“Your Brain Will Give Up Before Your Body Does”

Last year, I made a concerted effort to run more. I’d been going to the gym for a couple years, but always avoided the treadmills. I could always come up with some excuse to walk right by them on my way up to the floor with the weights and machines. “I’m skinny, I don’t need to burn that many calories!” But I started seeing more and more written about the beneficial effects of cardiovascular exercise and running on the human body, even just a few minutes per day. Given that I was looking for a new way to challenge myself, I thought running would be a good place to start.

I eventually summoned the courage to run one Saturday morning at the gym. (Side note: I love spending weekend mornings at the gym. It’s less crowded and it an amazing way to start the day. But I digress.) I hopped on the treadmill, started the belt, pushed it faster and faster, and started moving my legs. A few short minutes in, I was already feeling the effects. Sweat began dripping down my face. “Man, this is harder than I thought!” I looked at the display on the machine. Less than half a mile. “Damn! How do people run a 5k!? Let alone a marathon!? I’ll never get there.” I barely made it to 1 mile and stopped that belt as fast as I could. I walked it off for a few minutes, gathered what confidence I had left, wiped the sweat off my face, and hit the locker room.

A few weeks later, I was visiting my family. I started talking to my older brother about running. He served in the Army and can run long distances without a problem. I asked for his advice, and it was not what I was expecting. He said, “Your brain will give up before your body does.” It immediately struck me how mental running can be. Psychology being an interest of mine, I’ve read a lot about how our brain affects our behavior, so this definitely resonated with me. I thought back to those first few runs and how mentally exhausting they were. I was constantly watching the treadmill display, checking how far I’d run, how long I’d been running for, any number I could find on the damn thing! I wanted to know I was making progress. But I was actually holding myself back. Physically I could’ve gone much further. My real challenge was getting outside of my own head. (Placing a towel on the treadmill display does wonders too.)

From then on I made sure that I was pushing myself mentally when I ran. I’d tell myself that it’s all in my head and that I could go much further. Just keep going! I eventually built up the stamina to be able to run 2 miles. I’d increase the distance a quarter mile every week or two. Finally, a couple months ago, after a particularly caffeinated morning, I hit the 3.1 mile mark. A 5k! I couldn’t believe it. I felt amazing physically, and even better mentally. Even though my physical stamina probably wasn’t there when I first began running, my mental stamina was really holding me back. Now I’m running a 5k 1–2 times per week and, while perhaps a small victory in the grand scheme, it feels amazing.