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"The Phrase That Powers Me Through Tough Runs"

Marnie Soman Schwartz

Last summer, my husband and I took our annual hiking and camping trip with our friends Jon and Jamie. We asked the ranger at our campsite for a trail recommendation for an afternoon hike, and he suggested a popular summit that was what he called an easy two-hour hike away. “I do it all the time,” he reassured us, smiling. He was at least 30 years older than us and didn’t exactly look like an athlete. We figured we’d be up and down in no time.

Big mistake. This hike was the steepest one we’d ever been on, and we were huffing and puffing within a half hour. After two hours, the top seemed nowhere in sight. And we had no idea if we were even going the right way, since the trail markers were confusing (is that the near left or the far left?) or nonexistent.

We should have been freaking out—it was the middle of a hot summer and we hadn’t brought enough water for a super-strenuous, all-day hike. But for some reason we kept our cool and kept laughing the whole way. When someone would question which way to go, we’d shout “up!” and “ABC” became our new motto. As in, "Always Be Climbing." When we weren’t sure which way to go, we’d pick whatever path looked like it would get us up the mountain faster.Our ABC strategy worked—we did eventually find our way to the summit, albeit much later than we’d planned. And it was breathtaking. (See more 7 Mind Tricks for Self-Motivation.)

I’ve had to call on the ABC mantra a lot this week, though I’ve adapted it to be ABR—Always Be Running. I started the week with a cold. I worked late a bunch of nights and didn’t get enough sleep. I have a shoulder ache I can’t explain. My left knee has this weird twang and has recently started to hurt at about the two-mile mark of every single run. Basically, I’ve been feeling like crap. I’ve skipped a run and a cross training session, but I know I can’t skip every workout. So when I want to stop, turn around, or head in early, I repeat “always be running” to myself, out loud if necessary. (Get through any challenging workout with 8 Ways to Override the Urge to Quit.)

It’s a mental exercise, and the challenge is much tougher than any of the physical aches I’m experiencing. Getting myself to accept the pain and keep going—to override my natural instinct to slow down or walk or just plop down on a bench—has been the most difficult part of training so far. The mantra helps—and so does picturing myself crossing the finish line in Coney Island, just 5 weeks from now.

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