Sunday, January 9, 2011

Rediscovering My Mental Toughness

Where did my mental toughness go? 

Some of you may be surprised by that statement because at first glance, given the experiences I have been handed over my lifetime, you would think I was tough.  I will admit that I am pretty strong - not as physically as I would like to be as my recent venture into CrossFit classes has reminded me - but mentally, yes, I am strong.   I don't think this has always been the case; in fact, I believe the opposite was true when I was younger - much younger.

Strong - yes, mentally tough - not so much. 

What I am referring to is the mental toughness required to push yourself to the limits.  Yep, I'm pretty much a wimp.  When the tough kick it up a notch, most days I stay comfortably right where I am.  108 laps around a track today for a 12 mile run gave me a lot of time to think about this.

I have run a lot of races, but most have been half marathons.  I am not a fan of 5Ks because they require you to go fast....which means push myself for 20 minutes or so.  Yuck....all that effort to feel like puking at the end.  No thank you.  I start out going fast then have to rely on my mental toughness to get me through that last mile still going really fast.  And no surprise here, but it usually doesn't appear and I have to play a lot of "games" to keep going.

Most would say a half marathon requires some mental toughness - and I agree.  But, for me, not nearly as much as one would expect.  Once I can get past that wall at mile eight, I'm golden.  And, because I've run so many of them - 15 to be exact - I've finally got that wall figured out.  I know exactly what I need to do to run right through that wall....the pace, the timing of gels...and it has been awhile since I've run into that wall.

Then there is the marathon.  Yes, these really require mental toughness - and I've struggled along the way - in the training and the races themselves.  I have only completed two and that in itself is a feat since I always vowed that I would never run one...period.  But my older son told me it would be cool if I did a marathon.  I have a rather interesting relationship with him.  He was nine years old when his father passed away, and he had a very close bond with his dad.  It has been tough for the two of us over the years and for him to think anything I would do was cool, was worth me pushing aside that "never" statement.

The training for a marathon was a struggle for me.  Trying to fit in those long runs was difficult.  I had never gone further than 12 miles when training for my halves.  The time required for 12 miles fits into my single working mother schedule - it fits perfectly between baseball games, swim meets, basketball practice.  16, 18 & 20 mile runs do not.  And, I don't like running alone, so I had to find others that would be interested in running that far and on my crazy schedule.  Thankfully, I was able to find solutions to these hurdles.  But, it was a struggle.  Not physically but mentally.  The actual marathon went surprisingly well.   The excitement surrounding the Chicago Marathon, sticking with a training partner and friend the first 18 miles, and most importantly, running for LiveSTRONG propelled me through it.

Then I signed on to run Chicago again.  Was I crazy?  No.  It was an amazing experience and I loved running for Team LiveSTRONG - a charity very near and dear to me.  This summer was much more difficult though.  I was plagued with injuries and some really tough emotional struggles.  Somehow, I got through it.  Not my finest race - but again, the idea of running for LiveSTRONG kept me going.

As I pondered today when exactly I lost my mental toughness, I realized I had actually regained it without knowing it.  Mental toughness is what got me through that race on a very unseasonably warm day this past October.  A race that seven days earlier my ortho told me I could certainly show up to the race, but doubted I would make it beyond the 10 mile mark....and really shouldn't attempt to do so.  I decided I would at least go to the start - I raised $10,000 for LiveSTRONG because I was running this race, and I wasn't going to not run.  I shared with others that I'd see them at the end but I wasn't likely to go beyond 12 miles - and in my mind wondering if I'd even make it 3.

Instead of lining up in my correct corral positioning, I headed to the back, doubting my abilities before the race even started.  So I trudged along and came across the LiveSTRONG crew at mile 3, where originally I thought I would stop but I felt pretty good - no pain - so on I went.  Although, I didn't really think I would see them again until our gathering that evening.  Suddenly, somehow, mile 14 came along and there the LiveSTRONG crew was there handing out encouragement...fueling me to keep on going.

What I recognize now that I hadn't at the time is that I wasn't playing any mental games in my head - those doubts that start making me even consider stopping.  I just kept providing myself challenges and remembering my younger son telling me the evening before "I don't care if you walk 26.2 miles, I want to be able to say my mom completed 2 marathons and do it for LiveSTRONG."  That was my mantra that day.....along with keeping my legs moving forward....slowly but surely.  Then mile 24 came along, and the LiveSTRONG crew.  Their energy and excitement to see me is just what I needed to get to the end.

So, as I ran in circles - or I guess I should say ovals - today, I realized I do have mental toughness.  Somehow while living my life, I had lost it, but I have rediscovered it.

Just as that realization hit me, I was done with 108 laps - 12 tedious miles on an indoor track.  Runners had come and gone - I was apparently the only one doing a long run today.  At no point today did I play those games that keep me going - "so many laps and I can stop for a drink" or "so many songs then I'll stop for a drink."  At no point today did I ever need to motivate myself to keep going.  I just kept going and stopped when I needed hydration.  Running on the track is a challenge.  It's boring....going round and round and completing this without doubts and head games was a huge accomplishment.  Sounds silly, I know.

Today's run turned out to be more than another long run.  It was the moment I realized I regained my mental toughness.  And I'll definitely need that this year as I tackle a race each month.  But, I'm all that more certain that I'll achieve this goal, without any mind games!

Did I mention that I kept hearing that Dead or Alive song in my head as I was running today?
"You spin me right round, baby
right round like a record, baby
Right round round round"

LiveSTRONG friends!

Support my fundraising efforts for Team LiveSTRONG


  1. Wow a marathon every month! That's amazing and something to aspire to. I hope you do not mind being mentioned my blog. Keep it up!

  2. Thanks for the note. I'm actually only running 2 full marathons (although that's a lot for me). The rest are all half marathons. That's about all I can squeeze in with my crazy schedule.

    Send me a link to your blog so I can keep up with yours too!

  3. No, I'm going to agree here, round and round on an indoor track, that's TOUGH. It makes me think that 12 miles would take me a little over 2 hours, wow, 2 hours on a track, I'm certain I couldn't do it. You're TOUGH to do it. That's really an accomplishment!
    THere's a good quote about this, and I'm not one to remember quotes word for word, so it's not exact, but it goes something like mental will is a muscle that needs to be exercised.. Something like that..? Either way, GOOD FOR YOU!!

  4. You're awesome!! Thanks for commenting on my blog! Chicago is such an amazing marathon experience!! -Elizabeth (50 for Billy)

  5. Wow - this is very inspiring. You are one tough cookie!
    I think the mental blocks we hit when running are the hardest to push through, so good for you!