I’m certain you all have been on the edges of your respective seats waiting to hear about how my recent 5K went. And, if so, I’m equally certain that you’re pretty dang tired of people asking why you’re not using the whole chair.
Let me pay off the suspense: despite the fact that I’ve been telling everyone who asked (and believing it) that I’d PR’d but by way less than I’d hoped, I realized as I was pulling pictures for this column that I actually hadn’t PR’d at all. Compare the time on the picture above (36:41) to the picture below from 2013 that ran with my last post (34:59).
This is both amusing and crushing by equal measures. Which is a lot like life itself sometimes. Especially in late August. When you live in a house with no air conditioning. And are weary of coming home from a long day of work only to find your house trashed and two children who aren’t back in school yet lounging around the place like all of the filth doesn’t even bother them. Because, of course, it doesn’t.
I might be working through some stuff this week. Sorry.
The plan going in to the 5K was to run the 3 miles at a 10:25 pace for a total time in the 32-33 minute window. That plan, however, met some resistance when the race gun went off at 3 on a blisteringly hot August afternoon. We all know how VoldeSun and I get along.
I made the most rookie mistake of rookie mistakes, which is I lined up at the front — given how small the race was, you couldn’t really not line up in the front — then went out way too fast. When I looked at Herr Garmin at the quarter mile mark, I was running a 9:25 mile and, while it’s great to know I can do that, it’s not a pace I can sustain for more than a half mile or so.
It turns out that that mistake was actually a light bulb moment when it comes to me and future races — but I’ll get to that in a minute.
So I slowed down; then slowed down some more. Then realized how freaking little shade there was. And did that thing where I really started to reconsider all of the life choices that lead me to think that this race was a good idea. At that point the running Gods saw fit to send me an angel in the disguise of a small child who was squirting passing runners with a hose. Any other day, it would have been rude to have a hose aimed at you without your consent (that’s what she said); on that day, it was perfection.
Coach Christine, when we were talking about this race before it actually occurred, asked if it was hilly. Even though the race itself was too small to have a topo map online, I felt secure in my guess that it would be. There are no flat races around here. Even our high school track shows up as a hill on my Garmin charts.
Yes, the race was hilly. As I would start to find a rhythm, I’d have to run up hills that never did seem to have a down. I swear to you that this out and back course was all uphill.
My main goal, once I realized that 10:25 was not going to happen in the heat of day, was to keep my pace near 11. Then when that felt way too hard, near 11:30. Then when even that felt impossible, near 12. Then I just wanted to finish the damn thing.
I crossed the finish at 36:42, which until I started writing this, I thought was a PR. But when I looked at my last post, I realized it totally isn’t.
Feh, I say.
I was pretty sore the next morning, mostly my in calves. Mostly, though, I felt just kind of wrung out and thirsty. So thirsty. I think I might have been a little dehydrated.
As for the light bulb moment – in debriefing with Coach, I finally realized the biggest thing that holds me back in races: the first time I step outside of my running comfort zone and push my pace, my brain goes from “this is OK” to “I’m going to die” in microseconds. Rather than simply run a little more slowly until I can regroup, I automatically walk. It’s not even a conscious decision. Once that happens, my brain starts to calculate how much further it is, coupled with how far I’ve come, added to “what makes you think you can do this anyway?” and I lose all faith. Regaining my gung-ho-ness is hard once I’ve started the whole doubt cycle.
Admitting you have a problem is your first step toward recovery, right? Hi. I’m Adrienne. I’m an easily panicked runner!
I came up with a partial solution while running seven miles a couple of mornings ago. The middle five (!) were at race pace. Ever quarter-mile or so, I’d remind myself to only run the mile I am currently in, rather than think about how many I’d run or how many were coming up. That laser-like focus helped immensely. I hit all of my paces for that run, which was, in a word, awesome.
I’d like to have another strategy or two in the pocket of my Saucony Bullet Capris, however. How do you keep “I can’t do that” at bay during races?
Love this post! I do the same thing! I actually have stopped looking at my watch at my pace so I can’t let my brain freak out about how fast I may be going. I also focus on where I’m at and tell myself,similar to you, it’s only one more mile or I can do this for 10 more minutes. I’m getting better but it’s still tough. Thank you so much for this post. It’s nice to read one that I can totally relate too, especially as I tackle my 20 miler on Sunday. I’m training for my first marathon, which is Wineglass! See you there!
Heat makes running everything harder. And, I believe the course was uphill both ways. Lots of those possibilities around here.
My only suggestion is to run the course, or at least the second half, ahead of time. If I’ve run something before and done ok, it’s good ammunition against my inner demons.
