races in a row. Or in a couple of runs within a month. Those flops, those times when your running partner finishes so far ahead of you, can make you feel that each run is a proving ground. Not to other people but a proving ground to yourself.

And it can’t be. That is simply way to stressful. And that stress results in nauseous stomachs, dry heaving, too many potty stops, and well, slow times.

My solution? The solution that was placed into my head today before I even realized what the problem was? Mantras and cute baby goat videos.

Mantras really do seem to work for me. I have tried one before on a couple of really (really, really) long runs and it helped. One time I was depressed and tired of running but stuck on a trail miles and miles from home and I just kept repeating “ I am fine!” to myself in a cheerful voice. And it worked. It reminded me that I was fine. I relaxed and ended up enjoying myself.

And today when I repeated “I am strong and ready. I am capable.” it made me feel strong, ready, and capable. The repetition relaxes me. It helps me get out of my mind. It is like I am a dog chasing my tail but I don’t even know I am chasing my tail. I am just super dizzy and can’t figure out why. And then the mantra snaps me out of it.

And then the baby goat videos!  Not saying you need to watch baby goat videos before your hard workouts but I am saying that I am going to stop pumping myself up before runs and races. Instead I am going to focus instead on staying relaxed. My body is capable of awesome things if I just let it do what I am training it to do. I need to trust my body. It is capable of flying. It is my mind and the roots of doubt and fear that are holding my body to the ground. Once I relax and remove my mind from the picture, my body takes flight and does what I have trained it to do.

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