photo by Steve Penland

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

I Have Met the Enemy--and It Is ME

Or at least, it is my brain.

My brother-in-law likes to say "if you don't use your brain, your whole body suffers."  I've always thought this was mildly funny, and definitely true...but perhaps I've taken it too much to heart.

Back when TieGuy was coaching me, he often said "your main problem is between your ears."  Or sometimes he'd just look at me and tap his head.  What he meant was, your brain is getting in the way of what your body can do; your mental toughness is giving out before you're at your physical limit.  And I believed TieGuy, I just didn't (often) seem to be able to do much about it.  I had ample evidence of my "brain failure," especially in 3K races where my last lap would be a second or more faster than my next-to-last lap. Two laps to go?  My brain says "I can't."  One lap to go?  Brain says "oh, yeah, no problem...I can do that for one more lap."  When I only have one more lap to go I discover that I can, indeed, go faster.

In my brother-in-law's terms, I use my brain too much and my body doesn't suffer enough.

I re-discovered this fact a couple weeks ago, when my first 3K of the season featured a fourth and fifth lap that were way slower than the sixth and seventh laps.  So last week I decided to work on my "mental toughness" by finishing my multiple 3K endurance workout by turning the fifth and final 3K into "as many laps as I can do before my back gives up."  Turns out I could do 9 laps, one-and-a-half more than the 3K I set out to do.  So yesterday I decided to try this tactic in my 2x5K endurance workout.

As it turned out, I probably could have picked better weather conditions for a 2x5K (if I had a say in the weather, which of course I don't).  It was warm, windy, and snowing/raining, which led to extremely slow ice.  But still, it was endurance night, so 2x5K it was!   I picked what I thought would be a reasonable lap time for the ultra-slow ice--50 seconds--and decided that, rather than do 12.5 laps (a 5K), I'd just keep going until I couldn't keep my laps under 50 any more.  Usually I count down the laps in an endurance workout and feel like I'm just trying to hang on until the final lap.  By continuing on until I actually couldn't make the lap times any more, I hoped to prove to myself that I had a lot more "in the tank" than I thought.

Which, it turned out, was correct.  I didn't do 12.5 laps at the sub-50 pace.

I did 18.

And then, after a rest break, I did another 14.

So I think I'll be doing quite a bit more work on the "mental toughness" thing.  Because if I can do 18 laps at a pace I thought would be decent for 12.5...maybe I can do 12.5 laps at a faster pace than I think. And, since I haven't improved my 3K or 5K Personal Bests in almost 2 years, a faster 12.5 laps, or a faster 7.5 laps, sounds pretty good right now,

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