The Dog Days of Summer

The Dog Days of Summer

A few years ago while waiting around in a foyer before an appointment, I happened to notice one of those trite ‘motivational posters’ that are far more worthy of an eye-roll than they are motivational, except this one was actually pretty powerful in my opinion. “Your mind will quit 1000 times before your body will.”

While it could be argued this quote is no more cliché than the majority of those ubiquitous office posters, it left a mark on me. Over the years of running I have found so many times that I have wanted to skip a run, cut a run short, reduce the number of reps in a hard workout, etc. But when I think back to all my greatest workouts, long runs, and races, the thread that ties them all together is that there was usually great physical suffering. Yet in all those runs, when the pain continued to swell in my legs and my lungs were on fire, they just kept going, my brain imploring them to keep going. On the other side of that coin however are many of my worst runs, and while many of those had factors outside of my control, many were because I simply lacked the mental grit to continue to push past the physical exhaustion.

“Over the years of running I have found so many times that I have wanted to skip a run,
cut a run short, reduce the number of reps in a hard workout, etc.”

That brings us to the present, the summer of 2020. Regardless of where you live, summer this year has three constants for all of us. 1) Heat. 2) Humidity. 3) All the live races we love have been wiped off the slate. So when the weather is constantly oppressive and the races we love are gone (well, they’re virtual, read my last blog post to get my thoughts on virtual racing), the mental side of training is taking a beating. And with the mind goes the body. It’s easier than ever to find a reason to throw in the towel on a workout, skip a long run, skim a few miles off, take extra days (or even weeks) off, etc. So with that in mind, I want to give you all a list of tips I have used over the years to help me keep grinding and growing as a runner. These are in no order and the list is by no means exhaustive, but this list has helped me and I hope you all will find that maybe one or two of these will help you in these mentally tough times!



Brandon’s List of Training Tips

  • Be a Stoic – In the 3rd century B.C. a Greek philosopher (Zeno of Citium) developed a school of philosophy known as Stoicism. One of the major tenants of which (to which I am liberally paraphrasing), is that the path to happiness is found in accepting the moment as it presents itself and to not be controlled by that which we cannot change. This directly ties into my 3 points above. It’s hot, it’s humid, and our races have been cancelled. We cannot control these things, however we can accept these things, not let them control us, and press on. It is okay to be annoyed, frustrated, upset, etc. by summer weather and cancellations. Just don’t let those emotions derail your training and goals.


  • 1% Improvements – When you’re a 5 hour marathoner who aspires to be a 4 hour marathoner, improving 20% can seem incredibly overwhelming. But you don’t improve 20% overnight, you improve 20% over time. So instead of focusing on improving 20%, focus on how you can improve 1% right now. What can you do to become 1% faster and get to 4:57? What if you ran 1% more miles? Ate 1% less? Slept 1% more? Drink 1% more water? Stretched 1% more? etc. Then once you hit that new level, rinse and repeat. How do you go from 4:57 to 4:54… 1% gains allow us to take ambitious long term goals and make them palatable. Looking at life through the lens of 1% improvements can make a huge difference! I use the 1% strategy when I’m racing and working out too! When the pain builds and I’m 2 miles from the finish line or I have 8 reps left in a workout, I just put my thoughts into getting to the next telephone pole, the next block, finishing the next lap, catching the next runner, etc. I’m breaking down the race/workout into more manageable parts, this has served me well for years!


  • If something is a priority, you’ll make time for it – I often hear people say, “I’m too busy to do X”. That’s usually not the case, it’s usually just that whatever that thing is is not a priority to that person. For me, running is of the highest priority, I will find a way to weasel it into any day. E.g., last year I was up at 02:45 to run 20 miles on Friday morning of the expo. I ran, showered, ate breakfast, and went straight to the Nutter Center to start the day. That was going to be the only way I got my miles in, so I had to make it happen! While that’s probably a little hardcore, point is, running is a priority to me and thus I get it done. If you want to hit your goals, you have to make it a priority. This leads to the next point…


  • At most you have 3 chances a day to work out – While we don’t all work the standard 8 hour day with lunch break, many of us do. With that in mind you have 3 chances to work out; before work, during your lunch break, or after work. So often I hear from people, “I’m just not a morning person…”, and there goes opportunity #1. “I don’t have a long enough lunch break” or “my workplace doesn’t have showers”, fair enough, but there goes opportunity two! And just like that, your last chance to exercise is now after work. But what if something comes up now? The car breaks down? Significant other is sick? It’s 92* because it’s August and just too hot or a lightning storm appeared out of nowhere (that’s never happened, definitely not at the start of a certain marathon)? Suddenly now you’re out of options and life has upended your plans. Again, while we all have different lives, the point is we have to take the opportunities we’re given to work out. I loathe rising early to run, but in the summer that’s a safe bet for me, so 6 days a week I’m out the door before the sun rises to make it happen!


