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What are you thinking?

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney  February 22, 2010 07:10 AM

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Going the distanceGlobe correspondent Elizabeth Cooney is writing about the Boston Marathon in the series "Going the Distance," which appears in the Globe's G Health section. She's also training for it, and hopes you'll check in with her along the way.

The brain is one part of the body runners shouldn't neglect as they train for Boston, I learned in reporting today's installment of "Going the Distance." It's a lesson I repeat just about every day of training.

McLean Hospital psychologist Jeff Brown warns against setting goals unrealistically high. His example was deciding to "run like a Kenyan," one of those elite runners who have dominated recent marathons. Check.

But that doesn't mean you can't marshal mental power to get through the miles with less lofty goals.

We all know that just knowing it's the last mile of a long run can be a boost. But what about nine miles earlier, when it doesn't feel like your day?

"A very basic strategy for runners is to chunk that up and make goals within a run even more reachable," said Brown, who with Mark Fenske is the author of the "The Winner's Brain," due out in April. "So you focus now on the next mile rather than the next eight miles and knock each mile off. [You] have met eight goals rather than one goals after eight miles."

Sounds reasonable enough, in keeping with cognitive behavioral therapy that reframes our thinking in a more positive way. But what kind of mantra works out there?

"When you found that extra energy, I guarantee it wasn't, 'This stinks,' or 'I'm bored.' We can take control of what it is we are trying to accomplish," Brown said.

Of course, there are people who make up grocery lists or solve work problems while they're accumulating the miles. That makes sense too, Brown says. With a little mental multitasking, people balance the time commitment training for Boston demands.

What's on your mind?

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Look for updates, news, analysis and commentary from the following.
  • Steve Silva, Boston.com senior producer, two-time Boston Marathon sub-four hour runner.
  • Ty Velde is a 16-time Boston qualifier who's completed 12 consecutive Boston Marathons and 25 marathons overall. Ty is now training for his 13th Boston run and will provide training tips for those who train solo and outside, no matter what temperature it is.
  • Rich 'Shifter' Horgan is a 19-time Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge team member who runs in honor of his father, who died of colon cancer. He will provide updates on local running events with a focus on the charitable organizations that provide Boston Marathon entries for their organization's fund raising purposes

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