I’m reading How Bad Do You Want It? by Matt Fitzgerald and am struck by Fitzgerald’s assertion that endurance performance depends solely on the mind. From the book:
…the most important truth you can know as an endurance athlete is this: One cannot improve as an endurance athlete except by changing one’s relationship with perception of effort.
In other words, if you take two runners with the same natural abilities, the runner who performs better is the one who has greater mental toughness, the one who decides she wants it more than the runner with whom she’s competing. It all comes down to how bad each of us wants to win/race well/finish strong. Another aha! moment in the book was this:
The training process increases an athlete’s physical capacity, but at the same time it changes her relationship with perception of effort. The fitter the athlete becomes, the easier it feels for her to swim, bike, run, or whatever at any given speed, and that is why her performance improves.
WOW, right? Of course I immediately thought of the Hansons’ method and why I have such an affinity with it. Is it really the only training plan that will get me ready to run a marathon? I’m sure it’s not. But why I keep going back to it is it because it builds my confidence like nothing else. Coming out of marathon training last year and being more confident than ever before that I could meet my race goals is, for a naturally non-confident runner like me, worth every ounce of sweat I shed during training. When I know I can run hard 13-mile workouts at 5 a.m. before work, I’m that much more willing to believe I can handle the hard stuff that the marathon will throw at me.
The book goes on to say that while we can’t change our natural abilities, we can change our perception of effort. How? By practicing using our mental toughness and pushing ourselves in training and races.
I started marathon training by saying my goal was to enjoy training and race day and to not be focused on a time goal. Only three weeks in, that’s becoming hard to do. Hansons is focused on performance, and everything revolves around your goal finish time. Already, in figuring out how to tackle my long runs with a run group where my long run pace isn’t a good match for the pace groups, I’m starting to focus on my paces. Already, I’m reading the articles and message boards on the Hansons’ coaching site and am getting excited about my training and how it will prepare me for the race.
That’s not a bad thing. But is it me?
I fully realize that I picked a race that isn’t setting me up for as much success at hitting a time goal as a bigger race would. There will be no spectators to take my mind off the arduous task of running for hours on end. There will be no energy from the other racers to spur me on. There will be no pace group to follow. If it’s like last time, it’s going to be me running on a trail by myself. Only then, I at least had a friend with me. This time, it’s just me.
That’s not a bad thing, either. Running in the woods by myself is me. I picked this race because I want to enjoy the race itself. So, I guess I’ve already partly answered the question How bad do you want it? I guess I don’t want it bad enough to endure all the irritations of a big-city race that would set me up to perform better. But, at mile 20, will I want to run a strong race bad enough to keep pushing myself? Do I even want that? Does enjoying the race mean that I can slow down or walk when I get tired, or does it mean enduring some pain to run a strong race? I don’t know. Before training, I might have thought the former, but now that I’m in training, I just don’t know.
I’m caught in the middle of wanting to train hard and see success in training and as a runner and, yes, if the stars align, run the paces I’m training for on race day–and just wanting to run in the woods and enjoy myself and not care about pace. Can I do both? I don’t know. I guess I don’t know how. It’s not that I’m not enjoying training; I am. I’m pretty excited about it. But, like I said, I can already feel myself getting caught up in the “I have to have a great training cycle so I can hit my paces on race day” mentality. I just think this is part of my journey–figuring out who I am as a runner and how much I’m willing to push myself to improve.
In the meantime, I’m going to keep my focus on enjoying training. The answers will come to me in time.
So, now I ask you: How bad to you want it? It seems like most runners have very clear goals and will do anything to work for them. Does anyone struggle to understand whether they even want goals like me?