There are a lot of things in life in which we strive to get into our “comfort zone”. Training to improve our performance as runners requires us to train in a different place: our discomfort zone. Let me spend a few minutes today telling you why.In my post a few days ago, I wrote about training to qualify for the Boston Marathon. In that post, I essentially said that what’s required is to push harder, spend more time running faster, and increase the intensity of your workouts. What all of these things have in common is that they place the body under stress during workouts. It’s the response to that stress that makes you faster. The other thing that these things have in common is that they fall outside of what we’d consider “easy” running. Intense workouts take us to the a place of discomfort. They push us physically, but they also push us mentally.
Discomfort doesn’t necessarily mean pain. Discomfort, as Webster’s Dictionary defines it means “to make uncomfortable or uneasy.” I think this a really appropriate way to define how hard interval, tempo runs and pace runs should make us feel. When we’re pushing out of the “easy” zone, we start to feel uncomfortable. The effort starts to feel hard. It’s in this hard place that we get better. But a lot of runners don’t like that hard place. The hard place feels yucky.
Finding strategies that make us feel more comfortable with the discomfort will take us a few steps toward making these kinds of workouts more manageable. Let me give you a few ideas on how to get control of the discomfort zone:
– Start Small — instead of jumping in with mega track workouts, start with just a few intervals at the end of a workout. Doing just one or two quarter-mile repeats at the end of your run will give you a taste of what it feels like — and what it doesn’t feel like. You’ll find that these workouts won’t kill you. Work up slowly until the intervals become the main set with the rest of the run becoming just the warm-up and warm-down. As you go through this ramp up, you’ll get more comfortable with your ability to handle the workouts.
– Do It More Often — doing one track workout every two weeks will keep you in the space of dread. You’ll start having to argue with yourself to “drag yourself to the track” for those terrible workouts. This is all something happening in your mind and getting yourself to the track more frequently gets you more accustomed to the process. Once you’re doing more intense workouts a couple of times a week it will start to be more familiar.
– Join a Group — Find yourself a running buddy or a group. Track workouts are great workouts to do together. Since you’re running in circles, it’s fine to be running different paces. All you need to do is start at the same time. You can talk during rest breaks, warm ups and warm downs. Having friends to go through the process helps get past much of the discomfort and you also give one another moral support along the way.
– Race Frequently — Racing is one of the best ways to push yourself hard. The excitement of race day helps us push harder than we might in a normal workout. Racing more frequently gets us used to the feelings of discomfort when we’re really push hard. Those last few minutes of a 5K go a long way to helping us learn that we will survive, even if it feels like our heads are going to blow off in the moment.
Some runners may just dislike the feelings of discomfort that go along with pushing hard. But if try out some of these tips, you may just feel that those hard to swallow pills go down a little easier. And you’ll become a better runner in the process.
Coach Joe English, Portland Oregon, USA
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