That moment with yourself

Obviously, folks of all different body shapes and sizes, speed, and endurance levels run and proudly wear the “runner” badge. I don’t necessarily think there’s one “look” of a runner, unless we’re talking about the pros whose livelihoods depend upon their running careers, but for the rest of us minions, the gamut is wide and plentiful. One thing that we all have in common, though, pros and minions alike, is our stubbornness type-A -ness bullheadedness determination to realize our goals, and our mini-goals, and our mini-mini-goals, maybe to a fault.

What do you do, then, when you’re fairly certain that said goals aren’t going to come to fruition when you want them to, like during a particular workout (low stakes) or, god forbid, during a race (anytime but that!?)

My inspiration for writing came from my workout yesterday, 9 miles with 8x800m with 2 minute recovery. I really enjoy track-style speedwork, probably more than any other type of run (with the exception of the long run… maybe. big maybe on that), and 800s are no joke. The workout is nice and tiring, it goes by really quickly, and its challenge constantly deceives me because I tend to come to the workout thinking, oh, it’s only _ miles total, even with some breaks. NBD.

Yesterday’s 800s were the first I had done since early July, when I had done 4, on a whim, and before I began training for my Chicago/NYC double; before then, I hadn’t done 800s, or this many of them, since the throes of my Eugene training, when it was about 8 degrees outside and windy as all get-out (thank you, winter in Chicago). To the best of my recollection, I believe yesterday’s 800s were also my one and only batch–if not the first since my high school track days–that I produced on an actual track, instead of the lakefront path.

Thanks, Google and the Chicago Park District, for the picture. Unfortunately, the track is a bit more beat-up than this picture lets on, but it's still pretty sweet to have a track accessible downtown.

Thanks, Google and the Chicago Park District, for the picture. Unfortunately, the track is a bit more beat-up than this picture lets on, but it’s still pretty sweet to have a track accessible downtown.

I wasn’t totally sure of my goals for the 800s, in no small part because I’m still not totally sure of my goals for Chicago/NYC. (Ed. note: start thinking about this). I thought I’d “do the best I can” and try to hit a 3:10-3:15 range, even though I’m *pretty sure* I won’t be aiming for that range in the fall, but hey, who doesn’t like a challenge, right? And, returning to my earlier point about runners being stupid determined to hit our goals for each run’s purpose, I didn’t *really* want to adjust my expectations, based on the heat (about 83-85 degrees) and humidity (50%+), even though I knew I should.

After my first four sets, wherein my times dropped, instead of remaining consistent (3:11, 3:15, 3:17, 3:20), my head started going for a tailspin. In a matter of 20 minutes, I went from this is going to be the best workout ever! I love running! I could do this forever! Rainbows! Unicorns! Children smiling! to Fuck this. I should stop. Seriously, Erin, just stop. No one will notice, know, or care. At the rate you’re going, you’ll be producing 4:xx in a couple repeats. Looks like Chicago’s gonna blow again this year. Looks like you’re on your way out with marathoning. Twenty minutes–that’s all it took.

Once I realized that the mental garbage was damn near sabotaging my run–and one that I really wanted to do well, because I really wanted some feedback–I became that person who talks to herself to get her to her happy place.

Yup; I had no choice.

My recoveries, which went from 100% jogs to walks and walk/jog mixes–which, again, I had to tell myself that I wasn’t “copping out” by letting myself walk to get my heart rate down (see earlier note about the weather)–went from me focusing not only on getting ready for my next two loops around the track, and getting my legs ready to roll, to mentally pscyhing myself out. What I told myself, what I had to tell myself, was the same stuff that I’ll tell my ~2.5 year-old daughter when she’s being a rascal: c’mon. Just try it. You’ll be fine. You can do this. Don’t worry. Just do it. You’re fine. You’re safe. I promise.

My head was in a dark and lonely place there in the hot and humid afternoon sun, and I knew that I would be beyond pissed at myself if I didn’t finish the workout, even if it blew and the rest of the repeats worsened even more.

And would you know… it worked.

Somewhere during my final four sets, I told myself (this time, mentally) that I had read somewhere a couple interesting things: 1) that smiling relaxes your whole body, and 2) don’t think of this run as something I “have to” do; this is most definitely something I “get to” do. I’m not sure of the validity of point one, but regardless, I periodically tried to smile during my final four 800s, which I’m sure made me look like a fool, but I think it worked.

It’s hard to have really negative and horrible thoughts coursing through your mind when you’re grinning like the Cheshire cat.

wouldn't be surprised if I also had the crazy eyes, too

wouldn’t be surprised if I had the crazy eyes, too

Reminding myself that chasing my running unicorns is something that I get to, not have to, do always, always, always knocks me squarely on my ass. I get so caught-up in my aforementioned unicorn pursuit that I periodically forget that there are larger things people deal with (myself included) day in and day out and that TONS of people would love to even have the opportunity to worry about their half-mile repeat times for an hour out of their day, instead of their typical anxiety-and-panic-inducing-fare.

