It’s Not Always Mind Over Matter

This might end up being one of those stream-of-consciousness posts that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but try to stay with me, ok? I’ve been thinking a lot about phrases like the following for the past few weeks:

  • “Our bodies can do so much more than we think they can”
  • “There’s no limit to what we can do if we just believe in ourselves”
  • “It’s just mind over matter”

Well, sometimes those things are true. Until they aren’t.

When I was in Nevis last year for the Nevis Marathon, I met an incredible guy who is a fitness role model with something like a million (literally) followers on Instagram. He was genuinely one of the kindest, most positive people I have ever met and we got along very well. But I’ll never forget telling him about my back surgery and why I stopped running marathons. I told him how many doctors told me I’d never run again, but that I found one who said I could still run – just not as much. And he said “Our bodies are AMAZING and they can do so much more than we think they can if we just BELIEVE in ourselves, keep pushing, and don’t listen to the naysayers!” And I thought “Well, yeah…but only to a point.”


Those thoughts have been floating around in my head a lot lately as I’ve struggled with hints of back pain over the past few weeks. I’ve had really bad days, like last week, really great days, and days when I thought more along the lines of “well, it’s not ideal, but it will do.” A few years ago I probably would have thought I was overreacting and tried to push myself through long runs or workouts even when I was in pain, but I know better now than to do that. Whenever I have to make that call, though, I mentally wrestle with the idea that I’m somehow “weak” because I’m not just sucking it up and going for my run. Trust me, I know how insane that sounds, but I also know that I can’t just suck it up – I mean, unless I want to fast track that spinal fusion I’ve been trying to put off. It’s hard, though, with all this messaging about “not accepting limits” to realize that sometimes, our bodies don’t care whether we accept them or not – they exist regardless.

I do believe that there ARE a lot of times when it is an issue of just “mind over matter.” In fact, there have been a ton of them for me as I train for the Prague Marathon. I’ve overcome the mental barrier of just getting used to working out for an hour or more every day. I’ve overcome breaking the 10 minute mile pace barrier in the half marathon. I even shocked myself by running under 2 hours in the half marathon for the first time since back surgery – something I truly didn’t believe I could safely train enough to ever do again. I was able to do all of those things because, while it did require physical exertion and mental toughness on my part, it didn’t hurt in the way that is indicative of negative pain. Sure, it hurt because I was tired and I didn’t feel like running anymore, but it didn’t hurt because I was hurt. It really was just “mind over matter.” But what about the times when you’re really, truly, physically hurting yourself?

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On the days when I really feel down, I sometimes feel like the idea of running a marathon without hurting my back is kind of like asking someone who had their arm amputated to just “think positively” to grow it back. That’s truly how ridiculous it feels. I am trying really hard to be positive about my back and just take it day by day, but sometimes, that’s hard. The nature of my injury means I have days when I feel great and days where I feel awful, often with no warning. Sometimes, those bad times last for weeks or months. As I write this, I feel totally fine, so I’ll proceed with my scheduled run for the day and hope for the best… but that wasn’t an option last week. However, this isn’t the type of thing where I can afford to ignore reality and just push myself no matter what. Any time someone tells me to just “think positively” about my back and my training, I think…ok, well, then what? All I can do is prepare myself and my body the best I can and try to find the balance between doing too much and not doing enough – and that’s a really fine line right now (like a few miles per week). I want to finish the Prague Marathon feeling strong more than I have wanted anything in a long time. But just wanting something doesn’t make it possible.

Can I physically complete a marathon? Yes, there is no question about that. Can I do it without further damaging my back? That, I do not know. That is what we are going to find out on May 7, 2017, and that is what this little experiment has been all about. All I know is that I truly believe that this training cycle, I have done the absolute best I can to find the balance between doing too much and doing too little. I have pushed myself to my limits in the most balanced way I know how. I haven’t babied myself or let myself quit. When I cross the start line in Prague, I know that getting myself to the finish will be a case of mind over matter. Whether I make it to another start line after that? That’s a different story entirely.

LEAVE A COMMENT: Have you ever struggled with feeling “weak” when you take time off for an injury – chronic or otherwise? How do you feel about the concept of “mind over matter?”