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A Workout by Any Other Name

It's all in how you look at it: To you, does this look like the head of a duck...or a rabbit?

Yesterday I bought yogurt with a sell-by date of October 10—a.k.a., the same day as my marathon. This always freaks me out: If a dairy product can go bad by the time I need to run 26.2 miles, it must mean there isn’t much training time left.

Although there are a mere 26 days left before race day, there’s still time to make meaningful differences in the 10/10/10 outcome. Such as adopting a new mindset toward workouts. It’s all in the phrasing. Like my twins’ kindergarten teacher telling her students they will have “rest” after lunch, not “naptime,” the activity is the same, only the wording is different. I’ve decided instead of deeming some workouts, “hard,” they are now “demanding.”

The paradigm shift happened last Thursday as I picked up my speed for six miles of tempo after a 2-mile warm-up. I was supposed to run at roughly my projected marathon pace. The miles stretched ahead of me, as never-ending as round-the-clock breastfeeding of a newborn baby. (“Come on, kid, I just gotta catch a 4-hour break here. Please!”) As my legs and lungs revved, the wordsmith part of my brain clicked in, offering up a mental reprieve. Rather than being hard, tough, brutal, grueling, unbearable, killer—pick your adjective—the run was going to be simply demanding. While the term still had a sharp, slightly painful edge to it, it stayed on this side of misery. It was a bar I could clear without scraping myself too badly on it.

Sure enough, each mile clicked by. I even ran slightly faster than I project I will in a month (8:31 versus 8:41). I was pumped! As I cooled down for another two miles, I envisioned the rest of my training schedule, mentally recasting the remaining track and tempo workouts. Knowing there are so few demanding workouts left—and that they now take less of a psychic toll on me—felt as comforting as slipping on a dry sweatshirt at the end of my run. What mind games do you use to get you over the hump of a workout?

45 responses to “A Workout by Any Other Name

  1. I attempt to do math…something I don’t really like to do or am very good at, but it keeps my mind occupied. I try to calculate my pace, guesstimate my distance, what my 10k race time would be…etc. etc.
    There really is very little to keep me distracted from a really tough run other than getting it over with. The fastest way home is to run!

  2. One of the things I do is really listen to the music I have on my shuffle…Certain songs have very fond, funny and sometimes hapilly-naughty memories from high school and college…As I reminisce, my body runs to the beat and my heart/head giggles remembering the fond memories the music provided…

  3. I think about kissing my little boy’s cheeks at the end of a long run or race. Many a time have a relied on the vision of his sweet face during a low energy time. I have also resorted to visualizing my (very much pretend) debut on “Dancing with the Stars!”

  4. I have loved reading all of the comments on this post. I’m still a beginner, can barely even dream of the long runs you guys do. (Seriously, my “long run” this week is 2.25 miles.) I’m doing the Couch to 5K and am about to finish week 6. This is my second time doing the C25K and it seems harder this time. Earlier this summer I was running pretty steady a few miles every other day, but I started slacking and found myself back to square one. Every run feels hard. Yesterday I was supposed to do 1 mile, 1/4 mi recovery, and one more mile. I quit in the middle of the second mile. Not even halfway through the first mile my brain was telling me to stop, but I kept trying to tell myself I could go one more lap, one more. I’m not so good at playing mind games with myself because I can’t seem to get around the “Oh my God, how am I ever going to finish?” and “I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die.” thoughts. Tomorrow is the 2.25 mile run and rather than back off since I didn’t finish yesterday, I’m just going to go for it. A couple months ago I could do it and I keep trying to tell myself I can still do it if I would just stop telling myself I can’t. I mapped out a new route for the run tomorrow and I’ll be with a few friends.. so here’s hoping I don’t quit this time.

    1. Sarah,

      You can do it! I am doing C25K for the second time too, and I just started at week 5. I did a few 5Ks this summer but have yet to do one with no walking. Must keep trying!

      1. Thanks, Jen. 🙂 I ran MOST of the 2.25 miles, but not all. *sigh* I am off to try again in the morning before we start week 7 on Monday. I’m pretty sure most of my problem is that one of the girls I run with is a solid minute per mile (if not more) faster than me. In the beginning of the run, since we are running as a group (there are only 3 of us), we naturally run together and it doesn’t feel too fast… only about a mile later I am ready to keel over. Even when I try to start slow, I can’t seem to slow down to what I used to do. So tomorrow I am heading out by myself and am going to really try to concentrate on my pace. Maybe if I can get a good feel for it, Monday won’t be as bad.

