You often hear that running is as much a psychological challenge as a physical one. That was demonstrated to me by a strange weekend of training outings.
It started with the traditional 5k Parkrun on Saturday morning. This was my second attempt at a Parkrun since my recent illness. The first was my first run in ten days and when I was still recovering, so it wasn’t a surprise I set a particularly slow time.
This week I was pretty my cured, albeit with a slight lingering cough on my chest. The result: I was more than a minute quicker than the previous week, but still a good 90 seconds down on my ‘usual’ pace. I started off fairly strong, but faded near the end, and lacked stamina – probably tied to the fact I was still spluttering a bit.
Here’s where the psychology comes in: was that a demonstration that my recovery was clearly going in the right direction, or a sign that I was still someway off my best? I couldn’t decide, and spent much of the day alternating between the positive vibe of ‘yeah, nearly back at it’, and the negative thoughts of ‘you’ve lost pace and stamina, and there’s only two weeks until the marathon.’
To Sunday, and my final truly long pre-marathon run – which, thanks to my illness, also felt like the first time in weeks I’d been capable of doing a long run at anything approaching my would-be marathon pace.
I set out slightly unsure of how far I’d go – you could say that lacked planning, but I prefer to think I was prepared to see how my body responded. The answer, at least initially, was very well. That lingering cough had faded again overnight, and at a slower long run pace didn’t bother me so much anyway. So I set out at a reasonably brisk long run pace. Ten miles in, I was feeling good, and I determined I’d try to go 20 – which was what I’d wanted to do the previous weekend.
And yes, as an aside, most training plans suggest you don’t do 20 miles two weeks before a marathon, but having been laid out for ten days not that long ago, I decided the confidence boost of achieving it would outweigh any wear and tear.
Back to the run, and all went well, until about the 15th mile, when my pace began to drop off relatively sharply. Now, this could be a sign I was still lacking some stamina. It could be a sign that I went a bit too fast (for a training run) in the early going.
Or it could have been down to my rubbish run planning meaning that I found myself close to my house with five miles left to run, necessitating a circuitous route around fairly dull, well-trodden roads near my house – which basically sapped all the fun out of my training run, turning it into a mileage-building slog.
Basically, it was a running weekend in which my mood kept alternating between positive vibes and slightly negative ones. Which I imagine is what a lot of people go through two weeks out from a marathon. All those ‘can I do it’ doubts start creeping to the surface. Was my fading pace near the end of my long run a sign I’m going to struggle in the marathon?
Possibly, although I’m thinking the experience of running alongside tens of thousands of people, with tens of thousands more cheering us on, will provide a psychological boost that will keep my going if I start to struggle in the London Marathon.
That’s the hope, anyway – that my brain will help overcome the physical challenge. Like I said, running is as much a psychological challenge as a physical one…