I have been a fun runner for years but preparing mentally has never been high on the priority list. I have done numerous races and even one marathon. This gives people the impression that I know what I am doing and know how to train. This is not the case. I have semi followed specific physical training plans but most of the time trained to finish. I am not a particularly fast runner so my goal has always been just to take that step over the finish line. This is what a fun runner does. Do the race, get the t-shirt, box ticked.
However, when it comes to doing races you have done before – you always want to beat your previous time. The last time I ran RAK was 3 years ago with a time of 2:04.48. I had done a lot of running preparations for that race. For about five months, I had trained with some friends, which made it incredibly fun and therapeutic. I ran 3 times during the week with a long run on the weekends. Our long runs increased each week taking us up to 19 kilometres 2 weeks before the race. So going into the race back then, we were super confident and just hoping to get a good time. In the end we were happy with our results. It was a bit sad too, because there was nothing else to train for that year.
Going into RAK half marathon this year, I had done very little running training, however I had been following a functional fitness program which had me working out 5 x a week. I was also following a clean diet (no sugar or carbs) for a month before. I would say that I am in a lot better shape now than I have been for a decade! I am about 10 pounds lighter than the last time I ran this race. I actually have some core strength now which was minimal last time I ran this particular race. That being said, going into the race I felt confident I would finish in a decent time for a fun runner.
Running in a road race is very mental. Your mind can give up long before your body does. In the past my goal had been to just keep going, put one foot in front of the other. Plod along and finish. I couldn’t help but wonder what it would feel like if I did finish within 2 hours. Something I had never done before. Sure it could be possible, maybe if I had trained harder, but what if I could actually do it – despite not logging the training kilometres. A week before the race I started with my mantra Do what you can, where you are, with what you have. Despite repeating this to myself whenever I thought about the race, little seeds of self doubt pop in.
You’re crazy, that last time you ran 10k was a month ago.
Remember how hard that was?
Now you are going to double that distance?
You better not injure yourself.
It’s okay if you have to stop.
To negate these seeds of self doubt I prepped with what I call a “Mental Run.” On the Sunday before the race I did a light 5K. Nothing too hard or too fast. Even though I knew deep down I could finish the race, I think I wanted to show my mind and body – We can do this. You are strong.
During my Mental Run I used visualisation techniques. I have read how this does help people in any area of your life. Why not apply it here? Whilst I ran, I visualised the road, myself running strong with head up, the final seconds on the clock. I thought about how I would feel if I came in after 2 hours and how I would feel if I came in at less than 2 hours. Would it be a big difference? How would I feel if I came in at 2:01? What needs to happen to make me come in at 2:00? I visualised running toward the clock before it breaking 2:00.00. I could even see the numbers ticking away. I was not breaking any records with this time but it was my own personal goal.
So I had my mantra, I had done my visualisation, was physically ready (did all my stretching and rolling) – now was time to run. My process is to run as fast as I comfortably can until I need to slow down. Not a sprint but at a faster than normal pace until I need to slow down. If you have run road races before you know that the energy of the race usually makes this a bit easier.
The first few kilometres did go fast. The RAK Half Marathon is known as a fast course and it’s true. Before I knew it, I was crossing under the 7 km banner. I had been running an average of 5:30 minutes per kilometre pace which is way faster than I normally run. I felt great and kept going. You have a lot of time to think whilst you are running. I started think of all the races I had done before. Why haven’t I ever finished before 2 hours? Maybe I never really pushed myself. If I keep pushing myself this time – will I get the results I want?
NEGATIVITY SLOWS ME DOWN
I had asked my husband to bring the kids to the route. I had told him to park at a particular location but I wasn’t sure how far along the route this location was. I kept my eye out for this specific landmark. Around the 11 km point, I saw the place. I was so excited. I anxiously looked for my family. I couldn’t wait to tell them how quick I was still going. I wanted high fives and all. When I got there, I saw no one. I felt devastated, then angry. My husband had one job to do. He just had to be there with the kids and he wasn’t. Negative thoughts filled my mind. I was so angry. Why isn’t he supporting me? One job! At this point I looked down at my watch. I had slowed down by a whole minute. I was still angry. I thought I would use the anger to run faster but after spending another kilometre plotting my revenge, I looked at my watch again. Still slower than before. Okay. This is not helping.
If my husband wasn’t there, there must be a very good reason for this. He would not intentionally miss this. I am sure there is a good explanation for this. He has supported me with everything else going on in my life and this time was no different. He will definitely be at the finish line with the family. Think about that. Which is what I did. I let go of the anger I was feeling. Thought about seeing them at the finish line. I pushed on being thankful that I was running this race. Reminding myself that I did this for me. Having them around was an extra bonus. I kept going listening to the music playing through my earphones and feeling strong. It took about a kilometre to get back on track but once I felt good again I looked at watch – back to 5:37 minutes per kilometre.
Around the 17 kilometre mark, I looked at my watch and realised that I just may be able to finish just under 2 hours. I knew that I crossed the start line at about a minute after the race started. If I was going to break 2 hours, I wanted it to be clock time. So doing the maths in my tired head, I calculated I would have to run a 5:30 kilometre pace for the last 3 kilometres. This would be a major physical task. I had to visualise how I would feel if I got 2:00. Not good. I didn’t want to be so close and miss it by seconds. That would really suck!
By this point I was tired but I just pushed. Whenever I felt my body slow down, I pushed. I thought about how great it would feel to finish. I just focused on finishing. Get there. Push. Breathe. Push. My family were on the sidelines about 1/2 kilometre from the finish. I did see them, gave them a quick thumbs up and said “Sub 2!” and pushed on. Too close to the finish line to stop. A quick thought went back to that wasted anger and negativity. I was not able to stop if I wanted to meet my goal. Had they been at the earlier location I wanted, I may not have been in the position of meeting my target of sub 2 hours. Thank you Universe.
Keep going. Here is where my visualisation matched reality. Running towards the finish line I could see the time 1:57 changing over to 1:58. I continued to push for that last minute, trying to beat the clock to 2:00. I don’t remember anything else about the finish except for watching that clock and running towards it.
I DID IT!!!! Clock time 1:59.03 which meant my real time was even better. At that point I could not even think to calculate but my watch read 1:57.46. I was happy and emotional. My eyes welling up. I tend to be overcome with emotion when I do something for the first time. Don’t we all? I grabbed a banana,water, and a candy bar for the kids from the table as I exited the chute. I kept my head down until I found my family. Once I found them we all celebrated with dancing and our usual family silliness. I think the kids were more excited that mommy was giving them a candy bar early in the morning than the fact that I had just ran for 2 hours – well…for 1:57.46 hours.
This was a great personal milestone for me, but the reality is that once you achieve a goal, it doesn’t seem so important anymore. I can’t help but wonder what else I can achieve in my life. Things that perhaps I think are not possible for me. Not attainable. We all have our fears and doubts but the universe gives us these little life lessons to show us that whatever we put our mind to, we can make it happen. Anyone can do this. ANYONE. For me, I get to walk away from this race with a PB (personal best) and have also experienced that visualization works, negative thoughts have weight, and anything is possible!
Until the next race 🙂
Have you got any cool tips on how to mentally prepare for a fitness event? Please share.