  5. Well, my long runs probably aren’t as long as others on here but….the first half I concentrate on the just that then when I hit the halfway point I tell myself “it’s all downhill from here, it’s all downhill from here.” (Sadly, it’s rarely actually on a downhill but I like the image!) And for the last mile even though I’m at tempo, I say “you’re practically cooling down”.

  6. I know I sound absolutely crazy (not to mention terrible) to others who encounter me on my runs, but when I start even slightly questioning my ability to complete a run, I start singing out loud to the songs that are playing on my ipod. Right now, my running music consists of my entire Def Leppard playlist. So, I can’t imagine what others think when I run by, belting out “pour some sugar on me” or “lets get, lets get, lets get rooooooooooocked”. Hahaha… I love it though and it gets me through! Not to mention, it also helps me gauge my intensity level, since I have no running buddies in my area.

  7. I live on top of a hill and do 5 mile laps for my long runs so that I can have water. As I finish a lap, I crest the big hill and think, “If I can make it up the hill and feel strong, I can do another lap!” A quick water stop and I do it all again!

  8. My 9 year old rides his bike with me during my long runs. Often, he will tire out towards the end and I have to focus on getting him home; suddenly, the thoughts about how tired I might be disappear and running seems effortless again.

    1. I do the same thing with my 9 year old! It makes the run seem so much faster, I think I even pick up the pace to keep up with him. He cheers me on going up the dreaded hills and I cheer him on when we are in those last miles heading home. Having him there completely changes my focus.

  9. Wow – I definetly thought I was the only one who did the whole “oh no, my expiration date on this milk is on the same day as my next race thing”. I even said it to my husband, and he just looked at me…a little confused! Anyway, I’m REALLY, REALLY rooting for you next month!!

  10. I have so many mind games! It started with the c25k, if you get through this week, you can create a new playlist! Then there was the one 10 miles into my 1/2, all that is left is a 5k. I can run 5k. Anyone can run a 5k! Easy peasy.

    But I think the most profound one is I recently asked all my friends to send me upbeat tunes and any prayer requests they had while I trained for my first 1/2 in June. During my training and race I associated the song with them and would think and pray for them. For example, every time Ting Tings pop up, I think of my friend Melissa, Faster Better Stronger is Candice, Make Light is Marc, Closer to Free, Katharine and of course I run for life for dear, dear, Molly…. you get the picture.

    As a solo runner, it was a way for my friends and family to simultaneously give me support to continue running….their energy moving me forward… and hopefully they can feel my energy and Spirit too. Like this interconnected Spiritual dance way above us; like those Spirits are having a little chat or dancing or hugging or *gasp* running, or loving one another all while giving me some kickass beats to keep moving! And to keep praying!

    ~Christy Z.

  11. This post came at a great time. I’m training for 26.2 on 10-10 and have had a training setback–was sick last week and only ended up getting in two runs–for a very paltry 12 miles for the week. It probably shook my confidence more than anything else. Plus, I think my Garmin FR 60 isn’t calibrated correctly (I just recalibrated it!!) because my weekend 8-miler didn’t seem correct in terms of what I know to be three miles from my house etc., which has me panicked that my 16-miler the previous week was actually more like 12. Anyhow, facing a hugely busy week and haven’t run since Sunday because I had to fast all day Monday for a routine medical test I had today (great timing, right, but I wanted to get it out of the way…) and of course couldn’t run today because I was sedated earlier. Now I’m looking at my biggest week of marathon training with a schedule that is completely gridlocked: plans w/ the family for my birthday tomorrow, a back to school event Thursday night–and still 40 miles to run! I’m feeling overwhelmed and not looking forward to this week’s 20 miler. On top of this, I’m raising money for a local animal shelter (where we rescued our dog in June), and the shelter has really gotten behind my effort (which is great!), and it has led to two articles being published in local papers about my marathon. So now all my neighbors now I’m running, and all I can think is how embarrassing it would be if I couldn’t actually finish the thing.

