Conquer your mind, conquer your run


Ramesses resting after another bitchin' run.

 When you first start training, you’re often so busy counting minutes, your mind may not affect your performance. But before long, the messages you send yourself make the difference between running and giving up.

I taught interpersonal communication full time at Valparaiso University for 12 years, and students always had difficulty understanding a positive attitude isn’t enough, though it helps. To develop a mindset that’ll enable you to conquer running and other challenges, you often must confront unhappy relationships and patterns and work through them to positivity.

Before we confront mental barriers, we must first establish one understanding: Running is a badass sport. I love the saying that “My sport is your sport’s punishment.” The mere fact you’re running makes you a badass. That aside, here are common concerns No Boundaries runners express—and here are some solutions.

Concern: Running feels wrong or uncomfortable.

I came to the No Boundaries program a true beginner—I ran my first mile at age 41. At first, after a few strides, running felt unnatural. Raising my legs felt like raising concrete—seriously, they were numb.

Solution: Be assured that, as long as you’re running or jogging, what you’re doing is natural, and soon, you’ll realize, “Hey, this feels right.” Maybe running isn’t comfortable for you. That’s normal. Even—especially—veteran runners don’t feel comfortable while they run. They have good days and bad days, just like you.

I’d wanted to run long before my first NoBo team. I’d jog from one mailbox to the next, to the next—then give up because it felt uncomfortable. I didn’t know I’d quit just before my body started warming up.

When I first felt my heart thumping wildly in my chest, I stopped running for the day because I was afraid I was overexerting myself. Turns out I was so out of shape, I’d never felt my heart really work. I didn’t know my heart was supposed to do that. Now, feeling my heart pump and my lungs expand feels really good, and after a run, I often feel like I’ve had an hour-long massage.

When you run a 5K, here’s a pattern you might expect. For me, the first mile feels icky, but veteran runners reassure me this is because my body is warming up and shifting gears, just like a car. During the second mile, I’m thinking, “OK, I can do this.” The third mile is the payoff, the euphoria. This is when I think, “I could go two more miles”—but I remind myself I have dogs to walk and kids to cook for when I get home. I don’t have the luxury of napping.

Incidentally, when I run six miles, for example, this pattern remains, but it lengthens with the distance.

Concern: I can’t run as far as my coaches want me to run today.

Solution: Guaranteed, you can run longer than you think. Remind yourself that one day, you’ll look back and say, “Wow, I never would’ve thought it’d be so easy to run five minutes/five miles.”

It helps me to follow our training schedule during the week, then show up for group run on Saturday without looking at the schedule so I don’t know exactly how far we’ll run. I figure I’ll just do what everybody else is doing so by the time I learn how many supersets we’ll do, I can tell myself, “I’ve come this far. What’s running one more minute?”

About two months into your training program, if you’ve been faithful to the run/walk schedule, if somebody asks you to run an extra minute, you can. No big deal. In fact, you might try running through some walk minutes—having no brain of its own, your heart will pump just as fast as if you were walking, so you might as well.

Concern: My mind keeps telling me that I shouldn’t or can’t do this.

Solution: How do you know you can’t? Have you tried today? Keep your mind so busy, you don’t have time for negative messages. Run on a treadmill while you watch TV or read. Run with a buddy; I’m happy to run with any of you in the early morning—just facebook me, or e-mail me at, if you don’t mind my slowness. Take your pet. Take your cell phone—you should do this anyway, for safety—and call your mom/friend/somebody whose ear you’d like to breathe heavily into.

Of course, you may already have an MP3 player; keep it plugged in to your computer so it’s always charged when you need it. Play motivational music. When I get bored during a workout, I sing along and challenge myself to stay in tune.

Here’s some songs from my playlist—just suggestions, but enough to convince you I’m a weirdo. Whatever—it’s gotten me through four FleetFeet teams. I present these to you in the order I’d listen to them.

*A nice start is the Smiths’ Rubber Ring. The whole thing sounds so eerie, I know you’ll wonder why I’m recommending it. It’s worth listening to the entire song to hear the ending—an actual EVP, or recording of a ghost, with an extremely convincing message.

*Philadelphia Freedom—Elton John—a great singalong.

*Wichita Lineman—Glen Campbell—a palate cleanser.

*The Kinks—Do It Again. A great message: If you’re gonna change your life, do it now, or you never will. A must.

*Local H’s Bound for the Floor—Use your anger to inspire you to action—and everybody’s angry about something. A must.

*Lit—My Own Worst Enemy. I defy you not to howl along with the backup singers’ “A—ooo.”

*LL Cool J’s Mama Say Knock You Out. Silly, but a must if you’re a mama.

*Luscious Jackson’s Naked Eye. If you need to go slowly, fast-forward to this.

