Going into it, I knew I had to lower my expectations. While I am confident I can have 5:20 per mile pace as my tempo pace when my best meditation techniques are fully online, I had to first admit that its still a work in progress. Not surprising after a four year hiatus.
I went back and tried to remember the various things I've learned in hard workouts in the past. First is the importance of tracking tension and maintaining proper technique. When runs get hard, many runners including myself start tightening up in weird ways. I'll start to tense my neck and tilting my head to one side, my shoulders will start rising, I'll start forcing bigger steps, and leaning forward and pushing with my chest. Knowing this, I chose to accept the possibility of a slower pace in exchange for not allowing any of that to happen.
That's easier said than done, of course. I did end up doing tensing up a bit, but since I'd made a point of making that one of my goals for the workout I was still mostly successful. I was scanning my body watching for it and then consciously relaxing back when I noticed the tension. To do so I also had to have the awareness of why I would start pushing.
These things are best considered before a hard workout, when blood is still flowing to the brain and not legs. For me, I know I really want to go fast and its almost insulting not to. I can have a low frustration tolerance and become very demanding. This is the actual cause of disintegrating form for me, so that's what I also must watch out for.
I must also have a strategy in place for what to do when I start feeling that way. There are several that I will get to as I continue with this story, but the first one was to give myself permission to go slower in exchange for good technique- which when I really did that ironically had me going exactly as fast as I wanted to.
In the first of three mile repeats, I was able to relax and run fairly well. I did catch myself tensing up a little and wanting to go faster, but I reminded myself that it was ok to run a bit slower. The goal of the run wasn't just speed, it was technique. Its practicing the technique that will actually lead to my success in future races, so the value of proper technique is greater than a certain pace in my mind. So I just sighed and allowed a slower pace in parts of the mile and focused on getting the technique exactly how I wanted it.
In the second repeat things were much harder. The pace was substantially slower and my pride was getting a bit hurt. I found myself searching for ways to accept it, which did help. I reminded myself this was only the first tempo run, that it was the second repeat so it wasn't as easy as the previous one, that my general running pace had slowed down so much that even the pace of the repeat was quite a bit faster than
Even so, by the time I finished the second repeat I could feel myself growing heavy with the feeling of failure. I could hear the rationalizations and story already forming. It was a quiet voice justifying away how and why I should just give up already. 'The last repeat had gone poorly, there is no way I could recover or make this last repeat worth anything'. I could see myself practicing the story to tell myself and anyone I talked to later that day. 'Yeah, I tried to do a tempo, but it was my first one and was too hard. By the third one I was just running a normal run. I kinda gave up there, but its ok. Whatever.'
There's nothing magical with what I did next, in case you were hoping for something. I heard that story and in the short moment before taking it on as my own story, another part of myself rose up and said why does it have to be this way? And I woke up. It doesn't have to be that way! I want it to be a good workout, and why should I just give up now? I could feel a little of the heaviness in my body lifting and my strength and determination returning. I chose then and there to do the best I could for the last repeat, whatever that meant in terms of pace or perceived effort.
As I started the final repeat, I first played with chanting, “love, love, love” in my mind. I put my attention on my heart and tried to be as heart based of a runner as I could be. After a little bit, this started to fail and I created an internal coach- the kind of annoying, ra ra coach that I'm honestly not a fan of. He kept asking me, do you want this??
And over the objections of how dumb it was to be having this happening in my head at that moment (much less going along with it), I said back with as much enthusiasm as I could muster: Yes! I want this! I thought of the passion and love I do have for running, hidden beneath the irritation of a workout not meeting my expectations.
And so I ran along, determined to do the best I could. I think at some point I dropped the internal coach, but overall positive self talk continued. I could still feel a desire to quit, but it was helped by the knowledge of how close to finishing I was. I also consciously connected with the part of my that is a passionate confident runner. And finally, the finish line was so close I could just focus on that.
And with that my story ends. I warmed down and stretched, happy that I had not just given up.
I hope this story helps illustrate the wide array of skills that can go into making a run enjoyable. Self awareness around one's stories and emotions are crucial for a good run. Being clear around your goals for a given run, as well as the greater goals that provide the context and motivation for running in general are important as well. Finally, positive self talk, mantras, and meditations like the heart based runner can help you get over the top. However, I'd be remiss if you I did not leave you with this thought: what gets you going and works for you is going to be unique to you. So try different things and see what works!