The mind game of the Boston Marathon
Elizabeth Clor realized her dream of BQing and running Boston once she overcame the mental hurdles.
Baseball catcher and philosopher Yogi Berra is quoted as saying, "Baseball is 90 percent mental. The other half is physical."
That pretty much sums up Elizabeth Clor's quest to qualify for the Boston Marathon. She chronicles her struggles, her determination and how she refined her mental game to realize her dream in “Boston Bound: A 7-Year Journey to Overcome Mental Barriers and Qualify for the Boston Marathon.”
Clor became obsessed with qualifying for the Boston Marathon after her marathon career began with a series of PRs.
“I never prioritized running over my marketing career, because I never bailed on a work commitment for the sake of running,” she says. “However, my mind was often occupied with running thoughts when I was with friends and family, or even at work. I hadn't yet learned the concept of ‘separation’ which is basically staying focused on what you are doing while you are doing it. Now, when I run, I am focused on running. When I am at work, I am focused on work. When I'm with my friends and family, I'm focused on the experience I am having with them.”
In her book, Clor taps into her online diary of post-race recaps to escort her readers through her mindset as marathon after marathon ended in disappointment. In one entry dated May 4, 2009, she compares herself to Goldilocks — some races are too cold, some are too hot.
“I feel defeated, and I feel like the marathon has chewed me up and spit me out,” she concludes. “But I love this sport so I will endure.”
And endure she does. First she qualifies for the Boston Marathon with literally no seconds to spare — 3:40:00 at the Columbus Marathon. Later, she bests her qualifying time by over 4 minutes at the B&A Trail Marathon to earn her way into Boston.
But what she learned along the way will resonate with other runners aiming for lofty goals.
“This transformation wasn't easy and took several years,” Clor says. “I think what it came down to was realizing that a race is just one day, whereas training is every day. I truly do love running, so I would be a much happier person if I focused on my daily training rather than one single outcome. Also, when it does comes to actually racing, I've learned to let go of the things I can't control (like the weather) so I'm focused on executing my race strategy and not so much on my goal time.”
One change Clor made to address the mental game was in writing her race recaps to focus on "What went well" instead of the negative talk.
“This helped me frame my thoughts in a productive manner rather than an emotional or critical one,” she confides. “If I had a bad race, I could choose to dwell on my disappointment, or I could choose to focus on the things that went well and simply learn from those that didn't. It basically tamed my emotions around running, which was much needed.”
And it’s a message she carries to the start lines of races, even today. “Now, when I go into a race, I'm not afraid of missing my goal because I know I won't be heartbroken like I used to be,” Clor says. “And that is a huge relief. I'm most focused on putting out my best effort because if I do that, then there's nothing to be upset about.”
Calmer mindset, better result
Once she sharpened her mental game, it was only a matter of time until she nailed a BQ. And on March 29, 2015, Clor lined up at the B&A Trail Marathon in Maryland. It would be her 19th marathon and her ticket to Boston.
The course was completely paved and mostly flat with one major hill around mile 8.
“I chose this race because it was small and low-key, and it would feel more like a training run than an actual race,” Clor remembers. “I think there were only 300 finishers. I had run it previously in 2013, and while I usually don't repeat marathons, I thought this would be a nice BQ target.”
In reflecting back to when her mindset was a deterrent to a BQ, Clor realizes she needed to let go of the obsession and relax. “I firmly believe I would have never qualified for Boston if I had my previous mindset,” she says. “The irony is that I needed to let go of the Boston obsession in order to actually attain it. The anxiety was hurting me instead of helping me reach my goals.”
‘Don’t chase the BQ — let it come to you’
In addition to conquering the mental challenges of long-distance running, Clor also learned resiliency. It’s something she advises other runners to embrace.
“Don't give up, and don't think that you have to BQ in your very next marathon,” she advises. “If your PR is more than 5 minutes away from a BQ, then look at it as a longer term goal. It will relieve the pressure. Boston isn't going away; you have plenty of time. Don't chase the BQ; let it come to you because you've built your fitness over the years.”
In her book, she reveals eight key takeaways that she learned on her journey to Boston. As one that particularly stands out to her, she cites the one about not comparing herself to other people, and having the freedom to do whatever I want without worrying about being judged. “That was a huge burden off of my shoulders.”
In 2018, Clor will return to Boston and run the marathon again, aiming to make it a better experience than her first race there.
“Boston 2018 will mostly be about the experience and the celebration,” she says. “I'm also curious to see what I can do on that course in cooler weather (fingers crossed) and if I don't underestimate the effect of the downhill miles. My primary goal will be to run the first 16 miles in a way that doesn't beat up my quads for the last 10.”
As for the future, Clor wants to see how fast she can go at various distances, like breaking 20:00 in the 5K.
“After that, I imagine I will slow down with age and then I will be more focused on traveling for the scenic races which may be more challenging from an elevation perspective,” she says. “Some of my bucket list races are Big Sur, Paris and Berlin.”
Name: Elizabeth Clor
Hometown: Burke, Va.
Number of years running: 16
How many miles a week do you typically run: 50-65
Point of pride: Never giving up
Favorite race distance: 10-miler
Favorite pre-race or training food/drink: Generation UCAN
Favorite piece of gear: Garmin, because I love analyzing my data
Favorite or inspirational song to run to: Anything by Panic! At the Disco
Favorite or inspirational mantra/phrase: Trust the process
Where can other runners connect or follow you: Instagram: elizabethclor; Twitter: @BostonBoundBook; blog: www.ElizabethClor.com and Facebook: www.Facebook.com/BostonBoundBook