Friday, February 28, 2014

Learning to run harder: The neuroses of training

I have a pit in my stomach most days when I think about running. It's not that I am not looking forward to the miles or that I don't want to complete them - even if it's the treadmill. Rather, the unsettling feeling comes from fear.

Fear that I won't be able to handle it.

Fear that I can't do it.

Fear that I will fail.

Fear that it will hurt.

As I work toward a strong effort at the Athens, Ohio, half marathon, the Train Like a Mother plan has me doing workouts with a purpose. And details. There are miles to be run in a certain zone for a certain time. There are hills to be climbed and paces to hit. There is a challenge.

And, truth be told, I haven't challenged myself in a long time.

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Looking back at my training log from this time last year, my workout notes included attempt at intervals, "tempo-ish" and progression. I was running outside more but that means I was running what I wanted at what pace I wanted. In fact, that's pretty much how I ran for all of 2013.

There's nothing wrong with running like that. In fact, it can be quite refreshing. However, it's been an adjustment for me and I've had to find ways to cope as the miles get longer and paces get faster.

Break it down. If I look at week 11 of the plan (I'm on 6), I want to cry. There's a 7-mile run with 5 miles at tempo a pace and an interval workout of 6-7 miles with 6 x 4 minutes at sub-5K effort. It is going to be TOUGH, even with another month of training (and fitness gains) under my belt. Rather than freak myself out, I look at just the week I'm on and only to schedule the workouts. I don't worry about what miles I have to run until the day before.

Track progress. In the middle of a quality run (tempo, intervals, hills), it can feel difficult and like it will never get any easier. But it will, to an extent. You just might not notice because the plan builds on itself, and you won't be doing 2 miles at tempo in week 8 the way you were in week 2. I've been hyper diligent about noting splits on Daily Mile (even if it's a bit self indulgent) so that I can look back and not only see how far I've come but remind myself that I can hit those numbers. The latter was especially helpful today. The workout seemed hard - 3 miles at tempo - but I've done it twice and could assure myself that I could do it again.

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Bonus: Keeping a log allows you to compare year-to-year. Not only did I run more during February 2014 than February 2013, I had more runs at a sub-9 pace and was overall faster.

Find a mentor ... even if she doesn't know it. I was lucky to meet some amazing and amazingly talented runners when I ran Hood to Coast. I was in a van with women who race at paces at least a minute per mile faster than me and were working to get even faster. At the time - to be honest - I was more jealous than inspired but the space these women occupy in my heart and running has grown. I often think of them and there dedication to the sport when I feel my mental game flailing. Example: I had a half-mile to go in my tempo run today, and I thought my heart my leap out of my chest. I thought to myself, dig in. Be rUnladylike. And while I didn't swap my legs for her speedy ones, I did feel like I could push through.

I think having this arsenal of awesome runners is especially important when running solo or logging lots of runs on the treadmill.

Extend the warmup. Physiologically, your body needs a few minutes to catch on to the fact that you are exercising.  Hormones are released, blood flow is altered and energy-making systems rev up as the body sources a limited store of energy. It's why the first quarter-mile of a run can suck hard. For me, it's usually the first half-mile. The TLAM plan calls for a 10-minute warmup but I've found that I need 1.5 miles to get myself together and ease up to a decent pace before tackling speed work. Rather than adding mileage, I cut the cool down by a half-mile as I get too bored during them.

Know thy pace. Coincidentally, Jess just wrote a great post this week about how to determine paces for speed work. The right pace for the right workout can set you up for success. Going too fast or "winging it" is detrimental, as I learned the other week during my 4-minute intervals. I picked a round number on the treadmill - 8.0 (7:30 pace) - and planned to bump it up 0.1 per repeat. Let me tell you something. My 800 pace, as this interval basically was, should be closer to 7:40 pace. It doesn't sound like a lot but it is. Also, it's important to know the range and not to be afraid to start at the slower end.

Don't think, just go. The saying isn't just one of the AMR shirts but a good mantra as well. I can fret myself to nausea about a run or I can lace up my shoes and see how it feels.

How do you handle the mental aspect speedwork?


  1. Your workouts are quite impressive! I run the same speed all the time. I have never done any speed work and that's OK with me. However, my basketball game this week called for a lot of sprinting up and own the court. Surprisingly, I managed to survive.

  2. Dude. Wanna trade training? Mine is currently pitiful (thank you, endless winter), and I'm supposed to run another full in 4 weeks. Which will now become wog another full. Oh, well. I've decided I'm just training for the half in Carmel 2 weeks later. Bad plan. Bad Kasey.

  3. I love being able to look back at a training log and seeing progress. I also thinking having good mentors is helpful, like you mentioned. You're doing great right now. Keep it up!

  4. You are a bad ass!! I love your comparison spreadsheets! I am old school and write everything in a journal! I have started to track miles on a spreadsheet for the year...just so I don't have to spend an hour going page by page to count the miles come jan 1st!!
    Your training is coming along so good. Even on the deathmill...just killin!!! I love those tips! I really struggle with mental toughness but I try and channel some of my faster friends! I agree with the extra warm up cause I hate the cool down!! :)
    Keep it up lady!!!