Many moons ago, I posted that rather than taking the more direct route of Run More Run Faster, I was now taking a more circuitous route to getting faster. That first entry basically lauded cross training and the small gains I had already seen in a few weeks of a committed strength training program, plus some drills to improve my balance and ignite those fast twitch muscles. Part two focuses on that tricky little variable: those six inches between my headphones.
I’m usually a podcast and music listener on my runs, but I ventured out and downloaded the book Mind Gym: An Athlete’s Guide to Inner Excellence and gave it a go on one of those slow sloggy long runs. While the book had some issues — like referencing Mark McGwire, one of the infamous faces of MLB’s steroid era as a mentally tough person — two points (actually questions) stuck with me.
First, the author directs you to remember the feeling you had during one of your best athletic performances. Then asks why do you think you felt that way (i.e., how did you get to that point)?
The event that popped into my mind was when I went to break the brick during my black belt test. After an hour-plus of punching and kicking combos, forms, sparring, and board breaking, the culmination of the test is to break a brick with your fist. Now like most people, I had never broken one before — you don’t really practice breaking a brick. I had also heard the horror stories of people injuring their hands (I’m a secretary) and busting their teeth (driving down so hard). But when brick-break time came up, these were my feelings as I stepped to that block: Happy, Relaxed, Confident, and Excited. I couldn’t wait to do this thing.
Faced with doing something I’d never done and really had no reason to believe I could do, plus the threat of public humiliation, why in hell would I feel that way?!? Well, upon reflection, I realized that I felt that way because I had trained hard and thoroughly. There was nothing else I could do, and at that moment it was either happening or not. The controllable variables had been addressed. Now while I could say that about my brick break, could I say that about my marathon training? Ha! I repeat “Ha!” Yes, of course I get my runs in mileage-wise, but I also left a lot on the table. So that’s the goal for these upcoming races: Get to that start line knowing that I have worked as hard as I can, so that at that point I can trust in my training.
The second question that resonated from Mind Gym was when the author asked how much did my frame of mind play into my race results? I would say 20ish%. I can get derailed when I have a few bad miles or am not feeling particularly well and “give up” (I finish but don’t go for it). Of course, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with taking it easy if you know it’s not your day and you don’t want to risk injury, but I’ve done it often enough where I think it’s a little too easy for me to say “Pass, I’ll get it next time.” Even though I didn’t PR at the Hollywood Half earlier this year, I’m really proud of how I fought for my time. I felt awful beginning at mile 3, but I kept pushing for the sub-2:00 even though it was clearly going to be a struggle that day. I didn’t bail. So the follow up to the question is that whatever percentage your mind determined your performance, then that’s how much work you should do in that area. Part of this means being more focused and visualizing my goals, and part of it is a little more scientific.
I am now reading Matt Fitzgerald’s Brain Training for Runners. I thought it would be a book about brain exercises, and it kind of is…but not. The partial Amazon blurb is this: “Runners of all ages, backgrounds, and skill levels can learn to maximize their performance by supplying the brain with the right feedback.” By training the brain, which is the center of all that physiological stuff, to handle more discomfort and delay fatigue, a person should be able to improve their running. At least I think that’s what it’s saying. Look, on the real, there’s some sciency-y stuff in there that I’m not fully grasping. The main takeaway so far is “Be willing to be more uncomfortable.”
Well, that doesn’t sound so fun. It isn’t! There’s nothing wrong with wanting to enjoy one’s running and just kick it, zone out, get some stress relief, and maybe push it once in a while. But I have a goal of a sub-4:00 marathon, and that’s not going to happen that way. For me anyway. (Who are these people who run 3:30 marathons their first time out?!?) Believe me, I’ve tried. I really enjoy running tons of miles at an easy pace and doing a few stretches and some weightlifting here and there. This suits my B+ personality just fine, and truthfully, I do get some results. I’m probably like in the bottom portion of the first-third of the mid-packers. Unfortunately, to take off another 30 minutes (am I insane?), I’ve had to level-up a bit, and so I’ve done a lot of uncomfortable stuff of late.
Like last week was another hill workout with Trainer. It’s awful. Just awful. I gasped “I hate this!” at the top of the first interval. But here’s what happened on my long run.
This week I added two miles to my long run, totaling 12 miles. My goal was to do it at an easy pace with three of the miles at HMP pace (now adjusted to 8:50 min./mile). My usual overall pace for this would usually be in the 10:35-11:15 zone.
Here’s what went down: I did my three HMP miles at 8:51; 8:22; and 8:25. My overall pace was 10:06.
Um, I can’t remember the last time I saw an 8:22 mile – maybe six years ago? Anyway, mentally on the run I thought to myself “This ain’t worse than those fucking hills” and physically, I think my body felt the same way. I’m still hesitant to say I’m faster because I really can’t see how this can be. I’ve barely run in three months. I’m barely (relatively) running now. I switched to a midfoot strike that’s supposed to be slow going in the first six months. This seems nuts.
In addition to the hill discomfort, pretty much every session with Trainer is a lesson in discomfort. I don’t get to do ANYTHING that I want to do. Ugh. It’s always his way. This morning when he had me do a horrible drill and said I had three more sets, I screamed “NO!” I couldn’t help myself. There was just No. Way…but I did them. I hope my brain and body remember this nightmare on Saturday when I up my long run to 14 miles.
So that’s the two-pronged approach I’ve taken to running faster. Without having to run faster. So far, the small sample-size says it’s working.
Hope everyone has a great running week!
Total weekly mileage: 24 + hill training
Long run: 12 miles (3 miles at HMP)