On Tuesday I drove the 5 hours back home from visiting my parents for the glorious Thanksgiving weekend that so many of us have been blogging about this week because of its all-around spectacular-ness!
I had plans to meet my running coach, Linda from Master the Moments, in the park for a daunting looking workout she had assigned me called “Specific Endurance Race Run.” Doesn’t it just sound as if it’s going to be brutal. The heart of it was supposed to be 4x2K at specific pace times that I knew ahead of time were going to be a push for me. I was so relieved that Linda agreed to meet up with me for that session because that was my only hope of staying even remotely on task that day.
It was another sunny warm day in London and I met Linda in Springbank Park, a popular spot in town with a paved and tree-lined path beside our Thames River, well-travelled by runners, cyclists, and pedestrians.
I won’t get into all the details of my lack of enthusiasm for what we were supposed to do. In fact, at first I had the wrong workout programmed into my Garmin (because when you’re meeting your coach, you don’t have to pay as much attention to the details). But Linda is always so upbeat and optimistic. She said she thought I could do it, even if not exactly, at least well enough. She also offered to modify the plan (on more than one occasion). And she never skips the warm-up, which is a nice habit that I’ve also started to get into because, guess what? A proper warm-up usually leads to a better run. Go figure.
We ran from our meeting spot to the pedestrian bridge where we do our stretching. We’re two for two for seeing the blue heron who lives at that part of the river standing on a rock while we do some leg swings and hip cranks (I don’t know what they’re called) and fast feet (and a few other things). Linda is really good at distracting me with chit chat. And then when the going gets tough, she gives me tips and strategies to stay in the game.
I had difficulty maintaining the suggested pace even for the first 2K. Linda was hardly even breathing hard, which is a good thing because it meant she had no trouble saying stuff like “focus on the sign ahead and nothing else.” I don’t know how, but focusing on the sign ahead actually does help. Before long, she even had me doing some short pick-ups. When we got to Storybook Gardens, almost 1.5K into the first interval, we did a couple of laps around the parking lot and it was time for a one-minute walk, which seemed really short.
We continued further along the path. The second 2K interval was tough and my pace slowed even more. But before long we were back doing a couple of rounds of the parking lot. Linda kept telling me I was doing great (I didn’t feel like I was). We continued to do the occasional pick-up, which seems counter-intuitive if your energy is fading but actually switching it up breaks the monotony and that in itself is energizing. During those, she had me focus on turning my feet over. I felt good when she said I have a nice light step.
Linda asked me what was giving out. “My breath,” I said. It felt laboured and difficult and we still had another 2K to go (I voted for dropping the fourth set).
The magic really happened in the home stretch. I was almost whining (not quite but inside I felt like I wanted to whine) and Linda decided it was time for what I think she called “long counting.” She started saying a counting rhyme out loud: “1..2..3..works for me, 1..2..3..and you will see. 4…5..6..get your fix…7..8..9..to the end of the line” and then on a two count “10, 11, 12..”etc. all the way to 100 and then back to 1, 2, 3 again. I couldn’t get the whole rhyme at first (nor did I have the breath to say it), but I was able to count quietly to myself and to say the 10s, 20s, 30s etc. out loud.
The counting got me into a solid rhythm, where every even number landed on an exhale. My breathing started to get steadier and my feet seemed to be turning over faster (Linda is all about fast feet). She continued to suggest short bursts, setting specific end points (e.g. that bench, the green sign, those people up ahead walking with strollers, the stop sign by the parking lot…). Soon we were at eight hundred. And the next thing I knew we were done. And the best part is that final portion, after I thought I had nothing left, ended with me feeling strong, fast, and steady on my feet. I’m a convert to counting.
As we were walking it off for a bit of a cool down, we said out loud what every runner knows: the mind wants to give up way before the body. The thing then is that you have to trick, distract or find some other way to stop the mind from messing with you.
What strategies do you use to re-group and get on track when your mind starts messing with you on a run and telling you that you’re out of steam (when you’re probably not)?