Mental Trickery – My Accidental Learning

Over the last 14 months or so I’ve been returning from a long bout of injury, and working with a coach for the first time. One of the things that has helped me improve my speed (one of my big goals) while also not pushing my body into a dangerous zone, has been intervals. With most runs, I have recovery walk sections ranging from 30 seconds to 2 minutes depending on the workout. Caitlin has pushed me to run longer without a break, while respecting what my body can handle at this point.

For my long run this weekend, she had me running variations of long interval segments at easy pace, with one 20-minute interval with progressive paces every 5 minutes in the middle. When I first saw this workout, my reaction was not positive. I didn’t immediately put it into my Garmin, but instead slept on it. By yesterday morning, I knew it was going to be a tough workout, but decided to set up the middle section into four 5 minute intervals with pace goals to hit my progression targets. I figured this would help me know if I was progressing my pace the way I should.

Those hills though…

A few things happened on this run that I didn’t expect: my first long interval (15 minutes), went by fast. I took the crazy hills on the route better than I expected (including up the Woodland Street Bridge over the Cumberland River into downtown Nashville). The most interesting part, however, was that 20 minute section in the middle, my 5 minute repeats without breaks in between made it feel like I wasn’t running for 20 minutes straight. I even hit some crazy fast paces for that point in a workout, including a very fast (for me) final 5 minutes.

Once I finished the run, it hit me that I had accidentally tricked myself. Looking down at my watch and seeing 2 or 3 minutes remaining made it feel less daunting than seeing 18 minutes remaining. It made me focus on my pace (especially because that’s what is on top on the face when I have pace goals built into my workouts) rather than how long I’d been running. It helped me realize that I can do more than I think I can, although being cautious given my injury history is still important. This mental trick is one I will use again and again, because it worked. It did what I needed it to do, and left me feeling proud of my run when I finished.

Do you have any mental tricks you use while running?

View of downtown Nashville from the top of the Woodland Street Bridge on a cloudy, high water day.

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