When The Going Gets Tough…..

A Pain That I'm Used To
A Pain That I’m Used To (Photo credit: Wiki

I hate 5k races. It takes me 3 miles just to warm up. In shorter races, you experience a great deal more lactic acid, the stuff that makes your legs burn. My lungs burn.

The last 5k I ran, I almost walked off the course 3 times in the first 2 miles, something I’ve never done before.

It hurt so bad, all I wanted at that moment was for the pain to stop.

So I told myself I would just run to the next corner and then I would allow myself to quit.

This always works for me because I will never stop there. If I say I’ll just go to the next light pole, I will almost always go to the one after that.

Eventually I coaxed myself right through that race and past the finish line – swearing all the way. But, in the end, I was so glad I didn’t give up.

I remember reading a book particularly helpful in the topic of pain vs reward. So I pulled out all of my books and here they sit on the table and floor surrounding my chair. I’m not sure how I came upon having so many books in this world of electronic everything, but I finally find the author I’m looking for…. Norrie Williamson:  Coach, Ultramarathoner and author of Everyone’s Guide To Distance Running.

He talks about Desire and Confidence Versus Pain:

“Every ambitious runner wanting to achieve his potential, experiences a point in the race where pain dogs every footfall….and to continue, the mind must accept this “sentence” of pain until the finish line is crossed. Ultimately, your ability to meet this pain “head to head” will determine your performance in the race. If you grab it by the scruff of the neck and toss it out of your mind with the contempt it deserves, you will achieve your goals and possibly exceed your expectations. If it becomes the focus of your existence at that time, if you permit it to erode the importance of the task at hand, you will compromise your goal or finish time. The three-quarter distance mark in long races is what I call the “what am I doing this for?” mark. It is where physical fatique meets mental muscle in a duel for supremacy.”

Whether this happens in the last half of the race, on a long training run or before your feet hit the floor, the key to your success is how you work your way through.

Most authors eventually narrow it down to a few basic strategies:


It’s ok to keep a diary of what you’ve done. Some runners’ diaries include pace, heart rate, weather conditions and what they’ve eaten that day. More importantly, make a plan…a training log. Chart out weeks or months of running even if you aren’t training for a specific purpose. Decide how many miles you will run each week and on each day. It’s ok to juggle days around but stay on target for the week. There is nothing I hate more than having to mark through the mileage for a particular day because I didn’t go for a run. It keeps you honest – the same way writing down everything you eat keeps you honest during a diet.

I save my calendars every year and reference them from time to time, remembering what worked well and what didn’t. My little calendar has become such an integral part of my life, that on the rare occasion that I travel somewhere and forget it at home, I feel lost.

I have been told my life revolves around my running, and I guess I’m ok with that.


Lets face it, the percentage of elites at the front of the pack is a small number compared to those of us at the back. That doesn’t mean you aren’t an athlete! Picture yourself running and envision this beautiful (or handsome) fluid style you have.

I watch the elite runners every chance I get. When the TV zooms in on the muscles in their legs, I marvel at how strong they look, how smooth their stride, how steady and confident they are. During my practice runs, I imagine myself crossing the finish line and looking the same as the elite women. Strong, fit and confident.

A few years ago, we spent time in Nairobi Africa. Of course we went on safari and watched the animals in amazement as they ran – sometimes to chase after their food, sometimes for seemingly no reason at all. Just as fascinating were the Masai warriors. They were in the bush and in the city – strong, confident men who by the very nature of their lives were totally fit.

I am an athlete. It doesn’t matter how old I am, or that my legs aren’t as developed as the elite runners – I am a work in progress. I see myself like those Masai warriors (more on this later), strong, fit and confident.

Visualizing yourself as the athlete you want to be will give you the confidence to do something you never dreamed you could.


Most of the marathon training books eventually talk about association and dissociation. We all “dissociate” at times during our runs when our mind wanders to what we have to do that day, the song we’re listening to, the scenery around us or for me, to absolutely no thoughts whatsoever. It’s tough to concentrate even in a race, and especially in the middle of a race.

Studies have shown that most top runners totally focus on the race, monitoring their pace and listening to their bodies. This takes practice. During your training runs, start learning to “listen” to your body – listen to your breathing and practice making it more relaxed, visualize muscles that are tense and practice relaxing them as you run.

Concentrate on your pace and stride. Picture where your foot strikes. The more taxed and fatigued your body, the harder it is to concentrate, which makes it easier to give up.

If you practice association regularly, when things get really tough, whether during a race or in training, you’ll be better equipped to gut it out rather than drop out.


An exerpt from the Competitive Runner’s Handbook (Penquin Books):

“A warrior prepares fully and purposely for war. He focuses on the impending battle and trains his body, mind, and soul to act with strength and cunning. He lives a spartan existence, denying luxuries that would sap his resolve. He has the desire, motivation, discipline, belief, self-esteem, confidence, courage, and mental toughness to win in battle. He prepares a wise strategy, dwells on it, and executes it while staying calm in battle and fending off pain and fatique. The warrior prepares to fight the ultimate fight, and face the ultimate defeat – death.”

We don’t need to prepare ourselves with such seriousness, but there is a benefit to approaching your training with a warrior’s frame of mind. When you want to skip a workout, or eat that tempting dessert, bring out the warrior attitude; when it’s cold, or hot, you’re tired and sore, or your ToDo list is longer than the day – remember warriors must train no matter what.

My husband tells me I look like a “serious” runner – and I think he’s referring to the look on my face. I thoroughly enjoy running though and maybe when I’m looking the most “serious” I’m enjoying it the most!

I was a big fan of the Rocky movies from many years ago. I was totally mesmerized by the training Rocky endured in his efforts to climb to the top over and over. He was very serious until one time just before the match he allowed himself to laugh with his coach – he was ready and he knew it. He had prepared mentally and physically to fight to the death.

Its fun to run. No one has to teach us how. It comes naturally from the time we are barely toddlers. So remember when you’re facing that tough hill, its cold and rainy, you’re struggling through the last half of a race, or just trying to gut out 30 minutes on the treadmill every other day, take it one step at a time.

You’re an athlete and a warrior….. and you can do this!