Author Elizabeth Clor on Overcoming Mental Barriers to BQ

Elizabeth, soaking up the Boston experience after a 7 year journey
Elizabeth, soaking up the Boston experience after an 8 year journey

Are you a runner who, despite running marathon after marathon has struggled to qualify for Boston? Perhaps you’ve been plagued by one injury after another? Have you become fixated on the amount calories burned on the treadmill? Or have you been so hung up on race times that when conditions have not been right you have lacked the confidence to execute what your training has prepared you for? If you can relate to any of these things, then you can relate to Elizabeth Clor.

By morning Elizabeth is an avid runner. By day she works as a marketing professional. By evening she is a writer, wife, and pianist with an awesome zebra obsession. Recently, she added the “competed in the Boston Marathon” to her long list of accomplishments. Boston was the final destination of an eight-year journey. Along the way she learned to overcome mental obstacles and injuries, adapt to conditions as they change, and to enjoy the process.

In her recently released book, Boston Bound, Elizabeth shares her journey from her Boston Qualifier to the Boston Marathon. Spoiler alert: The weather was horrendous, but was she devastated? No. For Elizabeth, running Boston was a proxy for so much more.

Boston Bound hit the book stores at the perfect time for me, just two days after an injury left me sidelined. I thought that my whole world had ended, but Elizabeth’s story helped me realize that this was just a small blip along my way to qualifying for Boston. As distance runners, we (read: I) sometimes get caught up in the short game, when in fact we need to focus on the long term. Boston Bound speaks to a number of mental demons that Elizabeth, a self professed perfectionist with once low levels of self confidence and high anxiety, needed to overcome in order to gain that elusive BQ.

Deciding to pursue a BQ

Elizabeth, like many of us, did not grow up running. In fact, she hated running in high school gym class. She danced from the age of three and throughout high school. After graduating college, she discovered she liked treadmill running. Four years later, in 2005, she started running in local races, and in 2006 embarked on her first marathon. She progressed from casually running to becoming more and more competitive. In her first six marathons, all run within a two-year time frame, she had shaved off the best part of an hour and was PRing every race.

Entering a dangerous training zone

Problems arose, however, when Elizabeth started to expect a PR in every race. She began to try to control everything in order to leave nothing to chance. As Elizabeth spent more and more time on the gym treadmill, she also spent more time staring at the calories burned feature on the display, seeing a correlation between calories burned and improving race times. She quickly dropped five pounds.

Nevertheless, as her times dropped she felt accomplished and was receiving positive feedback from those around her. This, as you might suspect, led to a low level eating disorder (ED). Monitoring her diet so stringently gave Elizabeth the sense of control she as a perfectionist craved in the midst of many stressful life circumstances over which she had no control. Before she knew it, Elizabeth had cut out sweets, cheese, pork, beef, and fried food. Unplanned food at work spurred on extra stair running workouts to burn off the calories. She had wandered into anorexia territory and, despite her attempts to control every aspect of the running and eating process, the PRs stopped coming.

The problem: being stuck on negative thoughtsnegative self talk

For Elizabeth, running became a large part of her identity. Can you blame her? Absolutely not – there is no denying the endorphin rush you feel after a great race, workout, or even better, running a PR!

Because my first six marathons were all PRs, I had no reason to believe that I wouldn’t continue to improve. I was completely unprepared for setbacks, and was unequipped with the coping skills needed to handle disappointment.

Being stuck in a rut of negative thoughts only fed into Elizabeth’s issues with race anxiety and being unable to execute on race day. After enlisting the help and teaming with a sports psychologist, they began to unveil the problems that had been holding her back. Some of the culprits included: anxiety, depression, negative self talk, and comparing oneself to others. None of which were helping her to reach her potential.

Reversing the negative thoughts

Woman Running in Boston Marathon shirt
Mental demons = crushed

Elizabeth highlighted the ways she stopped the cycle of negative thoughts to move towards a healthier attitude towards training, diet, and life.

