Timer Time Out

I realize different runners have different goals, but I think there is room in every training plan for running without the looming shadow of the timer.

I don’t consider myself a fast runner, even among amateurs.  My half marathon pace was 7:37, and I haven’t broken 21:00 in a 5k.  It’s not bad, but I’m not winning my age group or anything.  When I was training for the half marathon, I set a goal, and I lived by the watch, tracking my pace and splits.  I timed all my workouts, and memorized what it felt like to run 7:37miles.  I’m happy to report that it worked.  I ran my time and finished under 1:40:00.  By association, when I learned what my “fast” felt like, I also learned slow.  I hated slow.  It became a real drag and sucked the fun out of running.  If a workout wasn’t going as planned, it was hard to find any pleasure in the run, sometimes I’d even cut it short.  Of course I put this pressure on myself, but heavy legs shook my confidence and had me second guessing.  I’m sure a lot of runners struggle with the clock, but when the race was over, I had trained myself to think there was no value in going slow.  Some might say I was right in that thought, but for me, it was all wrong.

As an aspiring ultra runner, my focus has changed from speed to distance, no matter how long it takes.  It is such a freeing feeling when you realize it’s OK to go slow.  This may sound like a convenient excuse for a slow runner, but now I find that my runs are more rewarding and have more variety.  Sometimes I go fast, sometimes I drop to 10 minute miles, and sometimes I even walk.  With this new attitude, I’m able to find pleasure in every run, including the slow ones.  Going slow has given me time to become a better runner.  I’m concentrating on my form and efficiency, differentiating good aches and pains from the bad ones, anticipating the highs and lows, and learning how to refuel on the go. I haven’t timed myself lately, but I know I’m faster and stronger than ever before.  If I topped off with a little speed work right now, I could smash PR’s.  Distance running has enough pressure as it is, give yourself a break and leave your watch at home next time.  You just might learn something new.

Your thoughts?  Do you feel naked without your watch?

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I Can See Myself Doing This

Yesterday I had the privilege of hearing sports psychologist for the Boston Red Sox, Bob Tewksbury speak.  He said a couple of things that really struck me, in particular, he confirmed my thought that part of being successful is learning to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. You may recall I said that exact thing right here.  No matter if it’s sports or life, there will be situations and obstacles that take you out of your comfort zone.  Learning to focus only on the things you can control can help you get through these times.   The second thing that struck me was when he said, “where the mind goes, the body follows.” He expanded on this and went on to talk about the use of visualization in preparing for the task ahead.  In an interview with David Laurila of Baseball Prospectus, Tews says this about visualization.

BT: The mental skill of visualization has proven to be effective in a variety of sports. This is a skill which I used more than any other when I played, as part of my pre-game preparation. On days I would pitch, I would get my Walkman and head to the trainer’s room for a visualization session. I would lie there for 15-30 minutes, picturing in my mind what I wanted to do for the game. In my mind, I would throw all my pitches, oftentimes falling asleep during the process. The mental rehearsal helped me have positive focus prior to the game, and the nap helped ease any pre-game butterflies I may have had by helping me get them (the butterflies) to fly in order. It was a great pre-game routine for me, and many times the events of the game happened JUST like I had visualized in my mind. The bottom line with visualization is that the body doesn’t know the difference between a real or imagined action. For example, if I visualize throwing a fastball down-and-away to a hitter, the muscle fibers in my body respond just like I was really doing it–to a much lesser degree, obviously, but still nonetheless. By visualizing, you are programming your body to respond accordingly to an imagined action. If you think and picture good things, there is a good chance they will happen. The opposite side of that is also true. Ask any golfer who hits the ball in the water off the tee! I’ll bet nine times out of 10 that happened because the golfer had a quick mental picture; he visualized it happening and as much as he tried to not do it, his body (and his mind) led him there!

My Own Experience
I have definitely used this process both in sports and life.  I can think of examples where I’ve pictured something for months on end.  These particular challenges were important to me but I knew they would not come easy, and that I had to do the work to get there. The end results were just as I pictured it, and worth all the struggles.  Beware the pitfalls of ‘counting your chickens before they’re hatched’.  I’ve also done this on numerous occasions.  Typically this happens when you visualize, but forget to do the work to make it a reality.
The good news is I’ve already been picturing a few scenes from the Long Trail.  I see myself standing at the beginning, the Northern Terminus, just like current record holder Jonathan Basham.  I’m nervous as hell standing there, but I’m there.  Sometimes when my thighs are burning at the gym, I see myself moving through the woods, pushing forward from sun-up to sundown. Sometimes towards the end of a run, I see myself coming to the Southern Terminus and being joined by friends and family for the last bit.  With every passing week, my confidence in these images grows and I can fill in more details.
Side Note: I’m not sure anyone on the Red Sox saw 7-20 for September.