In cross county, my coaches always remind us that the sport has as much to do with mental strength as it does physical strength.
With that in mind, I’d like to invite you to come running with me – for the mental part, at least.
Here’s what a few miles look like inside of my head.
Don’t start too fast, just get warmed up.
It’s hot today, but not as bad as it usually is. The gravel crunches beneath my shoes. We reach a little bit of downhill.
I hear my coach’s voice: “Let gravity do the work.”
Get your breathing back. Drop your arms. Shake it out.
The road in front of us curves up a long hill. It’s steep.
Slow it down. What hurts worse, lungs or legs? Legs. I can breathe still.
My calves tighten the farther up we climb. I count my steps between each exhale. We’re running in 4/4 time. I inhale on the 1st beat, exhale through 2, 3, 4.
Sweat drips down my forehead. I wipe it off with my shirt.
Take it easy now.
My breathing is steady – that’s good. My left calf hurts more than my right. The opposite of yesterday.
This hill is a bitch. Settle in, we’ll be here for a while.
Keep your arms down. Breathe.
The road settles and is flat for a while.
You’re not tired, it just hurts.
What hurts worse, lungs or legs? Both. You’re not tired, you just can’t breathe. There’s a difference.
The next two miles are steady uphill.
Use your arms! The harder you work the faster you’ll be done.
This hill is a BITCH.
My ragged breathing is louder than my shoes on the pavement. Sweat covers my whole body. My arms ache from pumping and the muscles in my legs feel like they’re made of both cement and water at the same time. My mouth is so dry that when I touch my tongue to the roof of my mouth it sticks.
Eyes up, on the road. So close. I feel awful.
I can’t breathe. The smell of wood chips in the orchard makes me want to puke. Push.
I jog past the green gate the marking the end of the road, the end of the run. My left foot leaves the pavement and lands on grass and the right follows.
Don’t sit down. Breathe.
As I walk back and forth beneath the oak trees, my lungs start to settle down. The tension in my legs slowly fades, first easing up in my quads and then from my calves.
My breathing returns to normal. I’m not hurting anymore.
I just ran five miles.
I feel good.