My long run last weekend was a perfect example of how running is – at times – more of a mental sport than a physical one.
As the weekend approached, I found myself inexplicably dreading having to run around my town. Is there such a thing as being allergic to a route? And Hurricane Joaquin was barreling towards us, bringing with him much cooler temps and torrential downpours. I convinced myself it just couldn’t be done. So I decided to take to the treadmill instead and felt a little better… Then I thought of something to turn it around. After doing both of that week’s training runs on the treadmill, I discovered something mind-blowing: I never connected MPH and my average pace on the treadmill before.
I know. I’m just as shocked as you are. How could I be so stupid? As soon as I jumped on any treadmill, I would immediately jump up to 5.8MPH, and wondered why I needed so many walk breaks. That’s GOT to be a good pace, I would tell myself – 6PMH is a nice round number and like 10/mile, right? 5.7 is so much slower, it should be easy!
What the hell was I thinking? I have no idea. But once I realized that and managed to pace myself to a perfect 5 miles in 57:28 (for an 11:27/mile pace) that week, I knew I was on to something. I was excited: How low could I get my mile time if I paced myself properly? Would it be completely effortless? Would I need as many walk breaks? Needless to say, when I hit the mill on Sunday I had high hopes.
I packed up my fuel (two peanut butter & chocolate Gu’s, a bottle of grape Cocogo, and a big bottle of water) and hit the corner treadmill at the Y. I started at a 12:00/mile pace – a little faster than my race goal pace, but I figured I could back off if it got too uncomfortable – and rocked through the first 4.5 miles relatively easily. I took a few water walk breaks at each mile just like I normally would in a race, a Gu at mile 4, sipped on Cocogo throughout, and clocked in at 56:30 for 4.5 miles (or 12:33/mile, not bad considering my walk breaks and quarter mile walking warm up!)
Since the treadmills at our gym stop after an hour, I hit the start button again and plugged away at a 12:00 pace once more, feeling OK. At around mile 7, this song came on and renewed my love of South Park, and I took a Gu at mile 8. Unfortunately, at around mile 8.5, I ran out of water and Cocogo, and the wheels fell off the wagon when I developed nasty paste-mouth. I plodded along and finished the second set of 4.5 miles in 57:44, or 12:49/mile.
I know you’re probably thinking, “Why didn’t you just go to the water fountain, Jess?” Honestly, I’ve got a germ-phobia about those things. Especially now that everyone around me seems to be sneezing and coughing, and the YMCA is home to tons of cold-carrying kiddos that I’ve seen slobbering all over that fountain. And I’mma be real here: after two hours on that machine, if I got off it for a drink, I wasn’t going back on willingly.
Instead of being a normal human and getting a drink despite my germ fears, I told myself 3 miles wouldn’t be THAT hard. I do 3 miles a day, no problem. Let’s get it done – pump up the pace! Instead of maintaining a slow and steady goal pace, I cranked it up to 10:30/mile for the first mile to “get it over with”, like an idiot. And the only thing that did was shred my legs, making those last 2 miles pure agony.
My joints suddenly ached, my calves were getting tight, and the insides of my knees – yes, knees – started chafing from brushing up against each other with each step. I just wanted it to be over. But instead of pushing any harder and risking injury, I made the smart decision to walk those last two miles. The final tally on those 3 miles was 42:48, or 14:16/mile (OUCH).
It killed me to do that, because I love finishing strong. But in those last few miles I looked for learning opportunities. I reasoned that if I hadn’t burned myself out pushing to a 10:30 pace after my legs were fried from 8 miles, I’d still be feeling relatively strong in those final miles on race day. With a good warm up to trim some time off the first mile, smart pacing and my usual walk/stretch/fuel breaks every mile, maintaining that 12:30 pace might not be too hard. Instead of being disheartened at the end of this run, I was hopeful! Where some might see a failed ending, I see self-growth. Too often we beat ourselves up about a “bad” run – I decided to take the high road on this one, and I can’t wait to see how it pays off come race day!
How about you? We’re in the thick of marathon/race season now, I hope everyone’s training is going well, and if you’re just running for fun, enjoy the change of seasons!