Runners can learn from the humorous saying attributed to the great Yankees catcher Yogi Berra, “Baseball is 90 percent mental and the other half is physical."
The great Yogi Berra, an 18-time all-star catcher with the New York Yankees, is probably better known for his wordsmith phrases and quotes, although he once stated he never said half the things he said – another Berra-ism.
“Baseball is 90 percent mental and the other half is physical,” has been attributed to Berra. And he has no idea how accurate that statement really is.
As a runner, how do we go about gearing up that 90 percent mental thing? Running unto itself seems like a pretty easy thing to do. Other than some footwear and appropriately placed clothing (and there are those who will tell you both of those items are optional), isn’t it just left foot, right foot and repeat?
Well yes, the ACT of running is pretty simple and straight-forward. But have you ever seen the shirt that reads, “My sport is your sport’s punishment”? Based on just that statement alone, perhaps it isn’t as simple as it seems. Truth is… the running is easy but the TRAINING is hard. And this is what Berra meant.
Most of you know I am a morning runner. I like getting up before dawn and running in the solitude of darkness and the quiet of morning. And most days it’s a pretty easy thing for me to do. But like anyone, there are days when my motivation is challenged and the mind has to tell the body what to do. On those mornings, I simply remind myself that this is what runners do… we run. It’s a mental reminder to myself that improvement comes from the act of training, not just running.
Self-help “experts” will tell you that there are all sorts of “positive speak” mantras and chants that you can use to “will” yourself to do whatever it is you seek to do. But I would remind them that I’m 5-feet-7-inches tall and no mantra is going to allow me to dunk a basketball into a 10-foot hoop. What you aim to do has to be based in reality. There’s a difference between being “mental” and being “Mental.” And if you can’t run a 5-minute mile, I’m sorry but you’re not going to run a 4-minute mile.
So why exercise the mind? Because the mind is quite a powerful muscle. As a catcher, Berra threw out 49 percent of base-runners attempting to steal, according to the website Sports Reference. As a professional catcher of 19 seasons, I wonder how often Berra practiced throwing out baserunners? And how often did he practice the mental side of that act? Throwing the ball to second base is easy for any major league catcher, but TRAINING to throw the ball… that’s mental!
So why do I awaken at 4:30 most days? Well, quite frankly if it matters to you, you will do it. If it doesn’t matter, you won’t. It mattered to Berra to work on that aspect of his game (along with being an 18-time all-star he played in 10 World Series by the way). And it continues to matter to me, more than 40 years after my first run, to continue to train.
Whether you are training to run your first 5k or qualify for your 10th Boston Marathon, it has to matter to you, and no one else. Overcoming things like the boredom of the solo 10-mile run or the chill of a 3-degree morning are things that your mind can and will indeed overcome, IF it matters to you. As Yogi Berra once said, “This is like déjà vu all over again.”
Former standout Lock Haven University runner Andy Shearer is a member of the Middletown Athletic Club, the Greater Philadelphia Track Club and USA Track and Field.