Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Life File: Life Lessons from Running


Today I want to share some important lessons from my last Half. I'm giving you some background below in case you feel inclined (and have time) to read it; but if you want to skip it and just go the point then scroll down!

Besides the obvious health benefits I've been enjoying from years and years of running, there have been constant and numerous life lessons of consistently making the decision to pound the pavement or treadmill. If I start listing the reasons why I run and why you should pick up any physical activity then I'll end up steering away from what I want to share today, so, I'll save that for another post because I feel is important to address.

Months ago my good pal Aylin mentioned that she wanted to run the Scotiabank half-marathon, and having covered that distance multiple times before (a couple of races and a couple of training runs in preparation for full-marathons) I thought, why not? The last time I had run the distance was actually for the same race 3 or 4 years ago and I remember LOVING it. It's a great distance where, in my opinion, you get to cover a significant chunk of kilometres without feeling completely depleted. Plus, if you're consistent with your running, it doesn't take as much preparation and effort as training for a full-marathon does.

At the beginning I really didn't have any particular goals for the race, in fact, I had agreed to pace Aylin, so as long as I felt confident to run at a certain (and pleasant) pace, I was completely ok with my performance. After all, it wasn't going to be one of those races where you prove yourself but one to finish in a comfortable pace. At least that was the plan. That was the plan before my competitive nature and somewhat "subconscious" determination to pull through and push myself further whenever there's the opportunity got in the way.

After having to face some steep hills to get my daily runs in while visiting my friend in New Jersey back in August, I came back to Toronto with a faster easy pace and no desire to loose it. Shedding some seconds felt amazing and with a few weeks before the Half all I had to do was adjust my weekly 300-400m intervals to 800m. No biggie except that the treadmills in my condo were taken away for repairs leaving me for a plan B search to get my speed workouts in. Knowing that the Nike Running Club meets every Tuesday for speed runs I decided to join, and that basically "forced" me to step up my game. I have to say, one thing is to do intervals on your own on a treadmill and another thing is to follow a pro's workout plan on the track. To say that I stepped out of my running comfort zone is an understatement, and every week, even though I was eager to run and put myself under a rigorous speed run that I wouldn't have done on my own, I was terrified. Terrified of knowing that I would have to seriously push my limits, terrified of the mental game, terrified of forcing mind and body to pull through no matter what. Each week I'd read the workout prior attending and I would basically panic, but I'd show up and somehow accomplish the workout, and that gave me the mental strength to face my fear every single week.

A couple of speed runs with Nike and a few days before the race Aylin decides she's running 5km instead, and I, feeling strong and confident to finish the half faster than my previous one, gave myself a goal. If I was able to run 19km in 1:29:00 while training (with a few stops for hydration and fuel that is), and my last half (back in 2014 I think) time was 1:48:00 (at what I can remember a somewhat comfortable pace) I told myself I had to finish this one around the 1:40:00 mark.

The day of the race I felt nervous because I had to prove myself, I had to push hard, I had to reach a goal to not let myself down. Sometimes we can be so tough and competitive with ourselves right? Give me a long run by the lake and I'll 100% enjoy it from start to finish, give me the same distance under race conditions with a goal in mind and I freak out. The mental game is no joke and I'll tell you, I didn't enjoy pacing myself every kilometre, checking my garmin to make sure I was clocking in every km at the right time. At kilometre 17, as the 1:40:00 pace-bunny took me over I almost threw the towel. Not kidding. Seeing my goal (literally) run away from me was hard to face. I panicked. I started to look for excuses to stop. But I remembered what I was capable of doing, and finishing 21km was something I could certainly and definitely do. So I kept pounding the pavement, trying to keep the pace-bunny in sight. Having started too fast I felt I was running out of fuel and keeping up was hard. For me, the last few kilometres are usually (if not always) the hardest, and it took a lot of mental strength to pull through those last meters and finish in 1:41:19. The agony was over. Goal accomplished. New PB. Mind exhausted just as, if not more, than body. Many lessons spinning in my head. Running lessons, life lessons. Really good lessons to apply from now on and forever.

LIFE LESSONS FROM RACE TRAINING:

. While staying within your comfort zone provides consistency, if you don't step out of it you won't move forward and learn what you're capable of.

. No matter what you think and feel, there's always, ALWAYS, room for growth.

. You always have the choice. Even when you're faced with a situation where you think there's no real choice, the choice to accept it, reject it, face it, ignore it, is all yours. And how you choose to face that choice is what truly determines your character.

. You know what lies under our fears? Opportunity. Opportunity to grow, opportunity to become better, opportunity to reach our true potential. It's completely up to you to find the courage to face it to find out exactly what you're capable of.

. The simplest of all lessons, and perhaps super cliché: No pain, no gain. If you don't push beyond your limits and challenge yourself, you won't be able to reap some amazing benefits.

. Racing is as much as a mental effort as it is a physical one and when the mind starts playing games you need to know how you are going to fight back. Having a motivational mental strategy is key to wining the battle.

. Finding excuses is easy, but pulling through difficult times and moments of doubt requires mental strength and confidence.

. The only way to know what you're capable of is by not letting your limits define your capabilities as you won't be able to reach your potential if you're not willing to explore the possibilities of going beyond them.

. Facing your fears is not easy but if you keep track of your victories (big and small), you can use them as a reminder of what you're capable of and use them in moments of weakness to find motivation and strength.

Whether I was able to set a PB or not, this race definitely made me a stronger person and I now have lessons to carry on with me. That in itself, is a true accomplishment.

* Image taken while running with Nike by Tobias Wang for Nike Toronto

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