  • Consistency – You can’t improve at something you don’t often do or do intermittently. 8 years ago I got to meet a phenomenal woman, Mirinda Carfrae. If you didn’t know who you were talking to, at 5’3” and a buck fifteen soaking wet, you likely wouldn’t realize you were staring at a juggernaut in the flesh! Rinny is a 3x Ironman World Champion and 3x Ironman World Championship Runner-up. She was notorious for coming off the 112 mile bike and throwing down blazing marathon times in the scorching 80*+ heat of Hawaii (she still holds the record for fastest Marathon split at Kona, a 2:50:26). So with a chance to discuss training with an all-time great I had just one question. “What’s the #1 thing that has made you so successful?” She looked me right in the eye and simply said, “Consistency”. No one run will make you achieve your goals, it is the combination of continuous efforts over weeks, months, and years that will help you get there. Never forget that!


  • It’s going to hurt! – A few years ago I got to spend two weeks training with some top East African distance runners. One thing that amazed me about them was not merely that they accepted the impending pain of a workout or race, but that they embraced it, relished it, and thrived in it. It was a mental tenacity I had never seen and frankly struggled to comprehend! Training hurts, workouts hurt, and races hurt; but victory is almost never achieved through easy means. I think there’s another one of those motivational posters out there that says something like, “pain is weakness leaving the body”. Maybe these motivational posters are on to something? If you know the pain is coming, you can prepare yourself for it and then push through it. Only then can you reach that next level! Remember what I said to start, “your mind will quit 1000 times before your body will”. So when that pain comes and your mind says “stop”, be ready to say get lost and dig even deeper, you won’t regret doing so!


  • Setbacks happen, it’s how you respond to them that defines your journey – We all have goals and then we make plans to achieve those goals and then life reminds you it doesn’t care about your plans. Injuries, sickness, or any of the million things that life has in store for us (literally pick any of the absurdities that have occurred in 2020 to make this point). But much like my point about being a Stoic, you have to play the hand you’re dealt. For example, I recently hurt my big toe of all things (look up sesamoiditis, who even knew that was a thing!). I was so frustrated, not 4 weeks into my training cycle and I can’t run because I hurt a bone the size of a corn kernel. Immediately I got on my bike and decided I was going to bike until it was better. I’m a terrible cyclist and within an hour my butt hurt SO bad! I remember on day two getting on the saddle thinking I couldn’t go a mile because the pain of sitting down. But with no ability to run, I needed to bike to keep training. Being change resilient is a necessary tool to growing and achieving your goals. Life will call an audible on you, there’s no doubt about that! But if you find the silver lining, believe in yourself, remain flexible, and adjust your plans to the situation, you will rebound quickly and succeed.


  • If you aren’t having fun, re-evaluate why you’re doing it – If you were to ask me mid-workout/race if I’m having fun, between exasperated gasps you would probably be on the receiving end of an explicative. However the reality is that the thousands of miles have brought me immeasurable joy. Running allows me to process my thoughts and the complexities of life, it allows me to eat more food which I love, it allows me to explore the world around me, it allows me to test myself almost every day. The happiness this sport brings me has allowed me to train consistently and to push past mental and physical barriers so that I can achieve my goals. Life is too short to be unhappy! And even though I would give a sassy response mid-race about if I was having fun, I can tell you the second it was over I would smile and say I had fun (and like all of you, probably go sign up for the next one).


  • Run with compassion and an open heart… – In 2011 I found a stray dog who then followed me 14 miles on a long run. I named him Fam after pro runner Anthony Famiglietti. I mentioned it to Fam (the runner) in passing and he wrote me a note back one day. In that note he told me to keep running with compassion and an open heart. That has been a guiding force in every mile I have run since. Running is so universal, every race, sex, socioeconomic status, etc runs. Running has allowed me to connect with every walk of life the world over and for that I am deeply thankful. So always run with compassion and an open heart, it will keep you inspired and allow you to share the journey of life with so many unique people.


Again, this list isn’t exhaustive, it merely represents some of the more common things that have inspired me and helped me push through the tough times. So as we wind down the dog days of summer, keep finding the strength to train hard. Because if there’s one thing I know for sure, I have never regretted going for a run after it was done.

Happy running everyone and to those who will start their virtual Air Force Marathon races soon, good luck! I look forward to doing my full marathon on September 19th!

Written by: Brandon Hough, Director


Related Pages:

Running Is Not Cancelled
Virtual Expo
News & Announcements

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