Facing Fear and Four Minute Mile

“If you do face that fear, it’ll change your life.”

I ran a 4 minute mile.

Haaaaa. TOTALLY kidding. But seriously, I watched a movie on Netflix called “Four Minute Mile”…close enough, right? I also did a speedy workout yesterday afternoon before watching the movie, so it was all very fitting. The movie is worth mentioning. I’ll get to that.

On Tuesday, I spent my day (besides working, of course!) fueling and mentally preparing for my track workout. It wasn’t the workout I’d expected since I wound up on the treadmill, but it ended up being a good one anyway. It also wasn’t the only workout on my mind. As soon as my track workout was over, I had to start hydrating, fueling, and mentally preparing for Wednesday. The workout my coach planned was a six miler. No problem, right? Wrong. It was no easy peasy recovery run like I’m used to on the day following a hard workout. He wanted me to do a 1/2 mile “fast” (a 6:15 pace), followed by one mile “strong”, (a 6:45-7 minute pace) and repeat for the duration of the run. Um. When did he decide that 6:45 was my “strong” pace – like it would be some kind of a recovery or something? Last time I checked (which was just the day before), I had to work pretty freaking hard to run anything sub seven. I did the math in my head. He was basically asking me to run a 10K PR…the day after a decently tough track workout. The 6:45 intervals from the day before suddenly made sense. They were challenging, and they tired out my legs – but they were not meant to completely trash my legs. Not completely, because something had to be left for the leg buster he had planned for me the following day.

Every time I thought about running throughout the day, I had this knot in my stomach. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to run, but I was scared. What if I couldn’t even touch a sub-8 minute mile? How am I going to hit race paces on a day like today? What have I gotten myself into? My legs weren’t exactly sore, but they were heavy and tired. And I was actually kind of angry, too. It honestly sounded like a super fun challenge – on FRESH legs, which I didn’t have. Not to mention I was just plain scared because I’ve always followed the hard/easy rule. Everything about what my coach is doing with me right now is new, and it scares the crap out of me. We are increasing intensity at the beginning of the training cycle to increase my top end speed. The hope is that as we begin the heavy base building, my “easy” pace is faster than when we started. I think it’s working…I hope it’s working….

As the day wore on, I was pretty uneasy about the whole thing. I even texted him to ask if he was really, really, REALLY sure this workout was a good idea.  I mean, 6:15 is my 5K PR pace. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen that on my watch when I’m not racing or on the track. Definitely not on a regular, everyday run. Not to mention that 6:45-7 is certainly not a pace that I consider a picnic to recover from a 6:15-paced interval. I typically walk/jog my recoveries when I’m hitting paces like that. In the back of my mind, I knew he had me scheduled for a swim on Thursday, and an easy 6 mile run on Friday. I was already thinking, “Maybe I’ll just do the easy run today, the hard run tomorrow, and the swim on Friday” as I drove to the trail. Problem is, he also prefers me to do the workouts in the exact order he gives them to me. Life happens, and adjustments sometimes have to be made – but there was no reason other than my head telling me “I can’t” to not try the workout.

I chose a local trail near the school where I teach as my playground for the day. I find that if I need to run fast, it usually comes a little easier on this trail…and I was going to need all of the help I could get. It’s a cinder path, and the flattest place I know of other than a track. Since I was beginning to accept the fact that I actually was going to have to attempt this, I started thinking of ways I could make it seem easier. It was basically four, 1 1/2 mile intervals. I just had to make it through that 1/2 mile and then I could “recover”. I refused to let myself think about the pace at which I was supposed to hold for the recovery – I just kept telling myself to make it through a half mile and it would get “easier”. Mind over matter. If I told myself a 6:45-7 minute mile would be “easy”, maybe I could trick myself into getting through this workout relatively unscathed.

I didn’t warm up much, just a quick walk around the little park to get my legs moving. I should have done a 5-10 minute jog, because my first half mile was rough and I didn’t hit that 6:15 pace…instead, it was a 6:28. I started to feel defeated and thought about just letting myself do the easy six miler instead. But then something happened. My “recovery” mile was a 6:42 and it didn’t feel awful. I mean, it wasn’t like “wow, this is the most comfortable thing ever“, but it wasn’t as bad as I’d anticipated. It was enough to transform my “fail” mentality to “ohhh, it’s ON!” I was able to negative split the remaining 1/2 mile intervals with 6:15, 6:13, 6:11 pace, with the “recoveries” all in the 6:45 range.

