In my last post, I described David Willey’s goal to run a marathon in under 3:30, which would make the cut for a BQ (Boston Qualifying time). He and I had several conversations about mental strategies that would complement his physical and tactical training that he was receiving from a group of Nike coaches.
A key for David was being able to identify the specific obstacles he would encounter, both in training and in the marathon, and then to mentally rehearse how he would respond to those obstacles. Of course, pain and fatigue were in there. But, more important perhaps was David’s fear that he wouldn’t be able to respond when it came to crunch time. He had experienced several disappointing attempts over the past decade and was worried that history would repeat itself.
Instead of worrying, David set his mind to practicing the strategies we discussed to build his mental capacity and toughness to deal with whatever was thrown at him (e.g., injury, fatigue). He did visualizations, mental contrasting, and even learned how to keep his face somewhat relaxed (with “smiling eyes”) during exhausting interval training.
You can listen to David and me discussing these strategies to prepare for his race on the Runner’s World Podcast (starting at about the 65 minute mark).
David did everything his coaches asked of him. And he did the mental training. So, when he ran last month’s Bayshore Marathon in Traverse City, Michigan, David felt ready — confident that he would make his BQ time. The race went pretty well until David’s hamstring began to seize up — multiple times. Each time he would need to slow or stop to stretch it out, impacting the race plan significantly. This happened towards the end of the race and it looked like an injury might cause him to miss his goal. But David dug in, with the support of his coach Julia (who ran the marathon by his side) and his pacers. They all picked up the pace, calculating what he would need to do over the last 4-5 miles to be able to make the cut.
The pain and fatigue increased, as you might imagine. But David recalled his mental strategies, stayed in the moment and didn’t panic. He showed incredible grit as he sped up over the last few miles. Despite all the pain, he was passing other runners who were fading/bonking at the end.
David crossed the finish line at 3:28:55, making the BQ time. The race was documented by the staff at Runner’s World.
Congratulations to David. See you in Boston in 2018!