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General Running • March 26, 2015

DNF Mental Memory along the Newton Hills


Editorial by Joshua Nifratos

I recently went to Boston to partake in the joyous events that accompany the celebration when two individuals say, “I do”. While in Boston, I spent a couple days with seminary friends who live next door to the house I lived in for two years while in graduate school.

One morning, I decided to go for a run on what was, up until 9 months ago when I moved to Cleveland, my usual running route along the Newton Hills of the Boston Marathon course. 

The first mile of the run is relatively flat to the Newton Fire House at mile 17.3 of the marathon course. When you make this turn, you go up the first of the Newton Hills. 

Objectively, this is a really easy hill to run up. Of course, if you’re 17.3 miles into a race, then it can be a bit difficult. It also isn’t helpful that you can’t really see over the top since the hill curves. It plays tricks with your mind.

Anyway, I cannot tell you how many times I’ve run up this hill over two years, and how many times over those two years I would just give up and start jog-walking to the top.

So two weeks ago when I started my run at this hill, I found myself desperately wanting to jog-walk. Yet my breathing was hardly labored, and my legs felt very fresh. It really isn’t difficult to run up at all.

Just as I was about to start walking, I recognized that the memory of past failures seemed to innervate my muscles in a truly remarkable manner. 

So I did what I needed to do to correct this — I kept running and refused to walk. And guess what? I made it up the hill just fine.

To give some perspective, this past weekend I ran up Prospect Mountain in New York in what I would call less than ideal conditions. The mountain road is about 6 miles to the top, with miles 2.5-6 being a relentless—at least relentless for me—1,600ft ascent. To make things more difficult, the road was completely covered with snow and ice!

And guess what? I made it to the top and then back down the mountain with less mental fatigue than that mole hill in Boston.

Here’s the deal: if you have DNF’d a course or given up on a run, make sure you get back out to that exact part of the course/route and run it as many times as you can when you’re tired. If you don’t, you’ll probably succumb to this seemingly inexorable mental memory that seems to innervate our muscles and that, when not addressed and retrained, will only defeat you in the future.

And remember: Believe in the Run. 


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