Running teaches you things. Ask any runner and they will agree that there are all kinds of lessons in running. Lessons that can deal with every aspect of life. For me, running teaches me things all the time and most times they are things I already know. Running just reminds me of the things that need to be learned.
Of these five things I learned during training for the Philadelphia Marathon, only the Johnny Cash lesson was new to me. The other things I learned multiple times before, but constantly need to be reminded of.
1. The Mind Will Quit Before the Body
In races past, I would always start walking long before I needed to. I would get to a point in the race where my body would tell me to stop. It was too tired and needed an opportunity to recover. Here is the funny thing about that. It is not the body telling me to stop. It is my mind telling my body to stop. The body can go much longer and harder than we think would be possible.
Somewhere around mile 18 my body suddenly felt fatigued. My first thought was to take a walk break. Nothing wrong with that. Walk breaks at the water stations were giving me a chance to drink, take some Endurolytes, and recover for the next stretch of running. But my mind did not want me to take a walk break, it wanted me to stop. If I would have walked at this point I would have been surrendering. I was determined not to surrender in this race. I slowed my pace by just a few seconds. Just enough to negotiate with my body for more strength, and make my mind surrender to the run.
2. The More You Sweat in Training, the Less You Bleed in Battle
The marathon training plan I used this time was the hardest plan I have ever used. The Hanson’s Marathon Method beginner training plan had me running 6 days a week and topped me out around 55 miles per week. Each week included hard intervals and marathon paced tempo runs. The weekly long run topped off at only 16 miles, but with all of the running throughout the week even the easy runs were sometimes difficult to get motivated for.
But I ran every workout the way it was intended, no matter how tired I was, or how fatigued my legs were, or how early I had to wake up. When I was running 6×1 mile and I wanted to stop after four, I talked myself into finishing the last two. When I was at the end of a 10 mile tempo run and I wanted to slow to a walk I talked myself into running faster. I trained my body to run fast when it was tired and finish every run as strong as possible. This carried over into the marathon. Because I did it in training, my mind knew I could do it in the race.
3. Comfort Is Not Comfortable
When I am not in the middle of a training plan almost all of my runs are nice and easy. Start slow. Walk when I want. End when I feel like it. I take extra rest days when I feel tired or worn out. But the funny thing is that when I am well rested and my runs are easy, I do not like it. In fact, when I take more than two days off in a row it takes me longer to warm up. My legs feel heavy and sluggish.
Now, when I push a workout hard, when I warm up properly and run a hard tempo run or a set of strong intervals, my legs are throbbing at the end. I am sore later in the day and the next morning. And then when I do an easy recovery run the next day, my legs might still be yelling at me, but I am feeling fantastic. I feel the best when I start the morning with a good run that I can feel in my legs the rest of the day.
Pushing outside of my comfort zone is when my body feels the best.
4. Make A Plan and Print It Out
I like a good plan. When I am not on a plan I still run, I still work out, but the workouts might not be as targeted as they should. Or I will take it too easy for a week or two and not get quality miles in. When I have a plan and I print it out on paper and I hang it up where I can see it everyday, then my workout benefits. Going to the calendar every day and crossing off that day’s workout keeps me motivated. So I always need a plan. Even if it is not a full 16 week plan with a target race, I still need to make a plan.
A good example is right now. I write this a week and a half after the Philadelphia Marathon. I took a week off with nothing more than easy running, but the following week I started a 6 week strength training plan. This plan will hopefully improve my core and upper body strength and will finish in time for the Walt Disney World Goofy Challenge. Then when I finish that I will create another plan, with another goal in mind, and it will be as long or as short as needed.
5. Johnny Cash Is an Appropriate Fit for the Final 10K of the Marathon
I am not a fanatic when it comes to music. I mostly listen to podcasts, but music can really help me get through a run, especially when I save it for the end of a run. Most of the music on my iPod is top 40 stuff. Popular music that you hear on the radio all the time. Quite a few guilty pleasures. This stuff can distract the mind from the run and keep fatigue away.
Mixed in my playlist for the marathon were three Johnny Cash songs. Cash might not seem like the type of music to get the body moving, and I was a little skeptical about putting them on there. But when I felt like I was dying from the run, his songs about pain and death and graves and God cutting him down really seemed fitting. His songs really got into my psyche and made me fall into a state of meditation as I ran. Now I just wish his songs were longer.
And so I learn…
Running is a great teacher. Probably one of the best teachers life has to offer. You will hear a lot of lessons learned from running and everyone will give you something different they have learned from the sport of running.
Sometimes you even learn a few unexpected lessons. Other times those lessons are learned over and over again.