The mental pep talks worked, and I brought the final four home in 3:13, 3:13, 3:16, and 3:13 (almost metronomic there… so close! damn). Compared to the last time I ran 8 800s, yesterday’s were nearly 3 seconds faster, on average. I finished feeling accomplished and also hugely grateful and happy that I was able to do this workout at all (see: earlier note about humility) and in a remarkably better mental place. Truth be told, I haven’t had an extremely mentally-trying workout (that I can recall) in this training cycle yet, so I’m glad I had this. They can suck, but they matter.

It’s these moments that we have with ourselves, that, as runners, we have to have with ourselves, that both show us and teach us that we’re capable of more than we know… even if it takes some self pep-talks that make us look a little strange.

Chicago

NYC marathon

What say you? What was your last workout where you had to have a moment with yourself? What’d you do, and did it work?

14 thoughts on “That moment with yourself”

  1. Hell, yea. 1) Tha’s ma track! (Weirdly narrow, right?); 2) If you ever want to run “with” people, a lot of run clubs use it for speedwork before/after work (Wed is popular, I’ve noticed.). For some reason, a strange man with a clipboard barking splits at other people’s keys me feel like he cares about my times, too :); 3) Last time I ran 800s, I had the same visceral response, almost excuses, and temps (weird). I stole the motto of a fellow oiselle bird, “You ain’t no punk!” and strangely that worked. Pride and stubbornness can be detrimental I’m some ways, but it can also help you to crank out some final sets for fear of shaming your family and besmirching your good name (No? Just me?) :)
    Great post, and great reminder that we’re so very lucky to be able torture ourselves.

    1. Thanks, Hillary! And yes, totally agree- weirdly narrow. For a sec I thought I should overshoot my distance because I thought it was just the littlest bit short, but then I decided that was stupid, and yet another thing I was thinking of to sabotage my run. And good to know about the Wednesday night crew!

  2. Mine was also an 800s workout, earlier this summer. It was hot out, I didn’t adjust the pacing for the heat, and half-way through, I realized that I wasn’t going to complete the 6 that I had planned to do…so I dropped down to 400s and barely completed 3 of those. I think the track workouts make you faster because they are so mentally challenging. Most of us marathoners can go out there and run 10-15 miles at a relatively easy pace and it’s no problem, that’s not the hard part of running…the hard part is the speedwork and making yourself go really hard when it really hurts. Way to go on this particular workout Erin, way to turn it around.

    1. Really good stuff, Adam! I actually also considered dropping down to 400s, but then I didn’t know off the top of my head what the comparable 400 time would be, so I figured I should just suck it up and go with it, haha. I agree though, there’s a lot that happens to us, both physiologically and psychologically, as a result of these track sessions. Thanks for commenting :)

  3. Would you call BS on me if I said that I have these self-talks nearly every quality run? Well, I do. I find pace and distance targets both extrememly anxiety producing, but working thru the tough bits is such a great victory. IT’s even worse during races, when I think it qualifies as self-destructive behavior and maybe complete depression…I like to think that each time the negative bits get smaller and the positive focus gets bigger.

    1. For sure, AB; I actually have to get myself pretty stoked for some quality type runs, too, especially the long ones like 5mi+ tempos, long-ish MP runs nestled into a LR on a weekend, and the like. But, I agree- working through the tough bits is so, so sweet.

  4. It’s awesome that you were able to compose yourself, have that “half time” Get your shit together talk with yourself and rock the rest of the run!

    Over the last 6 weeks, 90% of my runs I have to have a come to Jesus chat with myself to just go more than 1-2 miles. Oceans of negativity and worry that I have to shovel aside and give hope a chance. Every day I hope I find myself where I was, only to see a shadow of it somewhere in the vampire hours… but we keep chasing it, believing that we’ll merge again in time…
    To form captain planet.

    Great post!!!

    1. Hahaha oh yea, Declan, I hear ya. The “come to Jesus” moments can be rough for sure, especially when there’s a huge gap in our expectations and reality. Those blow, for sure. I guess what matters most, though, is that we keep getting it done in spite of, or maybe because of, these “get your shit together” talks; it’s way, way easier to say “eff it” and throw in the towel before we begin to even try.

  5. I was doing “hill” repeats in the spring when I had to mentally psyche myself up to keep sprinting up them. It worked. Sadly I got a stomach bug the night before that goal race and had to miss it due to excessive puking (and more). Stupid digestive system.

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