Runs and Places

Overcoming Mental Obstacles

I’m guilty of something.  I’m sure you are too.

In a recent post about Grandma’s Marathon, I talked about what a great race it was (which it is and you should totally sign up for it if you haven’t already).  Unfortunately, the weather on race day this year was also unseasonably hot.  About halfway through my post, I said this:

I found myself run-walking the last third of the course wondering why every full marathon I’ve done over the past few years has turned into a death march through excruciating unseasonable heat during the second half.

Last September I wrote a review of the Golden Leaf Half Marathon in Aspen, CO that included this:

Am I getting too old for this?  I mean really, I just turned forty earlier this year… maybe I should start thinking about what my limits are and whether or not I’m trying to do too much.

To be fair, these are both extreme examples of tough race experiences:

  • The weather during Grandma’s was supposed to be in the 60’s.  Mother Nature decided to throw a curve ball on race day and crank the heat index up to 105 instead.
  • The Golden Leaf course is just plain brutal all the way around.
    • 10,000 feet elevation at the start with an uphill climb at an 11% grade for the first mile and a half.
    • Seven miles of a super technical single track trail that literally runs over the top of a mountain before an elevation drop of close to 2000 feet.

That said though, the fact remains that in both cases, I found myself questioning my own abilities.  I’d be willing to bet that my mental state during these two races led to worse finishing times than what I might have been capable of had I not let my negative thoughts get the best of me.  I’ll never know for sure.

And let’s be honest.  We’ve all been there.  Some races simply don’t go as planned and there’s nothing we can do about it.  I can guarantee with 100% certainty that everyone reading this post has started at least one race expecting to PR only to realize halfway through the course that it wasn’t going to happen.  Or maybe we were expecting a nice easy flat course only to find a series of steep hills that didn’t look that bad on the elevation profile.  We’ve all gotten mad at ourselves for these experiences and let angry or depressing thoughts fill our heads.  Do those thoughts help though?

No.  They don’t.

Many of the things that can throw us off during races are out of our control (weather, unexpected hills or terrain changes, etc…).  One of the tricks to running strong despite the obstacles we encounter on race day is to focus on the things we can control, such as our hydration, nutrition and fitness.

Elizabeth Clor does an excellent job of explaining these things in her book, Boston Bound. She also talks about how she spent seven years trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon.  She goes into detail about how she struggled to get past a series of mental roadblocks.  Some of them were extreme enough to make her drop out in the middle of races.  She then goes on to talk about how she taught herself to improve her mental toughness.

Boston Bound

Boston Bound is structured like a memoir, but the story lines go a lot deeper than that.  Once I started reading it, I had a hard time putting it down. Elizabeth’s stories of her struggles and how she learned to overcome them are inspirational.

But the best thing about Boston Bound is that it’s not just a collection of stories about races.  It also has practical advice for runners looking to improve their own mental toughness and reach the next level with their training and racing. The tips and suggestions in the book can apply to anyone.  Even if your goal is not to qualify for Boston, you’ll still find a ton of helpful information.

I was lucky enough to have a chance to chat with Elizabeth after I finished reading Boston Bound.  She’s a genuine person who wants to share her stories with other people in the hopes that her words might help others who are going through similar issues.  Her book is a great way to do that.  I’m planning to follow some of Elizabeth’s tips in my own upcoming races.

Interested in learning more? Here are some links to check out:


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