focus, but it was very generic. After running the Chicago Marathon a few weeks ago, I thought I would talk a little more about this topic and the specific ways I have found to help me focus. Chicago was a hard fought run for me. With a focus on ultras the last few years I had not run at this pace for that long since I ran NYC back in 2008. I decided to run this race hard without too much marathon specific training. I am certain it was the last few years of running ultras where I learned how to channel my thoughts better that got me through it as strong as I did missing a PR by 57 seconds.
When I use the word focus in this instance, I am not referring to paying attention to what you are doing, form, breathing, blah blah blah. To the contrary. I am actually suggesting you completely ignore all that and take your mind somewhere else. Focusing for me is having the ability to either tune out what is happening, changing my thought process and even visualizing something other than what lies ahead. These personal methods have helped me to get through some of the toughest times in a race. The moments when I think I can't do this any more.
If I stare at something I can completely space out. How does one do that when you are running down the road or trail at warp speed you ask? Similar to when you are driving and staring straight ahead at the car in front. Sometimes before you know it you have travelled several miles without realizing it. Find a runner who is running at the same pace, preferably one with a really nice butt and simply focus on them. Watch the rhythm of their stride or something that has a steady constant movement, or very little movement and focus on that. Stare! Don’t think about anything else “butt” that. Maybe not a great idea on technical terrain but trust me this works. I did this in Chicago when I began to doubt my ability to keep pace and I was able to zone out from mile 16 to 20.
Changing thought process:
I was running with Tom Holland last week, a fitness expert and multi time Ironman including Kona. We were discussing ways we do this. What it boils down to is embracing the moment and changing its meaning. When Tom starts thinking “this sucks” with 5 hours to go in an Ironman, he changes that to “this is great” and of course numerous variations of the theme. “ I can’t” to “I can or I will” and so on. You will be surprised at what you can talk yourself into by using positive messages to embrace your situation. One thing is for sure, it is going to hurt and it is going to suck. Remember! The pain is good and if it sucks that’s even better. It means you are giving it your all. The reward is worth it so keep reminding yourself you can.
This can take many forms and can even be quite entertaining. I have heard of people who visualize crossing the finish line. I prefer to visualize the beer I am going to drink when I am done, the big steak I am going to eat and the big smile on Tani’s face when I get my gigantic hug. These are great images, but how do we use visualization to get us there. For me, my runs are always dedicated to someone. What I like to do is imagine that person is there with me. This past June during a 50 miler in DC, my legs were beaten to a pulp after 40. All I wanted to do was walk or better yet sit down. I imagined my friend Anita picking me up by the back of my shirt, not carrying me completely but just enough so my legs stopped hurting so badly. Ten miles later I had run my best 50 to date by 20 minute breaking 9 hrs for the first time. In Chicago I was running for Quinn who is 7. He gave me a ride on his shoulders around mile 23 when I needed to pick up the pace. These visuals are short lived for me and maybe even kind of silly to some, but they remind me that I am not only out there for myself and there is so much power in that.
If all else fails, just keep telling yourself what a bad ass you are and nothing can stop you!
Peace and Have A Great Day