Learn From The Elites
The mental hurdle of being in awe of faster paces and seemingly unachievable goal times isn’t unique to beginner runners attempting to improve from a 4-hour marathon to a 3:30 marathon. Elite runners, even those who run the kinds of times that make your head spin, deal with this psychological obstacle of improving.
The 2004 men’s Olympic Marathon Trials are a great example for illustrating this concept. Given the quality of the entrants in 2004, all the runners knew it would require a 2:11 or 2:12 (5:00 pace) marathon time to make the team. For many qualifiers in the 2:16 to 2:20 range, improving four to eight minutes in one race might seem impossible. The idea of dropping 10-20 seconds per mile for an entire marathon was an enormous mental barrier — one that prevented many athletes from even thinking they had a shot. While many hopefuls dreamt of hitting the podium, very few had the ability to let go of their intimidation and recondition their mind about what was possible. In the end, this self-doubt prevented them from taking the next step.
However, Trent Briney decided that he was going to suppress those self-doubts and not let the intimidating paces get the best of him. Despite entering the race with a 2:21 personal best for the marathon, Briney had unwavering faith in his fitness and training; but more an importantly he had an open mind about what was possible. When the dust settled in Alabama, Briney “went for it” and ran 2:12:34 to finish in 4th place. While it wasn’t the top-three finish he had hoped for, his time was a testament to the power of not being intimidated by fast times and rapid improvements.