Can you shout back “I AM DOING IT!”?
Kelly, looking forward to meeting you at Wineglass. Good luck on your 20.
I struggle with this too. When I find myself inexplicably walking I try to figure out why. Am I hurting? Amy I out of breath? If no, then I start running again. I try to think about what I was thinking when my body decided to walk. I try to tell myself that I can recover from the last hill or the last run stretch …while still running. I don’t need to walk to recover. I tell myself that I can run as slow as I need to while gathering myself.
OMG, Adrienne! You totally just described me! I am an easily panicked runner!! The only thing I have found that help is to stay in the moment, just as you described. I have to think to myself- “I’m ok. Right now I feel ok.” If I think about how many more miles I have to go, I panic and sometimes it’s really hard to power through that. You are not alone. :) If I can keep my brain “in the moment” I run a lot better and a lot faster.
The way I combat the “I can’t do this” is to random list all things I thought I couldn’t do that I’ve done. Birth a child. Done. Birth 2 more. Done. Run a half marathon. Done. Speak up to my boss. Done. Retile the kitchen floor by myself. Done. Get into the NYC marathon. Done. Raise $3000+ for charity for said marathon. Done. Run 16,17,18,19 and a 20 miler for training runs with and without someone else. Done. Finish my marathon. Done!! You can do this. You have this. Tell the whiney “you can’t do this” girl in your head to go home. If she can’t say anything nice she’s not allowed to play with others.
I think trying to PR in August in the middle of the day is not really possible!!! And I think you should just enjoy your runs and not worry about the pace. Keep getting out there (but not at 3 pm in Pittsburgh August heat…)
I love my Garmin but if I look down and see something I don’t think I can sustain, I freak out too! Then once during a race I didn’t panic and just kept going. It was my half marathon PR. So I have started to put my garmin in the mode that only shows elapsed time during races. That way I don’t see my pace at the time and just run what I feel like can sustain; not what my mind thinks I can’t. Then I still have the data after the run to congratulate myself that I really did have a few faster-than-I-thought-I-could-miles.
I am right there with you, Adrienne, and I think for many of the same reasons (didn’t start running til after 40, never was meaningfully athletic, don’t have mental reserves). Some of the chants Dimity & Sarah have in the first RLAM book are helpful to me–telling myself 50 more feet, or another quarter-mile; letting myself run slowly (slow running is still better than walking), reminding myself that it’s only my head complaining, my legs feel ok. I also reserve certain artists on my iPod for crisis moments; I absolutely cannot walk when Pink is on. If I’m feeling pretty low, I shuffle until I get to her. But I also agree that monstrous heat just makes everything harder.
i used to have that problem of self doubt sabotaging my races, so I started covering up my garmin with a wrist band (or sleeve) and running by feel. I PR’d multiple times by a lot (got my half from a 1:55 to a 1:47). I was trained for those times and my body knows what to do when my brain doesn’t get in the way.
A 3 p.m. summer 5K is intense! I feel you. I use this and I don’t know why it works because I’m not a sunshine, rainbows and unicorns kind of person, but for each mile I chant “I can do anything for 1 mile”. Sometimes it’s “I can do anything for one effing mile”, but you get the gist.
And what is it with those kids on break who are fine to live in chaos!?! I just drove one back to college and the level of mess has significantly dropped instantly. Crazy talk.
I should be commenting on the subject of your post but I keep being drawn to the lines: When you live in a house with no air conditioning. And are weary of coming home from a long day of work only to find your house trashed and two children who aren’t back in school yet lounging around the place like all of the filth doesn’t even bother them. Because this is my life right now. And mine are 20 and 18 so either I didn’t teach them anything, didn’t yell enough at them growing up, or filth will never bother them ever. It’s safe to say that at least I have running to get me away from said kids and filthy house.
Adrienne, I can’t even BEGIN to tell you how much I relate to ALL of that! From our pace, to our mindset (favorite line… “my brain goes from “this is OK” to “I’m going to die” in microseconds”) Thanks for your witty blogs that always put a smile on my face and make me think, “she and I would be perfect running buddies.” We’ve been dealing with miserable heat near me, at the opposite end of the country in San Diego. Here’s to cooler runs in the near future, strong minds and legs and a future PR, or something reasonably close ;-)
I was where you were at this past Labor Day when I joined marathon-training friends to run their SECOND 10-mile loop. They are all younger and faster than me, so I was always behind them (with others). I tend to go out way too fast, so deliberately stayed slower. I was okay until the last couple miles when the brain thing started taunting me, i.e “what made you think you could do this?”, “you really need to just walk,” which I did at times. I so want to get over all that because I know I can do it and have done it. I really need to focus on the end and the feeling I have after doing a challenging run. I wish you the best and I know you will do well. I love this community, though, and the ideas and suggestions generated by all.
