Running is a mental sport

I mean activity!  Running is a mental activity.  I’m not sporty remember!


This is a long post:  The first half is about Training the Mind, the second half is about the Launceston 10 yesterday.

Training the Mind

Marathon number four (Gold Coast Marathon) is three weeks away.  I’ve been working on my mental toughness and particularly on visualising to help me through those last 20 to 15kms.  Marathon number one I hit the wall early (26km), Marathon number two it was about the last 10km that it got tough, but thanks to visualisation training I was ready for it and pushed through.  Marathon number three it was half way, but thanks to believing that I could and sheer determination, I made it.

Time to be accountable and set some goals down here in writing for the next 42.2kms.

Gold Coast Marathon Goals

  • Run all the way
  • Minimal walking at drink stops
  • To be happy and smile
  • To remember that running is a gift and to treat it so during the marathon
  • To reserve half of my energy for the last third of the race
  • To finish in five hours

There is an excellent chapter in Tim Noakes’ book Lore of Running on Training the Mind.  One of the things he discusses is the need to prepare the Central Governor (the mind) for what the run is going to bring.  He suggests that we study the course so that when we get to the event the mind knows what we’re up against and is ready to tackle it.  If we don’t there is a chance that the old Central Governor will say You didn’t tell me about that hill?  Hey Legs!  You can walk this bit.  And with that goes our chance of meeting our goal for the event.

The chapter talks about goal setting.  It actually talks about racing goals too but since I don’t race I found that all bit too scary!  This is quite a complex section of the book and again because I don’t race I found it hard to get my head around.  The thing that I take from it is that setting goals is another way to prepare the Central Governor for success – that is to run the event in a way that fulfils our hopes and dreams.

Noakes talks about visualisation.  This is something that I take seriously because it works.  From early days at bootcamp trying to perfect my wall sits: as the lactic acid burned I would tell myself that this very wall sit I was attempting would help me run Point to Pinnacle.  I would imagine how I would feel crossing that finish line.  I could see it.  I could taste it.  I wanted it!  I got determined.  Then when I’d completed the wall sit I felt successful and like I could achieve anything!  The more I pushed through, the more I believed that I would be able to run up that mountain.  And I did.

With Melbourne Marathon I took visualisation more seriously and literally took myself through the entire course with the help of Robin Arzon’s little 4 minute YouTube (I did this visualisation exercise every day for weeks leading up to the event).  Coupled with the actual marathon running training and the stars lining up on the day, visualisation was what got me through.  I achieved my sub-five hour marathon but not only that, I LOVED the whole experience.  When the going got tough I reached inside to a reserve that I had never used before, stayed positive and kept running.

There is so much more in this Training the Mind chapter and indeed in the whole book.  Some chapters are heavy and technical but well worth the read.


Launceston 10

Running is a mental sport?  It sure is.  This was brought home to me when I saw a friend from uni days (that’s the early 1980s) running the 5kms of the Launceston 10 yesterday.  She had less than 2km to go and was walking.  I came up behind her and told her she was doing a good job and firmly told her to put your run on!  She laughed and smiled and started running.  We are born to run.  We just have to convince ourselves that we can do it.  AND that we can do it when the going gets tough.  Appropriate training and mental toughness will get us to where we want to go.  The first step is to believe and tell that old Central Governor that we’re going to run the whole way!

The biggest thing I constantly tell myself is that my legs are able to run for hours way after my brain tells me that they can’t.  Our brain is designed to conserve our energy, our legs on the other hand have boundless resources that most of us never tap into.

Let’s face it.  I don’t tap into those reserves like I should.  Delicate Runner Syndrome (as I call it) frequently stops me from pushing too hard.  I’d rather run slow and for a long way than fast and pop a valve that might stop me from running.  But I take this too far and use it as an excuse to go slow.

Launceston 10 was a good example.  I looked for someone with a 60 minute goal to run with.  No, not because I’m nice, but because I wanted an excuse!  There were pacer balloons right up to 65 minutes yesterday.  I decided (with the help of some strong encouragement from Janette) to try and stay between the 55 and 60 minute balloons.  I also set the goal of doing a negative split.

It was freezing out there 2°C.  I started at the back.  I hardly looked at my watch because of the pacers (although there were a couple of times when the 65 was in front of the 60 and the 55 way behind both).  At the 5km turn around my split was 27:49.  I kept telling myself that I’d put in a good effort and that I could keep up the pace.  I was still able to chat.  I thanked all the volunteers and encouraged a few around me who were starting to show signs of slowing down and being fatigued.  It was great seeing Janette out on the course and a number of other The Running Group members who weren’t running.  The cheering and encouragement was wonderful.  I’m happy with my run.  I pushed myself enough and finished in 54:18 with an average pace of 5:20 minutes per km.  That’s pretty good for this Unsporty Woman. (My 2015 PB of 51:57 stands).

Three weeks to go until Marathon number four.  A good hit out at Launceston 10 was just what I needed by way of running encouragement.  I can run faster and harder for longer than I think I can and I showed myself this!  This has been peak week of marathon training (all up 63kms).  I can do more than I think I can and so can you!  What was once my dream distance (10km) is now a short training run.  If I can do all this ANYONE can!  Truly anyone can.  I’m the Unsporty Woman and I’m about to run Marathon Number Four!  If I can you can.  Never doubt yourself!!!

Happy running 🙂

PS I’m pleased to report that the flood waters have almost completely receded. The clean up job is still underway.  Many people are still counting the huge cost and will continue to do so for years to come.

