Things are looking up. I ran 3 miles on Wednesday night, which felt arduous, but much, much better than my run on Sunday. It didn’t help that the air conditioning at the gym had once again failed during our heat wave, and I was stuck on the treadmill in the corner with no air movement. (I’m beginning to suspect that the entire HVAC system in the cardio room is just decorative.) Last night was just as warm, but the run went much better. I was hoping to get 5 miles in, and planned to do more if I felt up to it. I managed 6 before my knee started to hurt, and could have done more, at least from a cardio-standpoint. I usually take Fridays off, but I’m debating doing my Saturday mileage tonight for a couple of reasons. First, I may end up working tomorrow, and I don’t want to be stressed about missing more time on the treadmill if things run late. Also, I’m thinking that giving myself (and my knee) a break before the 20 on Sunday might be wise.
Earlier this week I placed an order for NuBound, the supplement that Dick Beardsley swore by. I’m generally not much of a supplement person, but I read a Runner’s World review of recovery supplements and decided that it was worth a try. According to the product literature it takes about a week to kick in, and I’m anxious to see if I notice a difference.
I mentioned a few days ago that I planned to use the taper time to focus on my mental game for the race. I’ve been plagued by pre-race jitters in the past that I know have severely compromised my performance. I’ve laid awake the entire night before several races and arrived at the starting line feeling sluggish and miserable. My nerves have also tended to manifest as stomach cramps and general digestive unhappiness during the race. Fighting through the fatigue and discomfort drain my mental energy, and before I know it, I’m flooded with all sorts of negative thoughts. With all that, you would wonder why I still race at all. For one thing, not all my races are that difficult. When I go in feeling confident, I’m fine and can perform well. The problems only really seem to arise when I’m afraid of the race. In the past, I’ve dealt with that fear by over-preparing, running further than the race distance, and running a few long runs at race pace. For the marathon, those methods aren’t really an option, though.
I’ve been reading a few books on sports psychology, focusing primarily 10-Minute Toughness by Jason Selk. He promotes visualization as a critical tool for success, and it’s something I was able to use very effectively back in my figure skating days as a kid. When it comes to visualizing running, though, I find it a much more difficult task. A skating routine is completely choreographed and has a well-defined standard of execution, so it’s easy to imagine performing each element as perfectly as possible. There are a wide range of muscle memories to tap into, too, which always helped me feel physically engaged in the visualization. Races, on the other hand, are long, the motion is repetitive, and they’re somewhat difficult to picture if you don’t know the course well. The other problem I have in visualizing races is that when I get into an immersive storytelling mode I don’t really have any specifics to focus on and my imagination starts to run away with all the things that could go wrong. The visualizations become and endless stream of possible disasters, with me struggling to get things back on track by trying to imagine myself handling each calamity positively. Somehow, I don’t think that’s a very effective tool to quell my anxiety.
After mulling over the predicament for a while, I think I may have hit upon a solution. I wrote a page-long script describing the race exactly as I want to happen. It was easier to construct this in writing, I found, than by trying to create it on the fly as a mental movie. I wrote my script in the past tense, with the theory that I would be creating the illusion that I have already run the marathon, and it was awesome. I didn’t think that just re-reading the text would really tap into the same consciousness as visualization, though, so I decided that I needed to get it into audio format. I briefly considered recording myself reading it, but ruled that out with the idea that the sound of my own voice would be way too distracting. I though of having the Caveboy, or a friend to read it, but again, I didn’t really want to associate the visualization with a specific person. In the end, I uploaded the script to a text-to-speech converter, and I now have my scenario in mp3 format, read in a slow, soothing British accent. I used ABC2Mp3, which is free and has fairly realistic-sounding voices with speed control. In a moment of inspiration, I added a track of Chariots of Fire under the spoken word. Voila—a completely personalized guided visualization of my race.
I started doing my new and improved visualization last night, and I do feel like this is a positive step towards running a strong and enjoyable race. I was able to get into the emotion of the event without going off track and letting the worries take over. It occurs to me that this would also be a useful method to insert positive encouragement, useful reminders, or mantras into a running playlist. I haven’t decided yet if I would find that helpful or annoying, but having a built-in voice of reason when the blood sugar gets low is definitely worth considering.