Mental Running Issues / Advice

>> Saturday, September 18, 2010

I had been mentioning a little to Coach Jen about how I feel like I can’t run long AND hard at the same time. (By the way, I’m going to TRY to refrain from “that’s what she said” jokes in this post, but it will be hard. Oooh, like right there....) She knew I was working up some questions and issues. When I told her I nearly had my ideas worked out into words, she told me this:

NO worries, just tell me you are mental.

So here’s what I sent her. Tell me if any of this sounds like you too:

Help me with my head

Hi Jen-

So I've been mentioning my "deal" over the last few days. I have issues going LONG and HARD (that's what she said - sorry) on runs.

You've seen my KILLER interval times. Last week you asked me to do 4x1600 at 5:45, 5:40, 5:30-35, and then "all out." I did 5:44, 5:41, 5:30 and 5:15. That I can do. When I know I have a little break coming (like when running intervals), I can GO.

The problem is when I try to run a longer, harder run. I have a hard time convincing myself that I can maintain a solid pace. My sweet interval times are always faster (proportionally so) than what I can do on my tempo or long runs.

A year ago, when I was "over-training" for my first 10 mile race by running every run too hard (something that Julia and you helped me see), I would focus on keeping a solid pace around half way into the run. Then I would just keep building. I've learned my body does NOT like to slow down - it feels like failure. So if I can keep a solid pace through the middle, I'll just keep building through the finish.

I found it weird that 1.5 miles into my "4 hard miles" during my run yesterday, I felt like death and couldn't catch my breath. But after another mile, I was running FASTER (the fastest mile of my 4), and I actually felt BETTER! (And don't EVEN tell me that I need to run everything at 5:45 pace and then I'll feel A-OK and be able to run forever.) Maybe it was just because I was that much closer to being done so it just FELT easier? Dunno.

And now, training with you as my coach, I'm not doing any long, steady, fast runs, so I'm feeling a bit scared at how I'll do in the TC 10 Mile coming up in over 2 weeks. What pace can I run and HOLD for 10 miles?


Is there something I can be thinking about / concentrating on / doing differently as I hit my last long hard run before the 10 Mile? And / Or is there something I can be working on after the 10 mile so that I'm fixed by next spring?

Or am I just mental.


Here’s what I mean: After I logged my interval workout mentioned above, I got Jen’s most enthusiastic response ever. It contained the biggest, bluest letters ever:

I sent her a note back and explained how my interval times are always better than my long runs (as outlined in the e-mail to Jen above).

Here are some other numbers to back up my points. Below are 3 screenshots from the McMillan Running Calculator. They show my estimated times based on my back-to-back-to-back races this past spring: a 5K, a 4 mile, and a half marathon:

Estimates based on my 17:11 5K

Estimates based on my 22:42 4 mile

Estimates based on my 1:22:52 half marathon

Notice: My 5K time says that I could do a half marathon in 1:19:26, but that’s WAY FASTER than I could do.

On the flip-side, my half marathon time says that I should do a 5K in 17:56, but that’s WAY SLOWER than I just did.

I can go shorter and harder, but when I go longer, I end up easing back a little. (And I know, the McMillan Running Calculator is NOT an exact science. I HAVE heard things about needing to run a ton of miles to be able to hit your predicted McMillan times.)

Anyway, here’s what Coach Jen wrote back:

Well, first of all, you are mental, that is already a fact. :)

You know...this is a normal feeling - and if you were the other way (could run fast forever but couldn't nail your track times) we would be having the other conversation.

YOU have gone long and have run nearly 11 miles with fast miles at the end....just this past weekend...

THEN this Saturday you have a 80 minute run with last 5 miles or so at race that is what you need. YOU need to FIRST OF ALL stop putting up a mental block and saying you cannot do this....if your head does not think you can do this, then your body will take the easy way out - trust me! that is everyone's problems. THEY do not believe they can.

IF I asked you to LIST 10 reasons why you will PR @ the 10 miler right now - you could rattle them off quickly to me - you need to believe that....YOU have nailed every single one of your workouts - you have stayed healthy- you are running more than ever before....not much more you can really do.

YOU have that 80 min run this weekend and that is KEY. YOU need to learn how to pace a slower pace (this is where the HR monitor helps someone) and then after 5 miles this saturday taking it up a notch and getting into that sub 6 min pace or 10" either way. On tired legs, on tired lungs and pushing thru.

THIS is not easy for anyone - even the PROS - they all have just learned a little better how to suffer and know that they will not die - sure, they may throw up, but not keel over.