*Mike Posner’s Cooler Than Me. If you’re running, you are cooler than he.

*They Might Be Giants—Birdhouse in Your Soul. Triumphant.

Post your own inspirational soundtrack on the NoBo facebook page, or leave your suggestions in a comment on my blog.

Concern: I’m embarrassed about how I look when I run.

Solution:  Wear your team T-shirt, or wear a shirt from a race you’ve run. Passersby won’t mess with a fact—that you’re wearing evidence you’re an athlete. I’ve never gotten jeers other than the rare honking everybody gets. When somebody honks at you, make sure you wave back. After all, our state’s reputation for Hoosier hospitality is at stake.

Many NoBos worry about the jiggle factor. I weighed 270 pounds when I first started running, and when friends and neighbors saw me run by, they were always encouraging and usually said, “I wish I could do that” or “I should do that.” Frankly, I’m proud that I’m plus-size and a runner. We plus-size runners are stronger than the regular-size athlete—let’s see them carry the equivalent of a 150-pound person for three miles. My body has brought four incredible people into the world—including the Region’s largest twins, who together weighed 17 pounds—and I’m proud of it.

Look around at the next group run, and you’ll see curves and cellulite on even the thinnest runners. So, feel comfortable to wear sleeveless shirts and shorts to the next group run. How will you look? Gorgeous. Just ask me; I’ll tell you.

You may want to invest in cute running clothes; FleetFeet does carry plus sizes. But if you’re going to wear mascara and makeup, make it waterproof. You may get teary-eyed from the wind and because you can’t believe how fabulous you are.

Remember: The average person still perceives running as a mysterious activity only the thin and fit can accomplish, so when passersby see you, they’re not thinking, “That person looks stupid”; they’re thinking, “Man, I could never do that, though I should try—someday.”

I’ve spent years in health clubs, so I assure you that true athletes don’t look down on the beginner; they think, “Good for that person. They’re trying to change their lives.” True athletes love their sport or game so much, they want to evangelize and share it with everyone. That’s the awesome thing about FleetFeet: The moment you join a NoBo team, you belong. You’re officially an athlete.

 Concern: I’m too old.

Solution: Go to any race, and you’ll see tons of older runners. Running is a natural activity; pharaohs in ancient Egypt had to prove they could rule every year, and they did this by hunting hippopotami—pro hunters claim they’re the hardest animal to kill—and by running in the desert (best features: crazy-hot temperatures, scorpions, and sand). Pharaohs were understandably not pumped to lose all their sweet pyramids, so there are many records of pharaohs accomplishing remarkable runs into their 90s.

Concern: I’m so slow. It drives me crazy to start running with the team and see them vanish over the hills and leave me alone.

Solution: As you’ve probably seen, I’m an excruciatingly slow runner—I’ve heard my speed described as a “shamble”—though I’m sure it was meant in the sexiest possible way–so I know how disheartening and depressing this is.

When everyone vanishes is a good time to make cell phone calls and listen to your favorite music. Again, feel free to call me and train with me—if I’m not too slow for you! This situation is also a great chance to pay attention to form, something you wouldn’t necessarily do if you were gabbing with a bunch of people.

Multitasking is another fantastic way to make the miles melt under your feet. I carry a palm-sized notepad with meditation prompts. Thinking through these prompts usually occupies a couple miles for me. The beauty of meditating while running is that, when you’re done, you can feel doubly proud of everything you’ve accomplished.

Here are some meditation prompts; feel welcome to add your own—and let me know. I’ll add them to my blog, where they can inspire future runners.

Sunset over rural Tuscany--time is the element that makes many things great.

To answer the below questions, I sometimes bring a cell phone with me and record my answers. Then, when I return, I play back the recording and write down the answers.

Feel free to add your own positive thoughts as a comment.

  1. Count your blessings.
  2. Now, thank God for your blessings.
  3. Pray for people who need help. (Note to readers: In your notepad, you can write a list of prayer intentions so you can remember them day after day.)
  4. What will you eat the rest of the day? Make it healthy.
  5. What will you accomplish the rest of the day? Make it positive.
  6. What do you need to accomplish tomorrow?
  7. Check your body. What parts of your body are unnecessarily tense? Relax them.
  8. Focus on your form and breathing.
  9. Notice the world around you. Are the birds singing? Trees budding? What’s beautiful? Enjoy the silence.
  10. (Note to readers: On my notepad, I write my goals. Reviewing them daily keeps me accountable. I ask myself how I can improve them and how I’ve already accomplished them.)
  11. How can I be compassionate to everyone I meet? Who particularly needs my compassion?
  12. What is my mission in life? How can I accomplish it?
  13. If the timing is appropriate, do stretches while you run.
  14. Do I harbor negative feelings about a person or event that can be dealt with more constructively? How?

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