One of my readers wrote in with an interesting comment and question that other day. She said that her track workouts “freak her out” and that she “dreaded them.” She was looking for advice, so today I’ve got some and it goes like this: “Get psyched, but not that psyched.”
What I mean by this is really two-fold. One the one-hand, it is important for all runners to get mentally prepared for races or hard training sessions. On the other hand, we want that mental preparation to get us set, excited, even anxious, but not so much that it tears us down and takes away from our ability to concentrate. Let’s consider this a little further today.First, track workouts in particular have the ability to really “freak people out.” If we think about it, this is because the intensity and the effort level on the track are going to be harder than a typical run. These workouts are not “relaxing” or “easy” outings so to speak. But we should all remember that the intensity is within our own control. If we’re pushing ourselves very hard, we always have the option of backing off. The fact that we don’t back off means that we can take the physical punishment — it’s the mental element that is challenging us. We should also remember that track workouts are typically shorter in duration than other workouts. They, in fact, pretty much have to be shorter in order to do them at the intensity that we are seeking to achieve. That means that we can “get in and get out” fast, meaning the pain while possibly acute, doesn’t last that long.
Second, the fact that mentally were are on-edge or antsy before a workout is a good thing. It means that the mind is priming the body to perform. Just as we talk about before a big race, we want to be in a heightened state of awareness. We want to be on pins and needles so that when we need to hit the gas, the body knows we’re serious. Think of the opposite for a moment: if we were to show up at races sleepy, lethargic and with no drive, how would we get ourselves to push through the pain when the pain starts really mounting. Just like before a big test, a speech, a marriage proposal, the fact that our pulses are racing and we’re sweating a little is a good thing to keep us focused and to keep up the intensity.
Now here’s the thing. While these feelings of anxiety are a positive sign of preparation and readiness, real feelings of dread can be counter-productive. If we’re so distraught about an upcoming workout, we may not sleep well for example and this would get in the way of our recovery from other workouts. Also, real feelings of fear or despair can lead people down the path of skipping workouts or finding excuses not to do them — and this is of course not a good thing at all.
So runners need to find a balance in which we are psyched and ready to perform, but not so much so that we are living in fear of next Tuesday’s track workout. One of the ways we do this is to be aware of our feelings and keep ourselves focused on the results: tell yourself “if I do this workout, I will improve,” and that “although the pain and intensity are short-term, they will help me become a better runner in the long-term.”
Another runner once told me that he had quit doing track workouts because they made him “feel uncomfortable.” This is a common and understandable thought process. We may not actually like the way intense workouts feel. But the intensity is what makes the workout effective and drives the process of getting faster. For those that don’t like the feeling of discomfort, I would advise you to think about your goals. It is a very valid goal to run just for the fun of it and not want to go through the discomfort of harder training. But when making that choice, then keep your long-term goals in check with the reality of that choice. In other words, you can’t do only casual training and still want to qualify for Boston. Your training needs to support your goals and vice versa.
In the tone Yoda from Star Wars: “Be mindful of your feelings you must. Train hard, expect great results you can.”
Coach Joe English, Portland Oregon USA
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