The Power of Positive Thinking

My thirteen-year-old daughter is currently training for her first half marathon. She’s run several 5k’s and a 10k over the years and wanted to try her hand at a half marathon this spring. Although she runs by herself during the week, she and I run at least part of our long runs together. I’ll run farther than she does so when she turns around to go back home, I keep running for another mile or so.

This past weekend, she and I were running together and I was a bit ahead of her, and was gaining ground as I ran downhill. I passed a man who was walking the other direction (towards me) and he said that I had startled him (but he was really nice about it). I told him there was another runner coming behind me and that it was my daughter.

When the man came upon my daughter, he said to her, “You can catch her. I know you can do it!” or something to that effect. That conversation was unbeknownst to me until my daughter mentioned it to me at home after our run. All I knew was she quickly caught up with me before I even reached the bottom of that hill I was going down and she was either right at my side or a couple of strides ahead of me for the rest of the run until it was time for her to turn around.

Twinning in our Honey Stinger shirts on a long run!

When she got home, I checked her mile splits on Strava and saw that she continued at the pace she was at when we saw the man and she even managed to speed up towards the end. Her last mile out of 11 miles was her fastest. This is impressive not only because she’s only run longer than 11 miles once, when she accidentally ran 12 miles; she was supposed to run something like 8 miles but got turned around and ended up running 12. This is also impressive because as I mentioned, she’s only 13 so she’s not a seasoned runner and has struggled with pacing herself on long runs by starting out too fast and slowing down for the last few miles.

All of this got me thinking about how much of a role our brains have in long-distance running. My daughter told me about how that man’s comment made her push herself harder for the entire rest of her run. We had only run about 1.5 miles when we saw him, so she pushed for 9.5 miles, which is no small feat for anyone.

Lately I’ve been reading some books about the power of positive thinking and how it effects us in running and life in general. I really enjoyed Deana Kastor’s book Let Your Mind Run and have been applying some of the things she discussed to my runs. For instance, on a run about a week ago, it was really windy and as I was running into the wind, my quads felt tired. Instead of thinking, “This wind sucks. My legs are tired and I just want to be done with this run” I turned it around to “This wind is making my legs stronger” and I was able to finish my run on a more positive note.

Not that positive thinking alone will make you as fast as Deana Kastor. You do have to put in all of the hard work to get faster. Still, I think the power of the mind is so powerful and it can and does influence our bodies in so many ways we’re only beginning to understand.

What about you all? Are you a big believer in positive thinking or do you think it’s over-rated?

Happy running!



Changing My Long Running Route- Maybe

Since my last half marathon in Alaska, Skinny Raven Half Marathon, Anchorage, Alaska-43rd state, I’ve been training for my next half marathon, which is in November. The race in Alaska was in August, which I trained for during the hot, humid summer and I went straight from that into my current training cycle with no break. Where I live, it starts to get cooler in mid-to-late September but there are still plenty of days where it’s pretty warm until October hits. Then, for the next month or so we have pretty much ideal (to me) running conditions where the nights are cool and the days are warm with a bit of a chill to them some days and the humidity has thankfully dropped.

All of this means after suffering through the heat and humidity to train for my race in Alaska, I’ll finally get a bit of a break weather-wise for my next race. Lately I’ve been thinking about the best routes to take for my long runs. While there are of course many places I can choose to run my long runs, there are a couple of obvious choices to me. The first choice is a place I used to run all of my long runs on before I moved a few years ago (I only moved to the next town over, so not far). The trail is part of a converted railroad bed that is now a perfectly straight, what looks like mostly flat trail with crushed gravel and/or paved asphalt. The second choice is a greenway that I’ve been running my long runs on for the last three years. It’s full of hills, hills, and more hills along the asphalt trail.

Running along the converted railroad bed trail last weekend

Last weekend I was supposed to run 11 miles, with the last 5 or 6 miles at race pace. I thought maybe I should try running on the flat trail because it’s nearly impossible for me to hit race paces on the extremely hilly trail but I might have a chance on the flat trail. Here’s the elevation profile in grey with my pace in blue from my 11 mile run on the flat trail:

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The elevation changes from 237 feet to 374 feet, so there’s a difference of 137 feet over the 11 miles that I ran. My average pace per mile was fairly consistent, with a difference of about a minute and a half from beginning to end. However, I was certainly not hitting anywhere near what I would like to be race pace for the last 5 or 6 miles. I think my mind wasn’t really into the run, but more on that later.

Last month, I ran 11 miles on the hilly trail and here’s the elevation profile in grey with my pace in blue from that run:

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The first thing that strikes me about this run compared to the run on the flat trail is how much more consistent my pace is on the flat trail (unsurprisingly). My average pace per mile on the hilly trail (shown directly above) differs by two minutes from my fastest mile to my slowest. The elevation changes from 326 feet to 466 feet, so there’s a difference of 140 feet over the 11 miles that I ran. Hmmmm. It looks like my “flat” trail isn’t really so flat after all, just more consistent, without the sudden increases and decreases in elevation I see on the hilly trail.

Here’s where things get interesting. My fastest times on the “what I thought was flat but isn’t really that flat” trail, which I will now call the “not really flat” trail, are not as fast as my fastest times on the hilly trail, because of running faster downhill. Since there aren’t really any steep hills to run down on the “not really flat” trail, I don’t get that boost of speed that I get on the hilly trail. Sure, I’m going much slower when running (and yes sometimes walking if I’m going to be totally honest) up the steep hills on the hilly trail, but because of the speed I get when running down hill, the average is not as bad as I once thought it was, before I did this analysis comparing the two trails.

Bottom line, I ran the hilly trail an average of 21 seconds/mile slower than the “not really flat” trail but moving time was almost 20 minutes longer on the hilly trail, because of walking, I’m sure. Elevation gain for the hilly trail is 676 feet and 284 feet for the “not really flat” trail. All of this makes me question whether I should run on the “not really flat” trail for my long runs. Since the idea was to be able to hit my race paces, but that didn’t happen, I think I may want to continue running on the hilly trail.

As I mentioned earlier, my mind wasn’t really into it during my long run on the “not really flat” trail. What I mean by this is the run seemed very ordinary and mundane. There wasn’t a whole lot of change in scenery and there were many other walkers, bikers, and runners on the trail. The hilly trail, on the other hand, is mostly much more quiet with maybe a handful of other runners or walkers along the way. More importantly, the scenery is more varied, with twists and turns, glimpses of different neighborhoods, ponds, often rabbits and birds, and yes, many hills.

One small section of the hilly trail I like to run on

I used to hate hill running but several years ago I began to appreciate hills and what they can do for me as a runner. I think hills definitely make me stronger and I feel more of a sense of accomplishment when I can run all the way up a long, steep hill rather than just running along what seems like a flat trail. So in the end, I think I’ll stick with the hilly trail for my long runs after all. The scenery is better and I love the peace and quiet. Now if I can just tell my brain that I can run up the hills instead of giving up and walking the harder ones.

How about you guys- where do you run your long runs, or does it vary from week to week? Do you choose where to run based on trying to hit race pace? Do you think I should go back to the “not really flat” trail to work on trying to hit race pace or just keep running on the hilly trail and work on trying to run up more of the hills? I’d really love some input!

Happy running!