I ran a 1:45:45 half marathon — a PR by seven minutes — and I am still smiling. I can hardly believe I did that! Read more >>
This article was first published May 2017 by Ginger.
This week I begin a 15 week training cycle for the Marion Rotary Marathon For Shoes, to be held on June 14th, 2015 in Iowa. I happened to stumble across this marathon when doing a Google search for “spring marathons in Iowa.” Why Iowa? A good friend of mine lives there and I thought it would be nice to come visit and run somewhere new. This will be just the third year for the race.
After a little research, I noticed the times for the last two years were on the slower side. In 2014, the women’s winner went 3:23 and last year, 3:21. On top of slower times and a small field, there is also prize money. Like, good prize money. We’re talking $700 for first place. I reached out to the race director and asked if the course was terribly challenging or just small. He replied that not only is the race a tad hilly but the last two years it has rained during the race. They moved the race to June in the hopes of having a better turnout.
My outright advertising of what seems to be a diamond in the rough race isn’t the smartest move if my goal is to win.
What? Win, you ask? My 5k PR is 21:35. How do I expect to win a marathon? Read more >>
You trained like you’ve never trained before. Your training plan was your bitch this season, and you were happily posting #crushedit selfies right and left on Instagram. You arrived at the starting line ready to slay this race. And then … you don’t.
Okay. You are resilient. You suck it up, sign up for another race, repeat the process, hope for the best… and wind up with the same result.
As a Matt Fitzgerald fangirl, I snapped up How Bad Do You Want It? as soon as it hit the shelves in 2015. It’s been on my nightstand ever since. And when Lindsey Hein’s book club picked it up recently, I realized a lot of people haven’t read it yet. And you should.
Subtitled “mastering the psychology of mind over muscle,” How Bad is a collection of sports stories combined with “psychobiological” research. Matt uses the format to share habits and tactics the rest of us can use to cultivate our own mental strength. Read more >>
Yesterday, Bergamot wrote about the benefits of training like an elite for every runner. She was spot on, and not just for the reasons that she mentioned, which included making the logical choice to do what has been proven to work for others and having a pro-like attitude that we use to approach workouts and recovery seriously. In addition, identifying a runner (or group of runners) that we want to be like and altering our training to be like them is indicative of a growth mindset.
And in the world of motivation research, a growth mindset is a very good thing. Discussed at length in Dweck’s Mindset, a growth mindset is a mental state where we believe that our abilities are not fixed — that with effort we can improve our performance. This contrasts with a fixed mindset, which is a mental state where we feel like our abilities are set, rooted in biology or our nature, and no amount of effort will improve our performance. Our mindset applies to every aspect of our life, from our beliefs about our ability to be successful in, say, math, and our beliefs about our own ability to continue to improve as a runner.
In a fixed mindset, we feel like our ability as a runner is set, and we won’t be as motivated to continue to improve and work harder, because we think that no matter how hard we work, we will not be able to achieve beyond our innate ability. In contrast, with a growth mindset, we believe that if we continue to work harder, our running performance will continue to improve. Identifying a group of elite runners that we want to be like indicates that we believe we can, if we take similar steps and put in the hard work, begin to move towards (and meet and exceed!) what they have accomplished.
A growth mindset is also important because it helps us to respond positively to failure. A runner with a fixed mindset views failure as evidence that he or she cannot succeed, where a growth mindset sees failure as a learning opportunity to apply to future races.
Identifying a runner or group of runners – in my case, elite ultramarathoners – that we want to be like is the first step in training with a growth mindset. Travis Macy in the Ultra Mindset (the most important book in my motivation repertoire, I own the audiobook, e-book, and have a physical copy in my bedside table), refers to this as being a “wannabe.” Very different than the high school wannabe insult, being a wannabe as an athlete means that we have thoughtfully identified who we want to be like and then — this is the important part — we have deliberately identified why we want to be like that individual.
Being a wannabe and having a growth mindset means not just that we believe that we can be like our role models, but that we have identified what it is about those individuals that we want to emulate. There is a key metacognitive aspect to the growth mindset that requires us to be intentional about how we choose to implement our growth mindset. For example, not only have I identified that I want to be like, say, Devon Yanko, I have identified why I want to be like her:
- She is a successful ultra-endurance athlete.
- She has persevered through traumatic personal events.
- She is a positive role model for women.
From here, I have three areas where I can investigate how Devon accomplishes everything she does: becoming the 2010 50 mile road National Champion, for example. There are many books written about how to be successful at every distance and for every type of runner, not to mention YouTube interviews and blogs. These resources become important in the implementation of a growth mindset. It is not enough to “wannabe,” we have to believe that we can be, and do the work to get there.
