How much of running is a mental game we play with ourselves, pushing our body past its comfort threshold?
The brain is wired to err on the side of survival and safety. It sends signals to stop before it is actually necessary to stop. But we’re told as runners to listen to our bodies and surely you cannot mean we should push ourselves into injury? The last thing I want is someone to get injured, but I also do not want anyone to fall before they reach their potential and the only way to reach that potential is by pushing beyond what we thought was possible.
So how do you know where your limit is? By dancing with the devil. The only way you are going to find out what you are truly capable of is by pushing past the point where your brain begins to say you should stop.
Of course, I am not advocating for running when injured. Please see my post on being hurt vs. injured. I am advocating for pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone, becoming friendly with the discomfort. You do this by pushing the line a little more each time, your fitness will increase, and more importantly your knowledge of what you are capable of will increase.
Many of the runners who I coach, ask me? Why do we need to run hills or why do we need to run speed drills?
The answer is two-fold. First, because running speed and hills makes you stronger and faster, so if your goal is to get the best time in an event you should be working on getting faster, which also requires being stronger.
The second reason for running hills and speed is the mental game. Staring up a hill at mile 20 of a marathon, is not just a physical challenge it is a major mental challenge. If your training has incorporated running hills (especially similar in length and grade) you know you can do it, because you have done it before. Hopefully, you have done it when you’ve been tired too. So, you are familiar with the discomfort of pushing up a hill.
If you are not familiar with the feeling of climbing when tired, your brain will begin its warning system mantras, “this is too hard,” “You can’t keep going,” “You can’t breathe,” and “You’re going to vomit.” You can shut these repeated thoughts down with the memories of prior success in similar situations.
It is the same with speed. You become familiar with the discomfort. You’ve sat with the discomfort many times, it’s an old friend. You smile take it by the hand and keep right on running.