CATHLIN FITZGERALD, PT, DPT.
Recently I had calls back to back with two different runners. Let’s call them “Runner A” and “Runner B”. Both runners are in the middle of training plans that include speed workouts, and both have goals to get faster.
On this particular day, Runner A had just finished a track workout the day before our conversation. He talked through the difficulty of hitting his paces throughout the workout, including stopping to walk or catch his breath a few unplanned times. We talked through the data and whether or not this was a physical barrier, a mental barrier, or a combination of the two. Once we established that this was largely a mental barrier, Runner A opened up and told me about how he felt like he was “so slow” and that these prescribed paces for the intervals weren’t even fast. “Real runners run their easy runs at this interval pace!” he exclaimed vehemently to me.
Immediately after this conversation, I had a call with Runner B. Runner B had also just completed a track workout two days before our call. Runner B told me how the paces were difficult to hit and that he had to walk for two of the intervals. When I asked how he felt about this, Runner B told me that he knew he was a mental barrier. He felt uncomfortable during the interval and let that feeling take over, causing him to stop and walk.
With both of these runners, I talked about learning to accept being uncomfortable. We used the adage of “pain is inevitable, suffering is optional”. Runner A’s response was that he was so slow that these interval paces shouldn’t be this uncomfortable, to begin with. Runner B’s response was that he accepted the challenge and set a goal to not take any extra recovery breaks for the next workout.
Now for the lightbulb moment: all of Runner B’s paces are about 90 seconds slower than Runner A’s! Runner A is spending so much time focusing on how fast he is relative to other runners that he can’t find joy in the process. Runner B, however, took this note and ran with it (no pun intended). He immediately set a goal to move forward. (I should mention that Runner A and I worked through a lot of this during our conversation, but I left that out here for the purpose of just comparing their reactions.)
Don’t miss out on enjoying where you are in your running because you’re focused on where you’re not. If we did this with everything in life, we would constantly be waiting! Imagine standing in a line your entire life, constantly waiting to be in the same spot as the guy in the next line over. You’d miss out on so much! So get out of that line. Stop staring at the other guy. Focus on your process, and you’ll be surprised at how much fun you’ll have noticed all of the incremental improvements you’ve been making.