One of the biggest challenges I have found with long training runs and on races is keeping my mind occupied. Ironman competitions do not allow you to have electronic devices of any kind and that can mean a very long day if you are used to some sort of listening tool. Being in all types of situations that have required some mental focus and help I have acquired a few ways to keep your mind occupied so your body can keep on plugging along.
My first go to device is my iPod Touch with my music playlist on it. I have selected about 90 of my favorite songs I like to hear. These songs are mostly positive and motivating songs. This helps keep me in a positive mood which comes in handy on the last half of a race. My top ten songs are:
- Shake It-Metro Station
- Accidentally In Love-Counting Crows
- Live Like We’re Dying-Kris Allen
- Alright- Darius Rucker
- Fireworks-Katy Perry
- Best Day of My Life-American Authors
- I’m in a Hurry-Alabama
- Story of my Life-One Direction
- Brighter than the Sun-Colbie Caillat
My next favorite way to keep my mind busy is listening to Audio Books. I purchase these books from Audible.com. I have all types of books on their and choose the one that best fits my mood or time frame on a race or training run. Meaning, if I have an overnight time period I’ll choose a book with an interesting storyline that keeps me interested all night. If I have a training run that is about 4 hours or less I’ll choose a book I would have to concentrate a bit harder on. I prefer autobiographies and memoir’s but they have all types of books you can buy, including a bunch of running and triathlon books.
Talking to other runners or your pacer is usually fun too. It keeps your mind focused on a conversation and the miles will click by a little quicker. When I run with my mother-in-law we do a ton of planning for the months ahead. We plan trips and all the logistics that go into them which is a fun conversation and pass time. If you get too tired and become cranky it might be best to avoid talking to other people. Other people only want to hear about how your feet hurt and you’re so tired for so long. I try to keep that in mind when I am talking to others and avoid making their life miserable.
If you have service on your phone you can use that to your advantage. My cell phone carrier is Metro PCS and it has unlimited data. I have put on a movie when I have felt down or needed the distraction. My husband Matt has also downloaded about 6-8 movies on a device for me that I can use anytime I need to and it does not require cell service. The movies are a great way to get you feeling good and pull you out of a funk. The movies have worked for me many times. At Tunnel Hill 100 I did make the wrong decision when I chose to listen to “Good Will Hunting” while I was already emotional and that triggered an emotional reaction when Mark surprised me. I don’t regret the moments though and glad I was able to talk out some feelings with him, but the mindset of that movie definitely contributed to the state of mind I was in at that period in the race so just be aware and choose the movie wisely. Pandora radio is also great to listen to if you get service.
I have even made a phone call during a race when I needed to work through an issue I was having with Mark. When I argue with Mark I just want him to understand my point of view on something. When I don’t feel he understands my position on an issue we are having I tend to think about it a lot on these longer runs. This can turn into a bad thing if you are already in a cranky mood and then cannot shake an annoyance you are having with someone. During the Destin 100 race, I ended up calling Mark and talking to him for 25-30 minutes. After that phone call, I felt so much better and continued the race feeling much stronger and happier.
It’s not a bad thing to run or race in silence. I see many people enjoy being disconnected from the world and being in the moment. I have been forced to do this when my devices have failed for one reason or another and the experience is actually quite pleasant. I always think that if I don’t have something to listen to or a person to talk to that the miles will just creep along but that is not usually the case. A race has so much going on to enjoy and you tend to soak in more of the experience when you are not distracting yourself. You can also plan things to think about at certain points in your races. I have heard of people dedicating each mile of a marathon to a person they love or to a charity. I tend to dedicate a feeling to certain points of a race. In the beginning of an ultra, I always start out with gratitude. I am grateful for so much in my life and really enjoy reflecting on the many things I am grateful for the most. This can take a while and it’s fun to start the race on such a positive note. As the race goes on I think about dedication and people I’m dedicated to and how they have impacted my life. How dedicated I am to the race experience and what it has taught me on each on. At some point during the race, I ALWAYS remember my good friend Mary Jo and my wonderful dog, Tara. They both passed away and I love to reflect on the impact they have had on my life. So many great memories that warm my heart and keep me feeling strong because I know they are with me.
During an ultra, you are out there for a very long time and I like to remember as accurately as I can what went through my mind and when. This helps me prepare for future races and to reflect back on my experience of the current race. So that I remember everything accurately I will take a picture that can help me remember certain moments. If I am feeling extremely happy and energized I’ll take a selfie with a huge smile and thumbs up. If I am hitting a wall I’ll take a picture of something on the path that can remind me of the time and place the wall hit. I find these moments valuable to know so I can adjust my strategy or remember what I was thinking that could have possibly contributed to the wall I hit or happiness I was feeling. Pictures are a great way to kind of time-stamp certain moments as you go through them. I have also told Mark to write some notes for me if I felt a certain time or feeling was significant. This is why I am able to write detailed post-race reports. The more accurate they are the more helpful I find them. I hope this can give you a few ideas to try on your next long race or training run.