Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Zones of Comfort

The minutes seemed to tick by way too fast. I was approaching 20 minutes which would mark the end of the warm up portion and kick off what had been on my mind all day. Speed work. Specifically, 1 mile at 10k pace repeated 4 times with 5 minutes of rest in between. As the time came closer and closer, I felt myself tensing up. Emotions were welling up. I desperately didn't want to do this. It was nearly overwhelming. I was fighting the urge to give up and leave this for another day.
The entire day I had been obsessively thinking about this upcoming work out. I had to keep reminding myself I would be fine. It's a 9 or 10 mile run in total. No problem. I am 2 weeks out from finishing the Arrowhead 135. Why would running 10 miles fill me with dread?
Last year during my deep running funk I came to the conclusion that I should switch things up this year and have some new goals. One that I have been putting off was running a Boston Marathon Qualifying time. These are based on age and gender. For me, the time required is 3 hours 25 minutes. My personal best in the marathon was over 3 years ago in a time of 3 hours 44 minutes. To accomplish this new goal, I would have to run nearly a minute a mile faster. That is quite the obstacle to overcome. This marathon goal is just an arbitrary thing. It has no bearing on my value as a runner or person. It is just a target to work towards. The things that happen between now and then and how I deal with them are what truly count.
In order to run 100 miles or further you basically just train by running as many slow miles as you can. Even then I believe you can get by on mental will alone. Being physically fit helps but you suffer either way and just bear it for long time.
Running a "fast" marathon (fast being relative to each person's natural ability) is a different kind of running. The intensity is ramped up much more. The time is much shorter than an ultra but the average level of discomfort is much higher.
The training requires getting into this uncomfortable zone and, at times, into even more intense, painful zones. My running over the last 4 years has completely avoided this. I've gotten comfortable and, likely, complacent, running on the base I've built up and not pushing anything too hard.
To put it bluntly, I've been afraid of pushing myself this way. I mean actual fear. Running hard and fast hurts in a different way than running slow and long. I've grown comfortable with running slowly for long periods of time. It has become familiar. I was looking for any reason to put this off and not do it. I was afraid.
The time for the first interval arrived. I ramped up the treadmill to the my 10k pace and tried to keep my feet moving fast enough to keep up. I tried to relax and breathe. The seconds seemed to tick by slowly but I was doing it. I watched the time creep by, telling myself I only had 2 minutes to go, 1 minute to go, then it was over. 1 down, 3 to go.
By the time I reached the third and fourth, I would get a minute or two into it and my mind would be screaming out to me to stop, offering a litany of reason why it was ok to quit. I was struggling but I was still moving. I would think to myself, "what will happen if you just keep going?" and I would. I felt like I was balancing on a blade between quitting and continuing on. Finally the end came, as it inevitably does, and I had faced down my fear, at least for today. 
For the next 10 weeks I will be facing this fear of being very uncomfortable in a different way. I will be trying to practice what I preach about doing things that scare you. I will do my best to remain consistent and do what the training requires that day. That will mean facing fear and doubt in myself. None of this guarantees success but I think the trying is where personal progress is truly made.

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