Amelia Nielson-Stowell: Reasons to Run: Beating the mental game

Published: Thursday, Oct. 13 2011 8:01 a.m. MDT

Runners in the Pink Series half marathon race down Richardson Flats in Park City. Nearly 800 women participated in the race, which benefits women's cancer research.

Carl Horton

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In the hours leading up to the Pink Series half marathon, everything was going wrong for me. On the drive to check-in to our hotel, I realized I forgot my shoes. The Mexican food I ate for dinner messed with my digestion system. And when I laid out my race-day clothes before bed, I found I also forgot my socks.

That morning was no better. The weather was in the 30s and it was snowing outside. I left my water at the hotel room when we headed to the shuttle buses, so I went an hour and a half without hydrating. The Mexican food from the night before still hadn't settled well. By the time I went to the start line with roughly 800 other women, I was freezing and wet.

I hesitantly lined up with the two-hour pacer and hoped for the best. I kept my thoughts positive and envisioned how great it would feel to break the two hour mark. Running the Pink Series last year as my first half marathon, I finished in 2:08 and set a goal to eventually run a half in under two hours. It'd been a year coming, I now had a marathon and another half marathon under my belt, and I kept telling myself "You deserve this."

The first half of the race went quick. I stuck alongside the pacer from Utah Race Pacers, Lane, and struck up conversation with the fellow female runners. When we hit Mile 5 and Lane reported we had run it in 44 minutes, I was surprised — were we even going that fast? I felt great.

By Mile 8 though, I could tell I was hitting the wall. The pace group slowly got further and further away from me. My hamstrings hurt — and then my toe. I could feel Gu and Powerade sloshing uncomfortably in my stomach. The negative thoughts crept in. "I'm wearing brand new socks I hurriedly bought in a panic last night — it's a running rule to never race with new gear — I can feel all the blisters forming." "I didn't train as hard as I should have for this." "What have you done to me chicken enchillada? I think I'm going to be sick." Soon the pacer became a speedy ant-looking, neon-yellow blip in the distance.

I had to change my attitude. I put in headphones to listen to my catered running playlist. And I thought nothing but positive thoughts. "This light snow is actually really refreshing to run through." "I CAN catch up to the two hour pace group!" "Don't walk Amelia — you can run faster!"

Even more inspiring were the mantras printed and pinned on the back of runner's clothes: "Girls just wanna run!" "We run for Patti." "Every day is a gift." The Pink Series half marathon benefits women's cancer research, and the Utah Cancer Resource and Education for Women (UCREW) is the official beneficiary. The all-girls race was full of female runners making an extreme girl's weekend (like myself and my aunt Kim). Many of the participants had a story — daughters running for their moms who are battling breast cancer, cancer survivors running their first half marathon or girlfriends running with their friends who have finished chemotherapy.

Then I passed the tree where I vividly remember hitting the wall during last year's half marathon. "Your body is not giving out on you — it's your head," I told myself. And I ran even faster past it.

By Mile 11, I was out of the funk.The pace group was closer, but still too far away for me to catch. And I was OK with that. I was genuinely enjoying my race experience again and at least I'd still set a personal best.

The last mile is my favorite part of the course — it goes through the 107-acre Swaner Nature Preserve in Park City, past a picturesque white barn and along wood bridges. I relished it.

When I rounded the corner to the finish line, I sprinted in. I was exhausted but felt good about my race.

I headed over to the computers to check my official time chip time: 1:59.

I did it — I beat the mental game and made my time goal.

Amelia Nielson-Stowell is a writer, editor and photographer. She lives and runs in Salt Lake City.

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