Here are some running photos that make me smile – thanks to Janette and Malcolm for taking them.

The finish. Pauly had a great run: 46:20

The finish. Pauly had a great run: 46:20.  An election in Australia is looming and the pollies are in serious campaign mode.  I crossed the line in front of at least three of them from various ends of the political spectrum.  I could write a whole post on this (I got the giggles out there a few times as I plodded past an unfit polly.  I wonder if they’d like to join our running group and come to parkrun?

Running Launceston 10 is a most serious thing

Running Launceston 10 is a most serious thing


Wait for me Elmo!

Wait for me Elmo!

Check out the serious faces in this photo! I love the sheer effort that everyone shows. This is just before the finish.

Check out the serious faces in this photo! I love the sheer effort that everyone shows. This is just before the finish.


21 thoughts on “Running is a mental sport

  1. “I’d rather run slow and for a long way than fast and pop a valve that might stop me from running. But I take this too far and use it as an excuse to go slow.” I can sooo relate to this. It’s exactly what I’ve been doing for ages and have only recently realised and now trying to push through to more consistent running. Thanks 🙂

    • We runners have such similar stories to tell. I’m so glad you found my words encouraging, Heather. Keep on going, just keep on trying. I will too, because I need to say this to myself frequently x

  2. I think I am finally going to have to give in. No sporty for you. All right I admit defeat. The visualization training should serve you well Annie. I certainly don’t have the experience you do but I do know the mental game can be as hard as the physical one. Cheering in your corner and glad to hear about the water receding. xo

    • Thanks Sue 🙂 us unsporty types are most stubborn as well as unsporty! I can’t believe how much the visualisation training is helping. I’ve still got a long way to go but I feel like I’m making progress.

  3. Do you know you were with me on Saturday’s ParkRun? I wouldn’t let myself walk, as you and Lynda (my masseuse) were both on my case. I let my mind constantly tell me that both of you wanted me to keep running, it didn’t matter how fast or slow I ran, I just had to keep running. So yes I agree with you that running is a mental sport (sorry I mean activity!). Bi didn’t run a PB but I know I can actually run a whole 5km without any walking!! I overcame my mental blocks and just ran. Thanks do much, you always seem to know how to make me feel better. I now just have to learn to wave and smile more when I see a camera 😊 all the best for your last few weeks before your next marathon.

    • I will come and cheer you on anytime Debbie. I’m so excited that you achieved this goal. First comes the distance then come the PBs. And those PBs come when they are least expected. Over coming mental blocks would count as a massive PB!!! If you see a camera up ahead put on the smile, raise the sunglasses, wave, run past….then go back to looking like a sweaty sad mess (hehe) that’s how I do it!

      • That’s good advice for when I next see a camera ahead Annie, I’ll make sure I follow your instructions! I’m so glad that you are in my corner barracking for me. I was disappointed with the actual time but balanced it out by knowing I didn’t stop and walk. I was 3rd in my age group so that was good to know too 😊

  4. perfect timing to read this post, as I struggled through my 30k yesterday the mental game was far from my mind, pain had taken over. I just need to keep repeating the mantra to myself. And the power of an encouraging word is amazing. good luck to you in the next 3 weeks of prep

    • Thanks Jo-Anne, well done on your 30km run. That’s a long way! I spoke with an elite distance runner the other day and she said that often in long runs she feels really bad. She said the trick is to remind herself that soon she’ll feel good again. I tried that yesterday on a 23km run and it did seem to help. All the best to you for your training, sounds like you are nailing it!!!

  5. Training my brain is something I think I need to work on. I know what you are saying is true, so much is in our head☺️ I haven’t read the Tim noakes book (it’s massive!) and also I see it as being aimed at real athletes! But it might be worth having a peep at the chapters on mental strategies. For now though I’m sticking to my 3 month plan if of building as aerobic base. I’m really interested in your use of visualisation and how it helped you get through the ‘wall’.
    You already sound well prepared for marathon number 4! I especially like your aim to keep smiling and enjoy!!! Good luck😘

    • Thanks Julie, Noakes’ book is huge! I only glossed through the techy stuff, the mental training chapter I’ve read several times. Finding a plan that works and sticking with it is the best thing! And it sounds like it’s really working for you. Right now I’m feeling so nervous about marathon number 4. I know I can make the distance but I want to show myself that I can push through those places where I would usually allow myself to give up a bit. Thanks for your encouragement, I really appreciate it!!!!!!

  6. When i was studying Aerobic and gym training at UCT, Tim Noakes was one of my lecturers, what a fab bloke! LOVE HIM! and Kara is my FAVE!!! she even liked one of my IG pics!!! i was over the moon.
    You are an inspiration Annie… GO GET EM!
    NOTHING wrong with going slow… its your journey, you gotta love it or what is it all for if its not for the love? Its the LOVE that keeps us going and coming back for more… you are testament to this Annie.
    If you can think it… you can do it xxx
    you will ROCK as you always do!

    • Wow! You know Dr Noakes! It is the love that keeps us going and keeps us trying. You say that so well, CJ. Thanks so much for your lovely encouragement and belief. I’ll give it my best shot!

  7. Pingback: This is it. | The Tri Road

  8. Great post and yes what a mental sport this is. I’ll give you something else to think about I read it somewhere. When everything is hurting think of your eyelids. Cause they won’t be. 😉

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