Amidst about 423 inches of snow up here in Massachusetts, many-a-runner will be trying to get in enough weekly milage to reach their spring marathon goal. The unfortunate part about this, is those miles will, for us in the northeast, include a session or two on the treadmill that will clock in between 2 and 3 hours. Woof.
Unless you’re that guy I saw running the other day at 7am, in a comfortable -4 degrees, sporting shorts, not many of us look forward to logging miles our miles outside during a record cold/snow/windy winter. Even if we did, most trails have not been plowed, sidewalks are glossed over with ice, and the frigid weather hinder our ability to achieve our goals.
What does this come back to? Dragging yourself to the gym to log those miles while mentally dreading every second of it. The days where it’s tough to get out of the door, gather your mental focus, and push yourself to the next level become even harder when you know you have to execute on the treadmill.
We’ve touched on the mental part of running in the past. As I mentioned in those posts, I believe that it’s the most important part of any training regimen. This past weekend’s “quick 18 on the tread” reinforced and possibly even took that belief to the next level, well if there is a next level of ” the most important part of training.”
I wasn’t feeling great heading out of the door and wasn’t looking forward to 18 miles on the tread. This was an easy way to start off behind the mental 8-ball. The only question was how much would I let it affect me…I had to take a couple minutes in my car ahead of walking into the gym and attempt to refocus mentally. I knew I was in trouble.
4 miles in: “I can’t freaking run another 14 miles. This sucks. I’m can’t breathe. My legs are heavy, I’m dehydrated. This sucks.”
Completely succumbing to my lack of mental toughness on this day I gave myself a 1 minute break to refocus myself. I dialed the tread down to a slow jog, grabbed some extra water, took some deep breaths, thought about why I was here in the first place, revisited my goals for the workout, and then went back at it.
Minute up. Work out resumed.
8 miles in: “Okay, 10 miles left. Not bad. My legs are still tired, but if it was easy everyone would be doing it.”
For whatever reason after 8 miles I was able to refocus mentally and close the run, especially the last 4 miles, strong.
We’ll never know if there’s a barrier on any given day, we just know if it’s there we need to overcome it or shut it down. There’s no point in going through a half-assed workout, you’re better to shut it down, adjust your workouts for the week and start fresh tomorrow. (100% debatable, but that’s my opinion).
So, will you give up when your mind is telling you no more or will you do what it takes to regain focus to turn a workout around?
The same process that I went through during the 18 miler is one you can easily implement when you need to refocus yourself mentally. Really, you can implement this throughout life from running and work to relationships and conversations. It’s relatively quick because we want to go through this in a short period of time to get back to the moment at hand.
Have you ever done yoga? One of the major emphases is breathing. Deep in through the nose, hold it for a count of two, out through the mouth.
Now this is obviously easier said than done if you’re dragging ass during a run and you believe your lungs are on fire, so you can’t take deep breaths. Actually, you can take deep breaths, you just need to concentrate on it. Can’t is for losers.
Concentrate on your breathing and you’ll immediately take command of your mind and begin moving yourself out of the “this sucks” mode into the “I’ve got this” mode.
People at the gym likely think I’m out of my mind on the treadmill. When I need to refocus I literally take my hands from where they naturally fall during my run and lift them up, palms in the air, as I inhale followed up by a pause and slowly pushing them back down as I envision pushing the air out of my lungs.
Do this 3-5 times and feel yourself regaining control of your mind.
This is easily the most common reason we lose focus in certain situations.
Where is your mind? Are you thinking about cutting the lawn, the fight you had with your boyfriend or girlfriend this morning, that random person walking by with their dog?
You need to be present. Discard all external factors that have tried to distract you from the situation at hand.
Listen when you’re talking to someone, engage them in meaningful conversation, block out external factors.
It’s the same with the long run. What is your body telling you? How are you going to tackle the next incline? What types of variables are present during today’s workout? How are you performing compared to your goals at any given juncture of the run?
Reaching the last mile during a long run on the treadmill seems like the longest mile of the day for me, nearly every time. Since I was present during my prior long runs, I know this and now prepare myself going into the home stretch. I break the mile down into quarters and go from there.
I make sure that my focus is 100% on the moment at hand, especially during those last few minutes of the workout. I picture myself ripping off that final mile as I approach the finish line. Just me and the finish line, nothing else.
A few years back Bobby Knight was on Mike and Mike talking about the NCAA Tournament. Most talking heads will throw out their Final Four in thedays following Selection Sunday, not Bobby Knight. When asked for his assessment of the tournament Knight replied (and I’m paraphrasing),
‘The teams that will reach the Final Four are the teams that concentrate the most. There a lot of distractions out there, the fans, the pressure, the lights. If you can concentrate you will control your destiny and achieve your ultimate goals.’
In searching for that Knight quote (which I couldn’t find) I did find this similar quote:
“The most important thing in coaching is getting kids to concentrate.” – Knight
At the end of the day we’re all coaches. Whether we’re coaching a sports team, an operational team, ourselves, we’re constantly coaching. If we are coaching ourselves and cannot concentrate for long enough to achieve our objective, we’re not mentally focused. Leaving us without the opportunity to control our destiny.
Good coaches who have a bad season will let the emotions of the season fizzle out, at which point they’ll evaluate what went wrong and what could have been done differently.
You will fail. I failed for 8 miles before closing out with a strong 10. Each failure is the opportunity to sit down and evaluate what happened. More likely than not it will come back to a lack of concentration.
The beauty of concentration is that you can regain it at anytime in the process. You need to work to find your personal trigger that will help you regain your concentration. For me some days it’s positive self talk, other days it’s negative self talk.
As with anything the more repetitions you have in these types of situations the better you’ll get at diagnosing them and curing them on the fly. However you might just chalk it up to another bad workout if you’re not present and seeing how these situations are uniquely presenting themselves.
Your effort isn’t there today because you’re not present and have lost your concentration. If you’re running 100m it’s relatively easy to be present and concentrate. That’s about 12 seconds you have to engage your mind. On a long run it could be 2 hours, maybe 4 hours, who knows.
Imagine we had the ability to keep our mental focus for longer periods of time? How much more productive would we be? How much more engaged in life? What if we controlled our mind and could quickly refocus mentally?
Think about the process the next time you lose your mental focus. Put the process into action for yourself. Let me know how it works out.