FOR YOU - you said you have never felt like puking on your runs....your harder ones...that is interesting to me- so that tells me there is MUCH more in the tank....I mean, really! THIS is something you should feel after your hard runs...we are not training for an aerobic day like the Ironman - we are training to work at or above your lactate threshold for 59 minutes...and that is NOT a happy place. It will NOT feel good. If you think for one second that this will be will not be easy. BUT you are and will be prepared..but you need to focus on this mentally. Getting ready to race is not only physical but sitting in a dark, quiet room (I am serious) and focusing /visualizing your race...feeling good and then having some pain (from working hard) and how you will get thru that and what will be your words to yourself to get thru this threshold mentally....and eat the pain...and have the confidence that this will be your PR day.

So I would say it is a mental block really - you start to get uncomfortable and you ease off for fear you will hurt or possibly vomit. And, you know what? I love to race racers like that - we can smell the weakness and that is when we go harder. YOU need to think like that - NOT like "Oh this hurts!" Well, shit, of course it hurts....ON my 20 miler this past weekend I was throwing up in my mouth and trying to figure out how to manage that while suffering like a pig. YOU got this Steve....

This Saturday's run will be perfect for this. And, it your job @ 100% mental effort to nail this run.


I responded to her:

Some people have questioned me about my "never have to barf" issues. I run out of air before I have to puke. I just cannot breathe, and THAT is my limit. Barfing must lie someplace after breathing, but hopefully before death....

Jen replied one last time:

The key is shifting your breathing pattern. So when things are easy you are breathing 2 and 2, which means every 2nd stride of the leg you breathe in and out. WHEN YOU ARE suffering you breathe 1 and 1...every 1 stride you breathe - rough!

Do you have "issues" like me? Do you have any ways that you work through your pain while running long and hard? I'd love to hear what you do or what works for you.

And I'll post tomorrow with how my last long, hard run goes today. I'm headed out the door right now....


Anonymous,  9:23 AM, September 18, 2010  

Steve - I'm not as serious as you but I know what affect the mental part of hard-long your referring to and have caught myself on this when pushing hard.

I play mental tricks with myself like telling myself the pain is the reward that I've earned, that I'm lucky to only suffer like this (.... think POW, paraplegics) and the other thing for me that is weird is if i smile it does not hurt as much!!

Unknown 10:05 AM, September 18, 2010  

Even though you are WAY faster than I am, I have been at the same road where I feel Like I cannot breathe, tense up and hold back. I am too learning how to push through those moments. I actually felt like I was going to vomit when I came in 11th OV and 2nd in my AG in a sprint race not too long ago..but I think that was from my
I also get some songs in my head that are faster beat when this Eminen "Lose yourself" or some other crazy song that keeps me thinking Im good...

ShutUpandRun 10:21 AM, September 18, 2010  

Great post. I love the mental component of running and learning how to make myself stronger in that regard. Throwing up in my mouth, however, would not be my favorite thing. Or other things in my mouth (that's what she said).

GoBigGreen 3:43 PM, September 18, 2010  

Ok Steve, you are almost there. To be SO READY but afraid and not sure, YES. Bc That ( in my experience ) is pre-PR. I am not you and no i am not that fast, but remember how i keep telling you i NEVER EVER run as fast training ( other than in small bits) as i do in a longer race? And you kinda looked at me funny?
My advice is this and you know its coming....SHUT YOUR HEAD UP. As Jen said, this is gonna leave a mark:) but embrace that. And take it ONE MILE at a time. The beauty of this is that you have gone outside your comfort zone with Jen training you and you have been good ( even with the crap food, and we can eat apple fritters pretty soon at Ninas, so hold tight) but when your head goes to that "non trusting, scary place" make a U TURN and go the other way.

Unknown 4:42 PM, September 18, 2010  

Hi Steve,
When I start to feel pain I pretend like it is an energy source within my body and so the more energy I use, the faster the pain will go away. I turn the pain into a positive thing- like it is helping me, and then in a sick, twisted way, I don't want the pain to go away. I still have not figured out the vomiting thing though. That makes me want to give up real fast so you are lucky you never want to.

Kat 5:53 PM, September 18, 2010  

An hour or two ago I finished my 6th ultramarathon so I know a thing or two about pushing hard and past what you think are your limits. I still have lots to learn, but what has worked for me so far is during training to do progression runs where you start a little slower than usual and pick up to race pace at the end- usually I do 3-4 blocks so a 12 mile race will have me running my hardest for the last 3-4 miles.