    I definitely need to get myself back on track mentally any time now! 😉 One day at a time, I guess.

  12. I’m all about playing mind games with myself while running. I like thinking about my run in terms of time rather than miles. For some reason, thinking about running for about two hours sounds easier than running 12 miles.

    The first 30 minutes or so of a long run are sometimes the toughest for me. I haven’t yet gotten into my running “groove” where my brain is elsewhere and my legs are just on auto-pilot. So a lot of times I tell myself that I can’t take a walk break until I’ve been running for at least an hour. And usually by the time an hour comes, I don’t feel the urge to walk anymore 🙂

    I definitely think about how lucky I am to be able to run. Running makes me feel like a bad-ass. Super powerful and athletic. I can’t wait for my first marathon on 10/17 🙂

  13. I picture my legs “spinning”. The image of a wheel just seems to keep me going.
    I’m also running my first marathon on 10/10. I’m down to 14 more training runs. The biggest one is this Thursday – 24 miles. I figure after that, it’s all cake. If I can run 24 miles I can do anything 🙂

  14. Wow, is this good timing for me! I had a long run yesterday without my watch, without music and without company. I took a meltdown break in my car at the halfway point. But I finished it. During my meltdown I kept asking myself if I really want this and kept answering yes. While the second loop was no less physically uncomfortable, I mentally felt like I was flying. Chalk it up to the power of positive thought. Usually I stay focused on the moment- there is nothing ahead of or behind me.

  15. I do a few things. Often I think of my sisters and friends who live far away and I imagine what we would talk about if we were running together. I also “write” my blog. Note, I don’t actually have one yet. I will soon. I also do something that might sound super boring but it works for me on mornings my legs don’t want to go. I count in my head to 60, usually 1 count per two seconds. I try to set my pace and breath to my counting. I intentionally don’t wear a watch and this kind of keeps me paced. It always surprises me how much farther I can go when I do this.

  16. My mind game is similar to Sarah Jane’s: I think grateful thoughts. I think about how lucky I am to be doing this 20 mile run – how I’m lucky that I can physically do it, that I have the time to do it, that my family is supportive of me doing it, that I can afford the shoes and clothes to do it, that I feel safe in my neighborhood doing it, that I have good running friends to do it with, and it goes on and on. I switch from thinking, “I have to run 20 miles!” to “I GET to run 20 miles!”

    1. Wonderful wording, Karen: “I GET to run…” I’ll remind myself of that phrase this Sunday when I am fortunate enough to head out for 22 miles.

    2. I love this. A simple word change makes such a big difference! I GET to run…..I’m going to use this one too this weekend. Thank you, Karen.

  17. since I’m having to put sports drinks out all over town before my long runs (i’ll be long done with the two half-marathons i’m signed up for before it cools down here), i just break the run up into chunks and tick them off. 5 chunks of running sounds a lot better than 12 miles. if that doesn’t do it – and sometimes it doesn’t, because i’m REALLY new to the long run – then it’s “one more song, just one more song”. i’ve killed a lot of songs simply because i loved the song that came up next!

    1. Wow, it has never occurred to me that the bottles of Gatorade I see by side of the road might be purposefully placed there by an approaching runner, not tossed out of car window by obnoxious youth!

  18. This may sound cheesy, but I often remind myself that I, in fact, love running and I’m so lucky to be able to. I’m not pregnant, I’m not nursing a babe with my mongo nursing boobs. I’m healthy and fit and able to do things I couldn’t do a year ago…and that keeps me going.

    1. Sarah Jane–I often use that, “I can move my body to run, so I’m going to” rationale. I was a novice runner when my grandmother had a debilitating stroke, so I’d tell myself that she couldn’t move her legs, but I sure could, so I should taken advantage of my good fortune.

  19. If things are really tough during a long run, I do a “systems check” like you do with a baby, fix what I can, and then usually I feel a lot better (hmm, food=fuel! light bulb!). If it’s just tough, I just focus on relaxing my form and that I am sooooo blessed to be out enjoying the day, not working or mom-ing at the moment. And then, I’m done. 🙂

  20. I usually avoid mirrors and reflective surfaces, but when I’m running I make a point of checking my reflection just long enough to tell myself that I look strong. No thoughts on bunching of shorts, awful hair or exhausted looking face are allowed; just the solitary thought of strength. If it’s a run with no windows, mirrors, etc. I look down at my legs pumping occasionally and take a moment to wonder at the muscles bunching and recognize that those muscles are more visible and a hell of a lot stronger than they were a year or two ago. In short, keep it positive.

