The Mental Side of Running

The 2-3 months I’ve been struggling some in my training runs. Some of it because of my asthma-induced bronchitis (thanks, allergies!) and some because of my mental wall I’m hitting upon whenever I’m running between 8:00-8:30 pace. I don’t have problems with running slower because it’s easy. I don’t have problems running faster because I know the burning pain will soon be over. The 8:00-8:30 zone is the zone, where for me, it’s fast enough to hurt after a bit and I need to continue with that suffering for a while. Unlike speed work, the hurt goes on for miles.

I haven’t had a good tempo run in a while. Last month Ben came out with me and I eked out 5-mile tempo at 8:13 pace. I struggled in the middle and I was happy when it was over. I wanted to complete it at a 8:00 pace, but it just wasn’t going to happen. That day I did the best that I could do and that’s all I can ask for.

Still it’s frustrating because I KNOW I can do the 8:00 pace. But I haven’t been able to translate that into actual performance. There’s no reason why I can’t run 3 miles at 8:00 pace (my 5K pace is 15 secs faster than that). But every time I set out to do my tempo, I start out strong and in the middle I flail. I start to slow down in my second mile, which is ridiculous, because in a 5K I’m running faster and I can do the faster pace no problem (okay, it hurts in the last mile, but I’m still at a faster pace). When it’s a tempo run, I struggle to complete the 5 miles even at the slower pace. If I’m running that pace and distance in the middle of a long run, no problem.

For example, I went out on a long steady state run.

Mile splits

  1. 8:22
  2. 8:15
  3. 8:21
  4. 8:19
  5. 8:19
  6. 8:20
  7. 8:20
  8. 8:27
  9. 8:52
  10. 8:54


I knocked out the first 8 miles without much problems. Now had I intended to do a tempo run at around a 8:20 pace, I would have had a harder time completing it at that pace. Ridiculous. It’s just a mental block. I need to get over this. One solution is to stop calling my tempo runs, tempo runs. I’ll tell myself that I’m going to run a half marathon and then stop after 5 miles.

I went out on that long run with the intention of running as many 8:20 paced miles as I could. I didn’t tell Ben because I knew he would tell me that I should run a bit slower to ensure that I complete my 10 miles. I jokingly refer to my training preferences as the Kenyan method — run fast and just try to hold on as long as possible. It was psychologically more important to me that I run 8:20 and see how many miles I could do before I broke down than to complete the training run. If I could do all 10 miles, then great, I’m in fantastic shape for my half marathon. If I couldn’t do 5, then I would need to re-evaluate my goal. I completed 8 miles before I broke. I think I know why I broke, so I’m not worried about it. Ben was really happy to see how well I did on the run.

I tried to do a bit of speed work on Tuesday. It didn’t go well, but at least I completed one runner rite of passage — throwing up after a run. My asthma got so bad that I couldn’t breath anymore, so I quit early and then promptly heaved. Ben said I wasn’t a runner, until I threw up and now I have. I’m a real runner now.

6 thoughts on “The Mental Side of Running

    • Thanks. I do a half mile warm up beforehand. I’m always afraid of starting too slow and then not making up the time later. I know I need to get over that fear and not start too fast.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

  1. Wow, can I relate! I’ve been in the same boat lately. Nailing my track workouts, but just struggling at everything else. I like the idea of calling tempo runs something else. And hey, the Kenyan method works great for lots of Kenyan runners—why not you?! Honestly, those last two miles weren’t too far off. I’m sure if it was a race, you’d have held on. And welcome to the barfing club. I HATE getting to that point, but seem to have been doing it a lot lately. I guess that means we’re challenging ourselves? Yucky way to do it.

    • Ugh! It’s so gross and disgusting. The only good thing about it is that you *know* you left everything out there. Thanks for the welcome. I hope I don’t pay a visit to the clubhouse often. ๐Ÿ™‚

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