I Tried It: Running My First Half Marathon – Week 4

Our beauty editor Caitlin Kenny learns it’s all in her head—and discovers a few tips for getting over it

marathon training

Look at coach Inge and I, all smiles yet so far from home

Attention, attention! This morning, I ran the furthest I ever have: 17 km. And, it actually wasn’t the worst thing ever.

As I’ve blogged already, my training hasn’t been without its struggles: knee pain, humiliating chaffing, low energy. But the toughest part has been this mental wall I built up for myself, where in the last 1.5 km of every long run—regardless of its actual distance—my positive thinking crashes and burns. The only thing faster than my antsy breathing is my panicked thought track saying, “I CAN’T. I CAN’T. I CAN’T.”

Why was I doing this, when really, all logic says that I can indeed run for another eight or so minutes? “Fear of failure,” concluded sports psychologist Dana Sinclair. She’s worked with Olympians, NHLers, MLBers, NBAers and NFLers, and told me perfectionism is a trait I share with many of them (maybe you too?), based on a quick personality questionnaire. The end of a run is when I’m confronted with my results, and Sinclair suggested I might be self-sabotaging to avoid facing a potentially disappointing time. I hate to admit it, but I think she might be right. A little embarrassed, I asked if this is a weird behaviour. Not at all, she told me. She’s seen tons of pro athletes throw tantrums and tap out of competition when things don’t go well.

To help me over this self-induced hump, Sinclair pulled out an exercise book (one branded with the Toronto Maple Leafs logo, which made me feel super legit). Tons of self-reflection isn’t something I’m usually very keen to do, and especially not to share with others, but I’m breaking my own rules here in case you find yourself fighting a similar mental battle. Here’s what we did: First, I wrote down all the things I do when I’m having a good run (keep my posture tall, engage my core, pump my arms, drive my knees up), and a bad one (shuffle my feet, hold my breath, count down the distance, slouch). From there, we brainstormed things that can help me get back in the “good” zone when I slip into the “bad” one, which Sinclair said is bound to happen from time to time.

marathon training

These Shot Blok things taste like candy, and they (plus a little water) made a huge difference on my run this morning

We figured out a few specific actions that help me do well physically; fuelling before and during my run was the biggie. (This morning, I tried Clif Shot Bloks Energy Chews—my first time having any sort of snack during a run—and they made a huge difference on my energy level in the second half of the run.) We also figured out a few helpful mental cues, including some pretty straight-forward self-talk like, Come on, this is what you came to do, and, You really can do this, you know. I’m not one who can “visualize success” without giggling at how cheesy that is, but I noticed something interesting about what distracts me from my negative thoughts during a run: thinking about what I might write in my blog post. That, in a way, is visualizing success, because it means thinking about the run being done, and what I’ll do after.

At 6:15 a.m., I looked over my hand-written list of reminders under the “Good Game” column while eating my strawberries and kefir yogurt. Then, I went out and put it all in action. And it really did work. Here I am, alive to tell (slash, blog) the tale.

Catch up with Caitlin:

Caitlin’s Marathon Training Diary — Week 1
Caitlin’s Marathon Training Diary — Week 2
Caitlin’s Marathon Training Diary — Week 3


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