  21. I use two mental games: 1) I often break my runs into 5k’s, 10k’s and since I am horrible at math, I am usually pretty stoked when I see the finish line whether it’s my house or if on race day, the actual finish line 2) I usually ride the wave of my last great run, and pull as much energy from that i.e: “you killed that last 5miles, you can do this!”

  22. I am doing tempo runs on Monday and have had a lot of trouble getting up at 4:15 on Mondays (hmmm, self defeating maybe) so now am going right after work. My goal is to be on a treadmill at 4pm when Oprah comes on. Now I’m just mentally checking out. I’ll watch at the gym and before I know it another half mile has gone by. Then I’ll think, oh I just want to watch until the next commercial, and I’m done!

    1. Oooh, 4:15 is brutally early, Tryna. But I know you have the drive. Is it possible to run outside after work instead of on treadmill? Then Oprah wouldn’t be there to distract you from your goal…

  23. I really stuggled with negative thoughts in my long run yesterday. I had to do it on my own as I missed my group run on the weekend. It was 23k with goal pace pick ups of decreasing lengths of time: 25mins, 20, and so on with 5 min recovery between. I had a brutal start: began giving myself permission to stop after the first interval. Everything hurt: lungs, legs, brain. But as I continued, my body warmed up and I started feeling really good. I used the analogy of the bank: I am making a BIG deposit into the account today that I will be able to use on marathon day. Finished feeling great. But I do worry about how to control those negative thoughts on marathon day. I don’t want to lose precious minutes in the first 30 mins of the race due to bad self-talk!

    1. Jen–Wow, your workout sounds amazing! Really well done. Is this your first marathon? If so, don’t worry about negative chatter in first few kilometers. The energy and buzz of the crowd will populate your head with only good thoughts. The key on race day is to not let that energy make you go out too fast. If you run a smart first half, you’ll keep the mind-monkeys in their cages in second half.
      Keep up the awesome work in training!

  24. Wow, I got some great idea from these comments. 🙂 I rely on an old standard, setting mini “destinations” throughout the run. “Just run to that pink-bricked house two blocks away”; then, “Great you made it, and you didn’t think you could! Ok, see if you can reach the grocery store on the other side of the hospital…” ~K

  25. I just do one mile at a time. If I look at the total, I get discouraged (until I am done!!) but it is a mile at a time…water stop to water stop. By the time I am finished….I am run 10 or 15 miles.

  26. I break everything down to the ‘one mile’ – I can go just one more mile. And then when I get to that mile, I tell myself I can go one more mile – what’s one more mile? It usually works….

  27. Mind games are my specialty! Most of the time I play the one where I figure out how long I want to run in time (ie, a 8 mi run in one hour) and I think to myself about how anyone can do anything for a hour – what’s an hour in the overall big picture of your life?? The other thing I remember is that life might be harder at home when I’m *done* running (kids, work, house stuff) – so I might want to enjoy what I’m doing a bit more while I’m at it!

    1. Amy–
      We are cut from the same cloth! Often, at start of long run, I’ll remind myself that, yes, while running 20 miles might be tough, at least I’m a) not having to deal with homefront chaos; b) at least I get to listen to podcast/music/my pal talking while I do it. “:>)

  28. I figure that if I gave birth to my first son (9#8oz, with his hand up by his head leading to a fistula and 4th degree tear….yeah, his little brother was so easy after that! haha), I can run 9, 10, 13.1 miles. 🙂

  29. I am a slow runner who needs to shed about 15 pounds. During a run (jog really for me- 10.5 mile minutes) I think about the weight I want to be in huge building size numbers. I think of these huge numbers way in front of me and I am running toward them. Running to the weight I want to be.


  30. Lately I’ve started running with someone who, thankfully, really likes to talk (as much as I do). When the run becomes….demanding….we start chatting about random things. Before we know it, we’re on the home stretch. When I’m alone, I visualize myself finishing the workout strong and start putting together a blog post in my mind! (Who wants to write about slacking?)

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