During the last mile and a half interval I could see an orange shirt running up ahead. Our school colors are orange and black and the person was moving pretty quickly, so I knew it had to be one of the boys from the cross country team. It kept me hanging on for the last mile as I tried to catch whoever it was. Ended up being a speedy kid that I had in class last year. He had to be cruising at a 6-6:15 pace…and it’s their off season. So impressive!

I feel like this was a key workout and a turning point for me. It broke through a lot of mental barriers, which is something I’ve been struggling with lately. After the run, I spoke to my coach. I mentioned how I was scared because I thought the 1/2 miles seemed doable, but I thought the “strong” pace following it made it seem like an impossible feat. He questioned why I thought that. For me, anytime I see a pace that starts with a “6” on my watch, I think it’s just a fluke. Like I could do it once, but fat chance I could repeat that performance. Especially in a training run. He started to talk to me about having confidence that I am actually there – that these ARE my paces now. I needed to hear that, and I needed that confidence booster. I’m still working on getting myself to believe that, but it was nice to hear.

I also asked what the intention was of this run – was it to see how hard I could push on tired legs? I explained that it made me uncomfortable to do two hard days in a row. He told me he knew that when he wrote the plan, and part of what he is doing right now is intentionally trying to make me uncomfortable. Like I’ve said before, distance running is all about embracing certain levels of discomfort. It’s about being okay with the unknown…you know, and all of that good positive motivating stuff. At any rate, I felt pretty excited with my run and he was excited for me.

4minmileThe best part was that I went home, did my MYRTLs, stretched, cooked dinner and finally hit the couch to wind down. I was checking out Netflix, and a movie called Four Minute Mile caught my eye. It’s decent. Not too much of a climax, but a inspirational movie about running so it’s worth checking out if you are in the mood for something mindless. It’s about a naturally fast high school track runner with a bad temper. He decides he wants to run a sub-4 minute mile, so he starts working with a retired coach. The movie highlights his struggles, but also has some truly motivating moments and quotes. The theme was mostly about overcoming mental barriers through running. It was just a strange coincidence that I stumbled upon it last night, because I was fighting quite the mental battle all day. I didn’t think I could physically do what I set out to do. As long as I was telling myself that, I really couldn’t do it. I could not hit my first 1/2 mile interval. As soon as I told myself I could, I did it. I realize not all workouts and races will have that same happy ending, but it was just funny how that theme was so present in my day yesterday. Check it out, and let me know what you think!

Have you ever started a workout that you just didn’t think you could complete? What was the result? What mental barriers do you face when running? How do you overcome them? 

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8 Replies to “Facing Fear and Four Minute Mile”

  1. Great job Allison and way to mentally strong!! I do have those mentally scary workouts but most of my mental battles are during actual races and my breakthrough with that came at my last race I tend to focus on other racers who pass me and it gets into my head then instead of fighting I let my legs slow down considering the race is a lost cause. This season I have really focused on running my race and being aware but at the same time blocking out my surroundings a trusting my training.

    1. I sometimes do that too – I start getting passed and then think the race is over. Other times, it lights a fire and makes me run faster because I refuse to let that other person pass me. Lately, unfortunately, I have been getting stuck doing the first option. I am hoping workouts like yesterday will break me of that! And you totally need to watch that movie!!! It was really cool!

  2. Ahhhh you totally got me with that first sentence. I was like “HOLY CRAP!” Haha, Seriously though, I’m so glad I found your blog. This post is great and I”m so glad you were able to overcome the mental toughness of the workout. Running is such a mental sport anyway and I’ve definitely had my times when everything has worked out and other days where I psyched myself out a little too hard.

    I hope one day that 6’s will be my go-to pace. 🙂

  3. It’s funny how so much of running is conquering the mental aspect. I know that when I have a hard (i.e. faster than comfortable pace) run scheduled I get nervous and feel sick to my stomach. What if I can’t hit those paces? The world will end! Well obviously not….You did such a great job! And I like your coach – this is your new normal. Own it!

    1. Thank you so much! I’m really enjoying working with him. Every time I have a hard run scheduled I’m nervous – I totally know what you mean! And like you said – what REALLY is going to happen if you don’t hit a certain pace??? I need to keep that in perspective!

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