For years I have had a VERY similar attitude. Last year (running-wise) was terrible: kept bonking in races, worst times ever, and my confidence was in the figurative toilet. This year, I decided to have a ‘talk’ with myself. As I would begin a race, instead of telling myself “what if I go out too fast? What if I can’t keep up? what if I don’t hit my splits?” I started to tell myself “what if my initial pace works for me? What if I hit my splits? What if I DO keep up?” I mean, why not? I would always play the worst case scenario, because I would prepared myself in some way, and the hurt/pain would not be so bad when I would get there. As it turns out, 1) the pain is ALWAYS as bad, even if I try to prep myself and 2) why does it have to go bad? It could just as easily go well, right? I have prepared. I have trained. My the hell not? Subsequently, I have had the best running year yet. Ok, my times might not have been stellar every race, but I have ENJOYED it so much more, without the stress/depression. Plus, I have decided to step outside of the box and try new races/distances, like trail running and a looped course for an ultra. Every new race distance you do is a PR, right???
Your posts always make me laugh! I love your writing! I have had the same thoughts when pushing myself. Recently, I’ve been trying to change my mind set to think that it’s OK if I don’t feel great when I push myself. I can still do it even if it’s not comfortable. Sometimes I panic when running feels hard, too. But, oh well! I’l get through it (at least that’s what I try to tell myself :). Good luck!
I love your idea to “run the mile I’m in”! I tend to be a fearful runner lately. It has completely slowed me down. I’ve had some of my best runs (really enjoyed them) when I’ve left Herr Garmin at home. I’m trying to do that more often.
Race without a garmin next time- I bet if you just run by feel you will be able to trick your brain into going at a faster pace
Another fabulous post, Adrienne! I really appreciate your “realness”. I, too, have found myself in the very same situations as you. I’ve tried many of the suggestions here and many work. I especially like telling myself to just get to the next mailbox, driveway, whatever; then the next mailbox, then the next mailbox until the crazy running anxiety is over. I also found if I can get my brain out of thinking about inside-me and how awful I am at running to thinking outside of me and look for a spectator that I can high-five or a volunteer that I can thank; or someone running beside me that I can engage in brief conversation, works best as a reset button. I am then able to remember why I’m running/racing in the first place and all is good. I feel good about myself and my effort, however good or lacking it may be at the time. Look, I’m short/small, a female and 50+. I grew up hearing that I can’t do things because I’m a girl; because I’m too short/too small; because I was also on the poorer side of life. I am now enjoying finding out what exactly I CAN do. I love surprising myself by going “fast” then finding out that I’m still alive! This is good to know, because knowing I most likely will not die from going “fast” helps me go “fast” again and again. Silly I know, but there it is. Through the training runs, I’ve learned that I CAN run several miles consecutively in a wide range of temperatures, weather conditions, terrains and elevations. I CAN run several miles at RP and still be able to make dinner a few hours later and go to work the next day. All this makes the next time I run “fast” or at RP for several miles SO MUCH easier AND knowing I’m not going to die, my brain is much nicer to me. Let us know what works for you!
I personally don’t like to stress about actual pace. For each race I make 3 goals-usually 1. Finish, 2. Finish in X time (something I think is doable based on training), and 3. My pie in the sky goal. And then I just run my feel. No joke, I’ll run a half marathon and not look at my watch once. Because once I start, I can’t stop. And then I obsess about pace, all the while trying to do math in my head-which I can’t do, because all of my energy is being used to power my muscles!
And lastly, the mantra I pulled from an essay in TFAMR is, “the pain is only temporary”. :)
Thanks so much, you all. You understand — and I’ll be taking a list of your suggestions with me!
Adrienne, you are a mom and professor. What do you tell your kids and students when they think they can’t do something? There is lots of good advice here. At this point, you know it is mental, not physical. Good luck!!!
When racing a 5k, one strategy that helps me is to count in my head to say, oh, “100” or some other arbitrary but do-able number. Keep the counting rhythm by using your steps/cadence. This helps me push through just that little bit extra when I’m feeling like I can’t otherwise. You can do anything to the count of 100. Promise! Often times I have the renewed sense of ability I need to push through a second and third set of counting. If you must slow down, then the trick is to only let yourself slow down to a lesser number count, like “99” or really “30”, before you get back to work.