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Tim Bergsten created this Ning Network.

Running can be a very mental sport.  Those who finish races usually have some degree of mental toughness.  There are many barriers you have to push through and obstacles you have to overcome in order to succeed in running.

Henry Ford said, "Whether you think you can or you think you can't you're probably right."

This week I had a major mental obstacle to overcome leading up to the Black Canyon Ascent.  This is a race that requires you to run six miles uphill. I have been doing hill training lately but the longest I have run uphill prior to this race was 30 minutes in one of my steady hill climb workouts.

For the last couple of weeks I have been fearing and dreading this race.  I would have thoughts like...

  • Why did I sign up for this race?
  • I'm not ready for this race.
  • I don't know if I can make it 6 miles uphill.

And it seemed as if I was going to defeat myself in my mind. My mom calls this stinkin' thinkin'.

Finally, I had to decide that I would run...even if I had to run scared.

There was no other way to run a new race like this that presented a new physical challenge for me.  We live hours away from the race course; therefore, I couldn't even train on the course to prepare in advance.  They also didn't have a course map listed online or even a previous race on Garmin that I could find.

I felt like I was going into the race completely blind. But, my husband kept assuring me that I would be fine.

And after all of my doubts, fears, and stinkin' thinkin'; my husband was right. I did just fine. I ran slow, but I finished the race without walking (except at the aid stations, that is)!

We had dinner with a bunch of Colorado Springs runners the night before. During our evening conversation, Amy Perez said she thinks an uphill race is easier than a race like Garden of the Gods 10 miler because you can find a rhythm and then stick with it.  And for my first uphill race, I found that to be true.  Once I found a rhythm, I was able to pretty much stick with it.

I would repeat phrases to myself in rhythm with my breathing. Phrases like...

  • You've got this.
  • I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.
  • You are winner because you will finish this race.
  • Almost there.
  • etc.

I ended up running most of the race with a 77 year old man.  The back of his shirt said 25,000 miles and still running.  Early on in the race I still had enough breath to let him know how impressive I thought that was! He proceeded to tell me that he was now at almost 30,000 miles. Wow! I did tell him he should get an updated shirt. :-)

Here we are pictured below...

I had a major turning point mentally in this race. 

I went from my stinkin' thinkin' to my positive affirmations and I know it really helped me.

It was interesting because during the race I kept passing caterpillars along the road.  And all of sudden it hit me.  The caterpillar represented the transformation I had went through. Just like a caterpillar transforms into a beautiful butterfly, my thoughts transformed into something much more beautiful as well.

And it made all the difference.

I'm not an expert in sports psychology, but I can tell you what I've experienced.  I truly believe our thoughts do make a difference in our athletic performance.

I also received some other encouragement to help me finish strong.

In this race, they let the walkers start 30 minutes before the runners. Therefore, near the end of the race, I started to pass walkers. And it was so encouraging to hear them cheering me on.  At this point, I did NOT have much extra breath, so I would simply give them a thumbs up to thank them.

My final encouragement came from my husband. With a half a mile to go, I was thinking I wished I would've told him to be waiting for me so he could run me into the finish line.  Not even 1/10 of a mile later I saw him come running towards me.  He gave me that extra boost to finish strong. It also helps that the race finished on a short downhill. 

It felt amazing to finish such a big physical challenge! Even though I didn't win any awards, I was still a winner (in my opinion) because I finished. I didn't give up and I overcame my mental obstacles.

Being able to finish an uphill race like this gives me confidence that as I continue my training, I will also be able to finish the Pikes Peak Ascent in August.  I have to admit, I'm still feeling a bit scared about that race.  Thankfully I still have almost 3 months to prepare!

Additional reading:

How About You?

What mental obstacles have you had to overcome as a runner? Do you find racing to be mentally tough as well?

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Comment by Shelley Hitz on May 18, 2014 at 8:52pm

Thank you so much for your constant encouragement, Michael!  Glad you are enjoying the posts :)  

Comment by Michael Yowell on May 18, 2014 at 8:51pm

Shelley....you are an AMAZING runner. NEVER EVER doubt that. I really enjoy your posts (and CJ's too). This one is soooooo true and really made me smile. Thanks for sharing and I hope to see you guys soon.

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