Monday, March 31, 2014

How You Deal with Running More

Spring training is in full swing. I'm rounding out the end of my 3.4 miles/day week and entering my 3.7 miles/day week. Subsequently, I hate past me for committing to this. I also thank past me for committing to this. Basically, my past self and I are frenemies.

Running more has also given me a new running topic: how do we think about running more? I'm not talking about the planning required to run greater distances, since that's relatively easy if you're committed to running in the first place. Like me, I imagine everyone can easily plan a running schedule by creating a detailed Excel spreadsheet outlining dates and distance increases by day and week-

Okay, maybe everyone doesn't do this.
I'm talking about how you think about running more when you're actually, you know, running. For me, at least, it's a repeatedly intimidating experience. I start running, and I know that I'm not going to stop where I stopped yesterday. I'm entering a foreign country where I might not know the language. Where will I turn around? Will I have to cross a busy street? Will I have another hill to cope with? Will my body spontaneously combust with the increase in exertion?

All (some) valid worries. And they plague you as you run. Despite all my running victories so far, my mind is full of these complaints. The transformation happens to many runners on a daily basis. If you meet your goals one week, you feel great. Unstoppable. Batman-like. You end one week feeling like this:

But then you start a new week like this:

What was once easy now seems impossible because you've added a teeny-tiny bit more. My mind goes crazy when I start a run like this. How much more do I have to do? 4/10ths of a mile? Oh my god, that means I have to run 2/10ths farther BEFORE turning back, and then I have to run that 2/10ths AGAIN before finishing the ENTIRE run. This is going to add, about, let's see, 5 MINUTES to my run?! Inconceivable!

How will I have time to live the rest of my life with this kind of commitment? Suddenly, running becomes that driver that doesn't pay attention to the merge right signs and has to get over at the last minute. Everyone has to make room and slow down for that driver, and they all hate him or her a little bit.

That's how the other parts of my life react to a longer run. They hate it. The grass of last week's runs becomes much greener. Remember when I only had to run 3.1 miles? That was one of the best times of my life. It was like some impossible nirvana that I'll never experience again.

But like a lot of negative things in life, there's a silver lining.

When you run farther, that new run becomes the enemy. It becomes the focus of your negative attention. But when you've been increasing that distance every week or month, do you know what happens? Last week's run becomes that impossible nirvana. What was once an impossibly huge obstacle is now the safety net under this new, longer distance.

And that's how progress is made. That's part of why runners challenge themselves; running is like a shark, and if you don't move forward with it, it'll die. Improvement is both scary and vital, and the only way to make it less scary is to reliably challenge yourself.

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