Running is an intensely physical exercise, but so much of it is in your head. I swear that as much of the battle is mental as it is physical. I caught myself procrastinating at work this evening: I'd done everything that I needed to get done, and I was just faffing about doing nothing in particular. Part of the reason was because I'd cycled to work and it was pouring with rain, but mostly it was because I'd promised myself that I would go out for a run before dinner and I was just putting it off. As is well known, at least by my running buddies, once I've decided to exercise, there's basically nothing that is going to come between me and getting it done. Not weather, not illness, not fatigue....nothing. But that doesn't stop me putting it off for a while. I'll go, but I'm not above finding other things to do first. I'm frequently at the pool late because I've wasted a couple of hours not swimming in the office, and I spent two hours pottering about the house in my running kit the other weekend - it was raining and I was tired. Then I realised that if I'd just gone, then I'd be back by now, so I put my trainers on and went out the door.
This evening's run turned out to be quite pleasant. Yes, it was pissing with rain, but I was listening "Build a Rocket Boys!" by Elbow and was running at a reasonably comfortable pace. After a day cooped up in the office, it's nice to have a bit of alone time, listening to nothing but a decent album and the sounds of your own body. Even as I was running though, I realised again how much I live within a little bubble as I run. Technology means that I now know basically how long every single one of my runs is, how far I've travelled and how far I've still got to go. I almost never look at it when I'm running because I'm entirely focused on much nearer targets: the end of the next song or the next 200m to another point slightly in front of me. I find that if I allow my mind to start to wander into how far I've still got to go, or if I set the imaginary marking point slightly too far ahead, then my mind slips towards despair and I start to think about the futility of the whole thing and how much everything hurts.
Tonight, I felt pretty tired, and this week's injection seems to have bruised deep into the muscle of my left thigh, which complained with every stride. My shoulders feel tired and my body is crying out for the day off that I'm going to allow it tomorrow night (well, apart from cycling to work, obviously). I ran about 4.5 miles in total, but I never thought more than about 400m ahead, because I know that if I did, I would almost certainly slow down and would psychologically just feel worse.
I used to be crap at running at school. I'm not saying I'm good at it now, but I was really shit at school. I used to loathe the cross-country runs we were forced to do every week, and I always used to finish towards the back. Looking back, I think I know why: it's because I was always mindful of how far I had to go, and as a result I was always concerned to run within myself. Some people can run fast with apparently no concern for conserving energy; they just want to see how far and how fast they can go. If you take that approach, you might just push yourself hard enough to really surprise yourself with what you achieve. If you take the other approach, and always hold something back, then you'll never surprise yourself.
I haven't changed that much, and I'm sure that my instinct in most things is still to hold things back.... but when it comes to running, I've become wise to the way my brain works and I've learned to trick it. Don't tell yourself that the finish is several miles away, because you'll start to retreat backwards into yourself. Instead, never allow yourself more than a few metres ahead. You'll have to be disciplined about this, because the brain will keep trying to break free and race ahead... but if you work hard at it, you might just be able to fool yourself into running further and faster than you might otherwise have thought possible, no matter how crappy you feel.
Seems to work for me, anyway. Luckily my brain seems to be suitable gullible to keep falling for this reliably on a regular basis.