“It hurts up to a point and then it doesn’t get any worse.” – Ann Trason
Yesterday I tackled a 15 mile run with 9 miles tempo (avg. of 7:32/mi). When you begin a run at over a 9:00/mi pace feeling tired, your mind (well, my mind anyway) immediately says, “This is going to suck. You probably won’t be able to handle the full 9 tempo. Just push through as many miles as you can.” Then, all-of-a-sudden, the 3 mile warm-up is over. My goal was an average per mile pace of 7:30-7:40. I started at a grueling 7:52. (FYI: The Garmin is fun, but can be a bit mocking. I won’t use it during the marathon. I want to race for feel anyway and, after yesterday’s workout, I realize this is the best way to race.)
It was just-that-side-of-uncomfortable to hold a 7:50-something pace in the beginning. This tells me that I had gotten to myself mentally earlier in my run. In previous workouts, when I left confident, I started out at 7:20-something pace and held it for both sets (longest being 2×4 miles). Maybe I was more confident because I knew I would be getting a 0.5 mile rest between sets. Eventually, the 7:50s felt comfortable. When you’re a distance runner, something in your brain ignites a fire when you start to feel comfortable during a speed workout/race/hill workout. You push yourself just-that-side-of-uncomfortable again. I did this based on feel, but looked at my watch to see my pace was now in the 7:40s. The change in turn over is barely noticeable, but those few seconds spread over a distance of 26 miles drops your total time by more than 1 minute. I kept making myself uncomfortable and then falling into a comfortable rhythm, making myself uncomfortable, falling into comfortable rhythm, uncomfortable, comfortable, uncomfortable, comfortable. At the halfway point, I was down to 7:38/mile. Let’s do the math. 7:52/mi for 26.2 miles would give me a 3:27 marathon. If I get that pace down to 7:38/mile, 14 seconds faster, my time would drop by about 6 minutes. A much safer distance from 3:21 to 3:30 than the mere 3 minutes I would have to play with were I to run a 3:27 marathon pace. (I do this kind of math in my head on runs to make the time go by.) At mile 7 of the tempo I was down to 7:32/mile and had started to push. Another weird runner thing, we push at the end. Whether a mile or 22 miles have passed, we are going to dig in. My final miles were sub 7:30.
I reflected on the run as I searched for a water fountain during my cool down. I was so happy to have switched from the 2xtempo to a full tempo run. This switch had allowed me to run for feel. This is something I don’t think I’d really done prior, even after almost 10 years of running. Not to say I’ve never ran races without a watch or pushed myself as hard as I could go without timing the effort. These races/workouts were shorter though, not as much time to really see what I could pull my body through. This makes me excited and nervous about the marathon. I need to continue remembering my first goal when I started training–to finish. The second goal–finish under 4:00. The third–well, it was finish in 3:30…I think I will change this goal to–play the uncomfortable/comfortable game the entire race.
For new runners: It pretty much is just-that-side-of-uncomfortable every time you go out…for a while.
For those of us that actually have a run titled “easy run”: Enjoy the grass just on the other side of uncomfortable. It really is greener.