On race day I try to focus on running the mile I'm in. You can always run one mile or a few minutes at a tough pace. The other thing that I do is pretend like I need to run much further than race distance. If I trick myself into thinking I need to run 20 hard miles suddenly 13 hard miles seems MUCH easier! I also pick a mantra ("Who's a runner! Steve's a runner!") to focus on something other than how much I hurt; it also helps with my pacing if I pick a mantra where I can time my footfalls to the words. And when I hurt I focus on one thing on my body that doesn't hurt. I know very well that my left elbow doesn't usually hurt during endurance races because I spend lots of time focusing on that and not the pain in my legs and lungs!

Good luck!

JP Severin 8:46 PM, September 18, 2010  

My two cents... the only thing that you can guarantee in a hard workout or a race is that whatever you are feeling "right now" will change. That means if you are feeling bad, recognize that within a few minutes or miles things will be different. When you are feeling good, work on maintaining that feeling and keeping it rolling by staying smooth and letting the speed flow. This really helps me especially during my dark spots.

Beth 8:56 PM, September 18, 2010  

I'm with you on this one - long, hard sustained running efforts are the hardest of all! I don't know if this will help but what I do is break it down into much smaller parts so that I can wrap my head around running hard and feeling bad for just short periods instead of the entirity of the race. One mile at a time. Or one mailbox at a time. Or one block at a time...whatever it is you need to do. Good luck!

Anonymous,  11:24 AM, September 19, 2010  

Hi Steve, I'm really glad you brought up the breathing issue with Jen... that's my problem too.

I liked her suggestion to breathe at a higher cadence. I tried it on my run yesterday and realized that (a) I'd never noticed my breathing patterns, and (b) they're really ingrained and hard to change! But when I really focused on breathing more rapidly it definitely helped.

Need more work on it, but thanks for posting this exchange (and thanks to Jen for letting you do so! It was VERY motivating for me to read!)

Anonymous,  12:20 PM, September 19, 2010  

I am glad Jen mentioned wearing the HR monitor so you have a better understanding of your effort.

You probably lack a good amount of Aerobic conditioning which is why you see hints from Jen about that issue as well as the McMillan calculator coming away with the same conclusion.

Just look at the ten mile projection - 59:49, 1:00:24, 1:02:24, the last one is closest to your PR. There is a reason for that. Jen is working on it, you just need to look at those three numbers and understand that she is addressing the issue.

TriEric 2:51 PM, September 19, 2010  

You are such a mental case...but there is hope. We are all mental to some point. It's just a matter of how we deal with it. I have two tricks I use...maybe three.

First...whatever pain and suffering I am dealing with at that moment I know will go away when I cross the finish line. The quicker I make it to the finish line the quicker I'm done and will start to feel better.

Second, one of my fast tri friends has a great saying for the end of a race...."I can do anything for 20 minutes." That includes running fast. For you, 20 minutes is the last 3 miles of the TC 10 miler. You can run three miles fast..can't you?

Third, As coach says..this is all very mental. Running a good hard race is 90% in your head...the rest is all mental. Another tri buddie sent me a phrase prior to a big race....."Push the mind and the body with follow." You just need to tell the body to shut up and do as it's told.

You are going to kill the 10 miler.

Caratunk Girl 5:57 PM, September 19, 2010  

I am totally like that too! I can run hard for intervals but when it comes to running long and hard - forget it. Interesting.

Kurt 7:47 PM, September 19, 2010  

Steve, this is my first comment on your site so I just want to thank you for all of your great posts.

As for the throwing up. I used to be like you. All of my friends would throw up during soccer preseason but I could just keep going feeling fine except for the breathing. I was also always one of the top runners on the team. However, after college I allowed myself to get out a shape for a couple of years. Starting lifting weights to get back in shape and I found myself dry heaving and throwing up during hard workouts. I think the difference was the breathing. I think when I was lifting hard while not being in great shape, I was holding my breath during the hard pushes then trying to gulp air in later. If I focus on my breathing, I won't get the queesy feeling then. I could be completely off. But now that I'm in shape doing tri's, I'm back to not feeling like I need to throw up after a hard interval workout.

Amytrigirl (aka Amybee) 8:22 PM, September 19, 2010  

Are you kidding? What do you think I was telling myself the entire 19 miles of the marathon at IM MOO? (I can't; I'm not really an athlete, blah, blah, blah).

I had a nice chat with my coach too last week and he gave me advice very similar to what Jen is telling you....

They are so right on the money.

It is funny that others that train with us know we CAN do it; but we don't think we can.

Time to turn this around, my friend.

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