Separate who you are as a person from the things that you do 

This really struck home as I myself am getting back into running after four years of being a person who does not run. It can be easy, but often unhealthy to validate our self worth through our successes, achievements and comparisons to others. The reality is that very few people are able to compete professionally.  We have to balance many aspects of life, including work and family, in order to get our runs in. When running takes over, other key areas of life suffer, be it relationships, mental health, study, or work. Elizabeth reinforced the real need to separate our ‘running life’ from the rest. Yes, running is important, but it does not define me.

Focus on the things that you can control, not those that you cannot. 

No matter how perfect the training cycle and preparation, there are some things that are out of your hands including the weather, Powerade instead of Gatorade out on the course, or a bad night’s sleep. There are some things that are just not worth the mental energy to stress over.

Move past setbacks and focus on forging ahead.

This is easier said than done. It is only natural to be disappointed or upset after a bad workout or race – that means that we care. The problem is when this transcends into a downwards spiral of rumination that we can’t get past. In the ‘perfect’ world we wouldn’t have setbacks, but these serve as learning experiences. It’s important to learn from these so we don’t end up in the same rut twice!

Finally running the Boston Marathon

After several years of narrowly missing that elusive BQ, Elizabeth qualified for Boston and ran it last April. Her narrative of the events between Hopkinton and Boylston Street on an unseasonably hot day provides an in-depth look at how far she came, from the very anxious runner she was in the past to someone grateful to be running the Boston Marathon despite missing her goal.

I would consider my biggest running accomplishment running the Boston Marathon in that heat and not giving up mentally. It was the first time I had run a marathon and finished with a true smile on my face. It was also the first time I missed my goal by over 15 minutes and was truly happy with how I performed. Learning to find joy in simply doing my best, rather than achieving a specific outcome, is a huge accomplishment for me.

It makes sense to reason that if there is anything to be gained from hitting rock bottom it is that it forces us to take a very close look at how we got there.

Have you ever been so hung up on a goal that it has negatively impacted other parts of your life? Have you had a fantastic training cycle or plan but not been able to execute on race day because you were in a bad spot mentally?

I am currently working on my Ph.D. in Cognitive Neuroscience while sipping on wine & coffee in Northern Virginia. Together with my husband and Rhodesian Ridgeback, Gracie we battle to keep the Tupperware cupboard organized for more than two days at time. I recently ran my first marathon (2:51) and am excited for what is to come. I like to ramble about running post injury, finding a work-life balance and running quickly.

Leave a Reply

4 comments

  1. Always refreshing to see connections made between mental health and running- especially anxiety. It is complex and confusing and presents in so many ways! Thanks for sharing, Elizabeth and Pesto!

  2. Thanks for sharing Elizabeth’s story! I haven’t read her book yet but I follow her on instagram and she’s just coming back from mono – something some Salties can relate to!

  3. Absolutely! When I started up running again over the winter *ALL* I wanted to do was qualify for Boston. I read Boston Bound when I knew I wasn’t going to be able to qualify for 2017 and although it took some time, I am now totally at ease with it.

    There are so many other races, just because I can’t do one doesn’t discredit anything else that we do during the year. Although I am super excited for when I eventually get to run Boston, I don’t think it will be something I do year after year.

    As a fairly anxious person by nature I certainly got a lot out of the book. Also – how cool is it to know someone who put themselves out there and published a book?!

  4. Such an inspiring story, going to have to look into grabbing a copy of Elizabeth’s book!

    I admit, when I first started vying for a BQ, I had such a one track mind. I couldn’t think of anything else, and felt that none of my success would matter until I qualified. It was a bad place to be in, and one that a big part of me regrets but also a phase of life I learned a LOT from. I was surrounded by a lot of people who had qualified and ran many times- and felt that I should be there too but didn’t respect the work it takes to get there, and like many I wanted the instant gratification. I’m sure it’s easier to say now as I have run Boston a few times, but man do I wish i didn’t let the BAA and 2 letters dictate my running happiness. I saw it as a status and a limit for so long, little did I know I could push myself even more and that a BQ was just the beginning. I wish I hadn’t let me success be defined by an organization that I was simply a number to. But again, I learned so much from it all.