Implementing the “how” is the final step. Once we have identified who we want to be like and why and how they have accomplished what it is we aspire to, we have to start doing the work to get there. As Bergamot discussed yesterday, that includes how we approach our training plans and our runs, with the intention that this is just as important as our other work. That can also include how we train (perhaps we need a coach?) or where we train (time to find some hills?). And it means that when we fail, and we will, that we reflect and identify how we failed so we can adapt and adjust to do better next time.
Running better by playing pretend? It’s not just a fantasy that motivates us to take our training seriously, it’s a fantastic way, with intentionality, to adjust our training mindset to believe in ourselves and better respond to bad runs, races, and life setbacks.
The race was…
a strong effort.
a mental victory.
a brave racing strategy.
These are the merits that we ideally want to judge our races by as those are the things we can control. However, in the end, we judge ourselves against one thing: the clock.
With each tick, that judgmental, unforgiving, heartless mechanical bastard decides if we fail or if we succeed. Maybe it’s not a bad thing to judge against something that can’t ostensibly be swayed by emotion or circumstances. If not for the clock, whose judgment can’t help but remain impartial, would we define success with excuses and inspirational quotes? Perhaps the solution is to judge ourselves against the clock, tempered by our emotional, physical and mental growth.
We certainly can’t excuse away every bad performance with complaints about course conditions, weather or illness. Yet sometimes we need to look at the bigger picture and realize that succeeding is nothing more than doing the very best with the circumstances handed to you on any given day. Just as we can’t play the blame game every time a goal is missed, we can’t deem ourselves a failure when circumstances beyond our control stack the odds against us.
My current goal is to break 3:30 in the marathon and it seems that each time I run and don’t break that goal, I have failed. Why 3:30? Does it earn me entrance into an elite race or earn me an award or allow me to quit my job and pursue running as a career or get me into a secret society? Nope. My current PR is 3:33:17, so I think it would be cool to break 3:30. Yes, I’m serious, I am judging my ability and my success as a runner based on the fact that I can’t yet seem to break a goal that I arbitrarily selected because it seemed “cool.”
During the last year and a half, I’ve been struggling with more grief, sadness and stress than normal. Running has been my outlet, yet not my priority. I continue to run race after race, yet I feel that I have failed at most of them. I have good reasons why I haven’t cracked 3:30 at each of those races: It was too hot, I couldn’t breathe at the high elevation, the wind was insane, I was pacing a friend, I was worn out from back-to-back marathons, I was sick, I was sad, and I was simply tired of racing. A few of those races came awfully close to that 3:30 goal. Some races were in really nasty conditions where the time on the clock did not do justice to the strength and effort I left on the course.
The problem is, after so many races not resulting in the outcome I am looking for, I’ve started to believe that I am a failure and that my fastest days are behind me.
In the recent months leading up the Mount Desert Island Marathon in Maine, the pieces seemed to be finally falling into place for a good marathon. I had 12 weeks between races, which was much more than I’ve had in a long time. I chose to follow a plan from Pfitzinger’s Advanced Marathoning, and I was able to execute almost every run. I was looking forward to my favorite type of race here, a small marathon in cool weather.
I was certain this was going to be my comeback race, that this was finally going to be my day. All of that confidence faded into the New England fog as my husband and I drove the course the day before the race. We went uphill, we went downhill, then up and down again and again. And then, near the end, we just seemed to keep going up and up. We finally reached the rusty old scaffolding that marked the end of the course, and my stomach turned to knots as we quietly drove back to the hotel. I tend to run well on hilly courses, but I was worried this course was simply going to be too much to handle.
Race morning came, and I listened nervously as one of the locals tried to ease our fears by telling us that the first 5 miles and the last 5 miles were really the toughest parts of the race, as long you got through the rest of the hills.
Knowing the early hills would mess with my pace, I decided to ignore my watch and run by feel. That decision was cemented when the road rose up in front of me a half mile into the course. Mile after mile I ran up and then down, never really finding my stride, trying to use the downhills to recover and make up some time all while trying to avoid the side stitches that kept lingering on my right side. By the time I got to the halfway mark, where the only clock on the course was located, my legs were toast from the hills. I could see that unless the back half of the course was as flat as North Dakota, the best I could hope for was a 3:50-something.
