Can I confess something? This past year isn’t the first time I’ve tried running. I’ve been a failed athlete several times in the past and I told myself I would just never, ever be good at running. Cut to me being about a month out from my first half marathon and it’s kind of crazy to think of the many, MANY times I failed, I quit, or even worse- I badly injured myself. And while part of that was not doing enough research to be sure I had the proper clothes and shoes to make my body a
little more comfortable and supported, a lot of it was listening to (and believing in a deeply flawed way) the advice that running is pretty much all mental. Now, running IS a huge, constant mental game. Your brain (well, my brain at least) is consistently saying- “Why are you doing this? Stop. This is crazy. You should go home and snuggle under blankets. You are making a huge mistake. Stop.” When I say deeply flawed way what I mean is this- I heard that it was mostly a mental game and took it as advice to ignore what my body was telling me. I’d push too far or too fast, get shin splints, feel like crap, and then never run again for several years.
When some of my MOPS friends signed up for the half marathon (and some for the marathon) with Team World Vision last year, I loudly proclaimed how I wish I could do that, but my knees and tendons are just too crappy to ever be more than a short to mid distance runner. Last year I “shredded my tendon” (I believe the words used to describe it to me was “imagine you took a small cheese grater to your tendon- those are the micro tears making it hard to walk.” and was warned that if I didn’t respect the pain my body was warning me about, it was likely I would end up needing surgery. My background is in theatre. I’m an actor. I can mental game in pretty much any situation where my fight or flight response isn’t triggered by my anxiety issues. I can go quite a while pretending things hurt less than they do, but at the end of the day, the REALITY of what my body can and cannot do safely is still there.
So I spent a lot of time at yoga last year accepting that different bodies are different- That my body wasn’t ready to run at the pace my legs wanted to go even though my mind was. There were two beautiful things that my yoga practice did for me during that time. First, I learned how to listen to my body more than I had in the past. I paid more attention to form and learning the difference between discomfort and pain- Something that remains so important in all areas of fitness I work on now. Second, I got stronger. A LOT stronger. the muscles in my legs were worked hard and eventually they became better supports for my knees. I got stronger in my core and suddenly I wasn’t making up for the pain in my lower back when running by slipping into really bad form that aggravated my tendons and contributed to shin splints. I learned when to say I need to stop and go ice right now, and I learned when to say this is discomfort but you are not in danger- keep going.
I wasn’t ready to run like this before, I’m still not entirely convinced I’m ready to do it now. But I’ve learned how to up both my mental and physical game, and I’ve found a better balance between the two. I kind of feel like I’m cheating at the mental game sometimes because I have such a powerful why with trying to bring clean water to kids across the globe, but then I have runs where I totally lose sight of that bigger picture and just want to cry. So the mental game is still there, but the more miles I add, the more I realize how far I have to go with strength training and endurance. And hopefully I can do that thanks to learning how to listen to my body, and accepting that my body is what it is right now, not how I wish it was. If that means pulling back my pace, fine. If that means needing an extra day of recovery so I can get back at it, fine. That doesn’t mean it will always be that way. I’m getting stronger. I’m surprising myself. I’m far from a running expert, so I feel weird giving any sort of advice about it, but I’m trying to tell everyone who tells me they might want to start running after hearing about by running journey to try interval training or starting slow, because the progress I’ve made in the last year is due to rejecting perfection, embracing little by little, and exploring a holistic approach to fitness.
So no, your mind isn’t necessarily the problem if you struggle with being a runner. (Or if you struggle with any number of physical activities with a popular encouragement of pushing through the pain) But training your mind to interrogate the difference between discomfort and pain may be the key to getting to your next goal. Keep your goals fixed and your approaches flexible. You’ve got this.