Life's little adventures, accompanied by a running watch

Monday, August 29, 2011

Mental Toughness Training

Yesterday, I ran a 20 mile training run.  Alone.  Solo.  Just me, myself, and I.  Don’t get me wrong, I love training with friends and do so often.  But I also make sure I have some solo longer runs woven into my training plan.  Because in addition to increasing mileage, tempo runs, speedwork, and hill repeats, I believe training for mental toughness trumps them all.

Fortunately for me, I’ve never bought into the “loneliness of the distance runner” theme.  When I run by myself, I’m never lonely.  In fact, I look forward to the sound of my breathing, my footsteps, and my frequent internal conversations.  Although I love music, I’ve never run with an iPod and will likely not do so anytime soon.  During my bachelors and masters programs, my long runs provided a healthy flame that fueled my creativity.  During stressful times, long runs also remind me of perspective; things just don’t seem so bad when I return from my run.  So the quiet of a solo long run clears my head in a way no other activity can.

Some of the strategies that get me through a solo 20 miler –

  • I try to map out the most appropriate course
  • I visual the “before the run” and “during the run”
  • I eat/drink in preparation (in advance)
  • I get myself excited about it (fake it ‘til you make it!)
  • I break down the course in my head
  • I plan ahead with ample water stops
  • I plan ahead to have husband check on me (whenever possible!)
  • When I’m hurting, I dial it back and remind myself that pace is not the goal on a 20 miler
  • I stop when I have to – but also don’t beat myself up for it
  • I remind myself that solo training helps when I’m running solo on race day

When I’m alone with myself at mile 23 of a marathon, feeling like my legs have 50 lbs weights strapped to them, wishing I could just be done, and wondering why I’m there in the first place, I have my solo long run memories to get me through it.  It’s not enough to say “Dig deep Lisa”; the fact is, I gotta have something to dig from.  And because I have the memory to draw from in training, it comes a lot easier when I need to push myself in the actual marathon.

I’m no coach and I’m no elite runner.  What I am is a woman who tries to achieve balance in life and in running.  I have lots of things to practice and don’t always get them right.  But once my head’s in the game, my feet are happy to follow.


  1. Hi Lisa

    Saw your posts on Michelle's blog and looked at your blog. I hear ya on the solo long run- got to experience it out there alone in order to "get there" on marathon day. Several of us are training for the Rock N Roll Savannah Nov 5th and it's been especially draining for me trying to train in the heat and humidity of the south (moved from Maine less than 2 years ago). In fact, I was starting to wonder if long distance running for me might have to be a "thing of the past". Kept waiting for that 1 good run again- happened yesterday with a 15 miler. Keep up the running and the blogging! See you at a marathon some day!

  2. You impress me. Love this post. xoxoxo..

  3. "It’s not enough to say “Dig deep Lisa”; the fact is, I gotta have something to dig from." Yes to that!

    I like knowing that I can run alone, without music, in hot weather, on hills, etc., because I may need to do that in a future race. Yay for staying strong for 20 miles!

  4. I think it definitely makes us stronger for sure Tina! Continued good training vibes to ya!