A funny thing happened on the back half of the course. I was tired, but I didn’t lose my mind. I simply stayed in the moment, and I ran. I walked through a few water stops to refill my handheld, but otherwise, I simply ran, tired legs and all. I even began picking people off on the uphill stretch from mile 19-25. I sprinted the downhill stretch from 25 to 25.5, and I finished strong in 3:53. I only lost 2 minutes on the back half of the course.
According to the clock, I failed miserably. But did I really? I ran a strong, consistent race on a tough course. I kept my head in the game and finished strong. But was I just making excuses to pretend I had succeeded and to pad my ego? Perhaps. Maybe I’ve learned to look for the small victories and successes that come with running. Perhaps I know that if I was able to run strong on this course without falling to pieces, that maybe, just maybe, with the right set of circumstances, that 3:30 PR is within my reach. It seems I ran up and down all those hills to fetch something bigger than a PR.
Instead, I fetched a big old bucket of self-confidence and a glimpse of the runner I still have the capability to be. I’ll continue to chase that unrelenting clock, but I’ll stop and acknowledge the small successes along the way.
Do you define your success as a runner solely by the clock?
I have a secret. When I break free from the confines of grad school and take to the track, I transform from a mid-packer to an elite. I treat tempo runs like a day at the office. It is my job. I’m getting paid for it, after all: I’m sponsored. Wait… Aren’t you in law school?
You caught me. In reality, I’m slightly above average at best. But in my imagination, I’m a lot faster. This fun mental trick has helped me approach running with a childlike perspective. My colorful imagination took me so many places as a child, and thankfully, running gives me an opportunity to use it again!
On the trails, my ponytail flies wildly behind me as my sinewy legs power me up the hills. My perfectly trained core assists me on those mountainous ascents because I train at altitude in Colorado, obviously. 8 minute miles become my easy pace instead of my tempo pace. In my imagination, I run with all of the effortlessness exuded by the elites.
The inspiration for my running alter-ego comes from a saying of my beloved high school band director, who taught me that to achieve success in anything, you must finesse your performance. Just like professional dancers, actors, and singers make their respective disciplines look effortless, elites have that graceful form that makes running look so simple. When I imagine that I have a graceful form, my form does get better. When I think faster, I get faster. Do you remember my post on positive manifestation? This is another flavor of willing oneself to achieve a goal.
Obviously I’m not willing myself to be elite, but I am willing myself to be better than I am now. And better does not necessarily mean faster. Better means diligence, patience, practice, and pushing myself. I make more time for yoga and strength training. I make a little extra time for rest. (Because I’m getting paid to run, duh). Instead of approaching workouts intimidated by what’s on paper, I see what I can do as Elite Bergie. Super Bergz! When I step away from the seriousness of training, it almost becomes easier. My imagination has helped me break a mental barrier I didn’t even know existed. This year I achieved a big half PR, and more importantly, hit and held tempo paces I never thought possible while training. I used my imagination and ended up challenging my real self.
I have no hopes of being an Olympian, and I doubt I’ll ever win a marathon. However, my running alter ego may help me get there one day.
Do you have a secret running alter ego, too? Does your alter ego help you achieve goals you never thought you could?
You just don’t feel like going for a run, but you know you should, so you push yourself out the door anyway. But once you’re there, it’s a drag. You’re not enjoying it. Your legs feel heavy. Your heart isn’t joyful. You just want to stop, and maybe you do and walk for a while, or cut it short and head home.
Many, if not most, of us have been there. When you run as much as we do, it’s pretty inevitable you’ll reach a point when running just isn’t fun. Maybe it’s just for a day, maybe it’s for a period of time after a big race or maybe it’s a longer-term slump when you’re not training. What to do? Should you spice up your training? Change your strategy? Sign up for a race?
I recently had an insight that these running slumps are a sign that something is out of balance, and although it’s a stretch, I thought maybe I could help myself by thinking about levers. Teeter-totters. See-saws, if you will.
Read more >>
When I started running in middle school, running was something that almost always went together with practice. Track practice, cross-country practice. I’ve also spent thousands of hours practicing different instruments in my life – piano, violin, viola, voice – but until recently, I never made a connection between practicing music and practicing running.
Track and cross country practice were these things I had to do at school because I wanted to run, and going to practice was the price you paid for that particular hobby (usually I didn’t mind it, but still remember speed ladders with a shudder). Music practice was something I did because I wanted to play cool, complicated pieces, and in order to do that, I had to get better at my instruments.
These two concepts don’t seem all that different now. You practice running in order to get better at it, right? That never occurred to me as a teenager, and the association of practice with running has faded in the last 20+ years. I don’t “go to practice.” I just go run. Recently, though, I finally made the connection between my hobbies of running and music.
