Why running is 83.6% psychological

I’M STARTING TO believe – believe in being able to complete my first half marathon in a time at least closely resembling the initially totally crazy-sounding target times from our coach. I think my first reaction to my predicted time was nervous laughter, then horror. Training has been going well; our long slow runs have been feeling relatively easy and enjoyable, and the speed sessions tough but entirely doable. But I have been really struggling to see how those two things would translate into being fast over a long distance, and so I have doubted myself on and off for weeks now.

THERE HAVE BEEN confidence-boosting moments along the way. Being able to get back into training after a month of pain, rest and rehab; realising that a three-mile run at an easy pace is now both more enjoyable and a lot faster than last year; not really noticing the 15-minute increase in our long run each week. But there have also been a few tough moments. Like realising that despite the lovely, easy three-miler, the two-mile tempo run that followed still felt tough and horrible. I have tried my hardest to stay optimistic, but I haven’t been able to completely erase my doubts about my abilities.

YESTERDAY WAS a real turning point. We had run 12 miles on Thursday, so 10 miles on Sunday seemed too much – but surprisingly our coach’s advice was to run it, and run it fast. I still wonder whether that’s because it made sense physically, or if it was just a very clever, strategic move to boost my confidence. Because it did. It really did. I turned up, pushed myself to run it at a quick but comfortable pace and was amazed to find that I did have the pace in my legs, and that running faster didn’t even make me significantly more tired towards the end. I completed the ten-mile run at a pace that would put me comfortably under two hours for the half marathon, and I’m fairly sure I could go a little faster. With four weeks to go, I’m finally beginning to believe in myself.

I’M ALSO STARTING to believe that running is almost entirely psychological. (Ok, so I made up that 83.6%, but it’s quite possibly pretty accurate.) Obviously the physical side is crucial, but it’s not enough unless you also have a lot of mental strength. Running may be simple, but it isn’t easy. Take your very first run. Was it easy to get out and do it, did it feel enjoyable straight away and did you think you would still be running a few weeks later? Most runners would probably say “no” to all three. I know I would. Take your second and third runs – even harder, even more crucial. What made you stick to it, how many times did you give up before becoming “a runner”? (For me, that’s quite a few times over the years.)

EVEN WHEN YOU’RE totally hooked and genuinely love running – and I do – there’s a huge psychological element to training, racing and discipline. Our half marathon training group has been a bag of nerves, self-doubt, panicky Facebook posts and genuine if unfounded fear as the weeks have gone by. A fortunate few are either confident in their ability or just happy to take things as they come, while the rest of us fret about predicted times, fuelling, running in a crowd, toilet facilities, starting waves, weather, pacing and what to wear.

COME TO THINK of it, I don’t know if there’s anything about running that isn’t psychological. Just think about it. The first step of EVERY run. Sticking to a training plan. Race days – the preparation, the planning, pushing yourself to do your very best when you feel tired. Running in bad weather. Running on when you don’t feel like it. Even rest days – not running can be harder than running. Taking your time to heal when you’re injured, and putting in even more effort when it’s all going well and you’re hitting your goals. Feeling fantastic and running faster for it. I’d say at least 83.6%. Maybe more.

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