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mental fragility: it’s a real problem

one way or another – ©

If you’ve been reading my recent posts, you’ll no doubt be painfully aware that I’m currently moaning about an injury. The past week has really played on my mind a lot. Not just because of the injury, we’ve all been there, but because of it’s impact on my mind. Mental fragility is something that can strike, to your detriment, at any stage. It doesn’t matter how fit or frail you are – it will get you.

seizing that PB but…

At some point, all of us have stood at a start line, passionately talking ourselves out of a good performance. Yes, us runners are a strange bunch of people. We get up at all hours, run whatever distance is on a plan, to brave rain, cold, wind, and sun. Yet, when it comes to a start line, we suddenly doubt our own predefined abilities from our training.

I’ve been there on more occasions than I would like to recall. Sometimes the one-on-one talk with myself continues for the first mile of a distance race. I must be mad! It’s a mental fragility that does not serve me well at all. It is also something I have battled hard to try and overcome but to little avail. Even at times when I am in the best physical fitness of my life, I somehow manage to tell myself, “not today, it’s just not in you”. I almost did it again at my last race in April.

…but sometimes you shouldn’t do it

Talking yourself out of a good performance is something to work on. So many runners suffer from a lack of belief in their own fitness and capabilities. However, there are times when you do need to talk yourself out of doing something. Oddly enough, it can be difficult to allow yourself be talked out of something you shouldn’t do. Indeed, runners are a strange breed.

This hit home last night when I was on the floor, foam-rolling my calf and nursing my injury. I had strained the calf while minding the ankle area out running yesterday. A night spent in far more discomfort than I should have. Of course, it was all my own doing.

After a week off my feet (with the exception of bicycle rides to nowhere) my head was in turmoil. There are less than two weeks to a trial marathon goal that I had lined up for my training plan. Here I am, laid up, wrecking all the ideas that I had wanted to test because I’m not running.

mental fragility and false belief

My physio session on Thursday went well and I was determined to get back on my feet. I did; I went for 12 miles on Saturday, trying to keep the pace to within 10/15 seconds of goal pace. The pain surfaced again at about 5 miles into the run but I was able to keep going.

Yesterday, I convinced myself that this niggle was not something that would stop me running. I convinced myself that I was needlessly staying off my feet. I decided to go for a 10-mile run at target pace. My target pace for this trial marathon is a bit slower than my aim for the Dublin Marathon in October. Again, a few miles into the run, I could feel the pain in the ankle area. Yet again, it wasn’t the kind of pain that said stop. I completed the run almost precisely at the pace I wanted. However, there was a price to pay from this mental fragility that wouldn’t listen to ‘knowing better’.

not listening can be worse than listening

It’s true, not listening to yourself can be as bad as listening to yourself. Yesterday’s run was a combination of listening to my ego and not listening to a much quieter voice. The quieter voice said, “maybe don’t push it”. That’s the kind of mental fragility that you can’t undo after a couple of steady miles – it’s the more dangerous kind.

I paid a price for yesterday’s run. Last night I was foam-rolling my calf because I had been subconsciously yielding to my ankle. As a result, it was as tight as piano wire. Pain was emanating from the tendon area too. It was hard to tell if the calf was pulling on this and/or I had aggravated the tendons also. Either way I spent the evening in a lot less comfort than I should have. However, I posted 22 solid miles in two days, that’s all that matters, right?

Today it’s not as bad. The calf is worse than the ankle and I’m sure that I can work on that. The question is whether or not this is it? Is this where I am stuck unless I take a month off? I don’t have the mental strength to suffer that more sensible decision. As stupid as it may sound, I believe giving way to this could write off the rest of my year. I think my head would just give up.

Even more stupid, I have decided not to pull out of this upcoming marathon, despite the awful run-in to it. I’m going to run the race and I’m going to post a time as close as possible to my goal. After that, I am going to give myself a break; a proper chance to rebuild whatever it is I need to rebuild. There has been too much work put in this year, leading up to this race. Too much unique effort that formed the basis for all my experiments. I can’t just let it slide. The impact of that could knock me sideways more than a prolonged recovery from running it. I may end up going down in flames but I don’t have the will to do otherwise – I can’t.

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