Posted by: runawaynotes | February 10, 2013

The only thing we have to fear…

If you are a runner and you have a Facebook account, chances are your news feed is flooded with all sorts of running memes. Some of them are funny, some of them are cheesy, some of them are plain stupid, and some are surprisingly true. There is one that has always resonated with me. There are multiple photos floating around the internet, but the caption is the same “Your mind will quit a thousand times before your body does”. It has always been amazing to me how true this saying is. I mean, why is it that when you’re going out for a 15 mile run, the first 8 miles just fly by, and you don’t even start thinking about the fact that you are getting tired till mile 12-13. However, if you’ve decided to do just 10 miles, by mile 8 you feel like you are going to die.

The other time my mind tends to give up is when I start thinking about how much longer I have left to go. “Ok, it’s already been two hours, and I still have about an hour left before I make it back to my car. Holy $#%^!” For that particular reason, I never allow my thoughts to wonder in that directions in the middle of a long run. In fact, the lowest point of my marathon was at around 14 miles when I just couldn’t get it out of my head that I still had over two hours left to go. The worst part is that once your mind starts going down that path, it’s very hard to get out of that tailspin. It’s like a dark vortex that sucks you in and makes moving forward seem impossible. It’s not about being exhausted, it’s not about physical pain, it’s this soul numbing feeling of “I can’t do it for that much longer”. That’s why I really enjoy running with a group. It allows you to re-focus your thoughts, distract yourself, and keep moving forward. Plus, there’s the whole embarrassment factor of flipping out in front of 15 people. Unfortunately, sometimes you don’t have the luxury of having your support team right with  you. And today I discovered that this phenomenon of your mind quitting before your body does is not limited to running.

I went rock climbing today with two friends of mine (yes, one of them was Megan – you can pretty much assume that if I’m doing something crazy like signing up for boot camp, or joining a running club, or going rock climbing, that she’s either the instigator or the willing partner in crime). I’ve  never done this before. Eastern Ukraine is not really big on rocks, and neither is North Texas (or pretty much any part of Texas). So, I was pretty excited to try it out. Plus, Sundays are cross-training days, so I thought it would be nice to mix things up for a change and do something instead of yoga. All three of us had a groupon at Summit Climbing Gym in Grapevine for a free one-hour personal lesson and gear rental, and since we agreed to combine our lessons together, they agreed to extend them to hour and a half (which ended up being more like two hours). When we first got there, the gym had some kind of scheduling mix-up, so we had to wait a few minutes for our instructor to make it there. Since neither one of us had any rock climbing experience before, they gave us the gear, showed us how to use the auto belay device and said – “Have at it until your instructor makes it here. The device won’t let you fall. We promise.” And this is when I learned two things about myself: one, I’m pretty decent at rock climbing; and two, I’m deathly afraid of heights.

My first freak-out was actually fairly reasonable. I suddenly realized that I am ten feet off the ground, and in order for me to get back down I have to push myself off the wall and trust that the belay thing will catch me. After a brief moment of panic I did just that, and sure enough I landed softly on the ground, just like the gym instructors had promised me. You’d think that after that I would have no issues, but that was totally not the case. Every time I tried to climb that wall, no matter how far I got (and there were a few times when I was literally a couple of feet away from reaching the top), I would glance down, see how far below the ground was, and freak out. Once that happened, nothing could force me to keep moving forward. It’s not that my arms were tired, or I couldn’t find the next thing to grab on to, I was perfectly fine physically. But my mind just wouldn’t let me keep moving up. So, as much as I hate to admit it, I never made it all the way up the wall. I can’t explain what I was afraid of. I knew that I was safe: even if I slipped and let go off the wall, I would have been caught by the belay. I had my friends and the instructor right next to me (well, more like 20 feel below me) cheering me on and telling me I could do it.  But as soon as I glanced down, I would get this “OMG, what am I doing?! I MUST STOP NOW!” feeling, and after that there was no force in the universe that could keep me going.

So, here’s my takeaway from this experience. One, despite everything, I think I really enjoyed rock climbing, and I definitely want to do it again. Two, when I do it again, I will NOT look down. Three, whenever I am in the middle of another long run and my mind starts telling me that I can’t keep going anymore, I will think back on how much it sucked to be so close to the top of that wall and never have reached it, and I will tell my mind to shut up and keep running.

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Responses

  1. Great post. I know exactly what you mean when you talk about how much weaker the mind is than the body. I struggled with a relatively short distance today, and it was mostly mental. I was a little tired and just didn’t feel like running, even though my legs felt fine. All I could think about was how many more miles I still had ahead of me. Someone who ran an ultra recently told me you always celebrate the miles you’ve already run, and don’t let yourself think about the ones you still have ahead. Easier said than done (and I obviously failed in that regard today), but I’m going to try it the next time I struggle on a long run. As for your rock climbing, just getting on the wall was a huge accomplishment for someone afraid of heights. You’ll make it to the top soon enough!

    • Thanks! I’ve got to say, it’s one thing to quit because your body literally can’t move forward (i.e. you are injured, overheated, dehydrated, etc.) – there’s no shame in that. But it really bites to realize that you’ve given up simply because you felt like giving up.


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