Half Marathon Training – It’s all in your head

I want to start this post by giving a BIG shout out to Jodie for completing her first half marathon this weekend.

half marathon

She overcame huge hurdles on Sunday to finish 13.1 torturous miles. And her victory, her determination and perseverance in the face of some pretty sucky circumstances inspired me to write this post.

Take  a second right now and think about your training, be it training for a race, a sport, life (actually most importantly life) or a powerlifting competition.

How often do you train in pretty comfortable circumstances? In a warm gym. Or on a route you know and may have even run before. With music you like to listen to that motivates you. Following your normal routine surrounded by people and places you are fairly familiar with.

Most of us probably always train in pretty comfortable surroundings following our own basic routine.

I mean why wouldn’t we? I know I generally do.

But guess what…A lot of unexpected crap can pop up when it comes to competition. We all acknowledge this, yet rarely do I really ever hear or read about people TRAINING for the unexpected crap. High level athletes, yes, but weekend warriors, no (and the crazy part is, those of us training for LIFE, for HEALTH, encounter more unexpected stuff than anyone else, yet we train for it the least!).

And when it comes down to competition time, guess what matters more than all the hours you spent strengthening your body?

How strong your mind is.

While training, even under ideal circumstances can still make you mentally tougher, it doesn’t necessarily make you ready to handle crappy situations when they pop up unexpected during competition.

Because unfortunately, they sometimes do. And when those situations arise, it doesn’t matter how strong our body truly is. All it matters is whether or not our mind can carry us through when the going becomes so much worse than we could have foreseen.

This past Sunday, Jodie had the perfect storm. Mid-race, on a course much tougher than expected, Jodie’s ipod died. Just completely shut off.

And when you’ve trained day and in and day out with your music that is a huge blow. Who would ever expect your fully charged, brand new phone to suddenly shut off!?!

Mentally the shock of something like that happening can be a death blow. Especially when you still have 6 more miles to go and the last few are on a hill that people the day before kept complaining and whining about.

But Jodie pushed on.

Then what do you do if your body chooses that day to rebel? You’ve trained hard for months. You are physically strong enough, but your stomach just doesn’t seem to care.

What do you do then when you have no music to distract you (like you’ve had ever run for the past few months while training), your stomach is telling you to stop and your body is fatigued from unexpected hill after hill?

It all comes down to how strong your mind is.

And all I can tell you is, I ran with one strong lady on Sunday. Up a hill that felt like it lasted for an hour, Jodie pushed through finishing her half marathon with no music and a body in rebellion.

She was a bit disappointed when we finished because she wanted a bit more out of the race.  And then she turned said to me, “I think I should have trained on more hills.”

While yes, a bit more hill training could have made that last hill feel a little less awful, I don’t think hill training was what was missing from our program.

The hill did deliver a blow, but the real battle started when her music shut off. All she then had were her thoughts and a mind that now had nothing to distract it from the pain building in her body.

It made me realize that what had been missing from our training was a true mental test.

I never once thought of having us run without music. I never once thought of creating a ridiculously, outrageously hard unexpected route.

I never thought of having her train in a way that would mentally make her suffer more than her body was.

I did everything to prepare her for the route we thought we knew we’d be running and the circumstances we thought we’d be running under.

Heck, the only mental training we really did was the few times I forced her to run sore just in case her body didn’t feel perfect the day of the race. That way at least she’d know that she’d done it before feeling worse.

Anyway, the point is, it really doesn’t matter how much you train if your mind isn’t going to be prepared to handle adversity. And while I was so proud of Jodie for the mental strength she displayed, a bit more mental training could have made yesterday a walk (ok maybe a run) in the park for her even with all the crap that popped up.

And just because you aren’t training for a race doesn’t mean you can skip the mental training.

Adversity doesn’t just pop up in competition. It happens in everyday life.

We are truly only as strong as our minds believe we are. It’s as simple as that.

So while I’m not suggesting you force yourself to go outside and deadlift in the snow to prepare for unforeseen circumstances at a powerlifting competition, I am suggesting that you occasionally force yourself to train in circumstances that challenge your mental strength.

What I am suggesting is that, while you may get into a routine and generally train in that routine, you every so often force yourself to deviate from that routine just so you know that you don’t NEED the routine to succeed.

Like maybe if you always run with music, you try a few runs without it just in case your iphone decides to stop functioning mid-race…

Training can’t just strengthen your body, it must also push your mind.

Because as I said before…


Congrats again Jodie. I want to say how proud of you I am for finishing that half-marathon strong!

Posted on August 19, 2013, in Mindset, Show me yours, Testimonials and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. THAT is awesome, awesome, awesome. Way to fight through the brain bugs… seriously. I hate those things. Big congrats to you!!!

    • Jodie did great! And PS I will respond to your email tonight! I am not ignoring you just really slammed with stuff. A really quick response though is before you start, try taking a foam ball and placing in your abs above your hip and next to your belly button. Lie on the ground and relax over the ball. This may help loosen everything up.

      Also, have someone check your posture and your rotation when running. That could be causing it. (In terms of a few diet/hydration tips, I’ll send those tonight!)

  2. Great post and 100% believe it. The mind is so powerful and is more so than the body. That is why so many Olympians go through vigorous mind training as well as physical conditioning to get ready to face pitfalls and challenges.

  3. Yes, I needed to read this. I’m running a half marathon this weekend going for a PR (and then I’ll be back to more dedicated weight training again). I know my biggest obstacle is going to be in my mind. I’ve had a few bad races this year (but also a couple of good ones) and the breakdown might start in my body but always leads to my head and it is my head telling me to just give up because I’ve already missed my goal. I’m going to try really hard not to give into that voice this time!

  4. Hi, Ive already been a lurker around your blog for a couple months. I really like this article as well as your entire web site! Looking forward to reading through more!

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