I’ll be the first to admit that I have a loud ego. If I put on some hardcore rap while I get warmed up for a tempo run, I feel like I’m ready to set the world record in the 10k. Add some caffeine to the mix and I’ve decided that I know the cure to cancer and I’m ready to assume duties as the first female president of the United States. For most of us, our egos are loud but we do a good job of taming them so that we can be fully functional adults in society.
All Freudian theories aside, the ego is all about our feelings of self-worth or self-importance. A so-called big ego is the result of an overabundance of self. To have a healthy ego involves taming the voice inside that wants to be seen, heard, and loved by all. It’s not a bad thing to want all of these things — that’s human. The challenge for us runners is that sometimes our egos are so loud that we lose insight into the consequences of listening to them when we’re better off telling them to hush. Read more >>
And who can resist? Dream big? Why yes! YES! Sign me up for some of that! No limits! #YOLO!
Dreaming big is wonderful and by no means am I telling you not to dream bigly, giganticly, hugely! You should. I will even dare say that you must!
You see, dreaming big is but the first step to pushing your boundaries and exceeding your wildest expectations of yourself. But here’s the thing: if dreaming big is the only step you take, it’s worse than never dreaming big at all. Read more >>
When training for a big race, particularly a marathon, one of the biggest challenges is grinding through all the unglamorous miles. Most training plans consist of lots and lots of easy runs, while the exciting pace workouts, tempos, and intervals make up only about twenty percent of the training. As a result, those non-workout runs start to feel like slogs and jogs, and we might find ourselves tempted by Bertha to lie on the couch, because really? After weeks and weeks of this, easy runs seem soooooo boring.
It’s pretty easy to get psyched up about a workout or even a long run. Now, whether this excitement for workouts is a good or bad thing is an entirely different post. The point of this one is that it’s easy to find the motivation to do the hard stuff. It’s exciting to test our fitness, strength, and will. It’s fun to learn a few lessons for next time, and when we’re focused on hitting our splits, the miles usually fly by.
But easy runs are really important, and I know you might not believe me yet, but I swear there’s a lot to get excited about when you see a jog, slog, or recovery run on your training schedule. Yes, even on the easiest easy runs, there is a lot to discover. Every run deserves some attention because there’s always a lesson. It’s time to get curious again!
What’s that saying? It takes three weeks to develop a habit? Or maybe it’s now 66 days? Whatever length of time it takes to develop one though, it takes just as long or even longer to get rid of it, especially when it’s a bad habit.
Depending on when you started running, you may have brought some not so great mental habits from your regular life to your running life. Such habits include black and white thinking patterns, perfectionism, crashing under pressure, and avoiding discomfort. For me, I’ve struggled with all of those things. As early as five years old, I can remember being afraid of slides, swings, and any type of movement that took me away from my “normal” state of being. Read more >>
Behind the scenes here at Salty Running, we get into many fun, informative, and supportive conversations. Recently Pumpkin was sharing her inner Bertha moment and questioning if she should do a workout even though she didn’t want to. I suggested she try the workout, but that she should not use her sluggish feelings before the workout as a reason to assume she will feel feel sluggish during the workout.
Dill then chimed in that our conversation reminded her about anticipatory grief. Anticipatory grief happens when we feel grief over a loss before that loss occurs. It’s very common when caring for a loved one suffering from a chronic illness or a dying elderly loved one, but anticipatory grief can also occur within the ill or dying person herself. Why does this happen? Partly, it’s because we think the loss will hurt less when it actually happens. Sadly, we can’t predict the future of how loss will affect us.
While anticipatory grief is a sad and serious concept, it has a very practical application to something that generally brings joy to our lives: running. Read more >>
As I sit here writing this article, it is -20ºC (-4ºF) outside. This is normal for Canadian winters. There is part of me that thinks it’s more hardcore to go outside, but there’s a much bigger part of me that wants to stick to the treadmill. It’s probably smarter to stay inside. After all, there was that one time I ran a half marathon in -35ºC with the windchill and got frostbite.
Sure running outside when the air freezes the inside of your nose is hardcore, but think about it: isn’t getting in a hard workout on the treadmill pretty darn hardcore too? Without a doubt, there is one very important thing that winter treadmill running has improved for me: my mental game. Today I will share a few of my favourite tips to use the treadmill to become more mentally hardcore. But before we get started, I need you to GET ON THE TREADMILL. Read more >>
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