This morning, in honor of it being National Running Day, Orangetheory had a special workout for us: an uncoached 23 minute run for distance. I love when we do these runs for distance, because it’s always a huge mental challenge. In a regular race, you get to stop when you’re done, which is great motivation to get done faster (like how I ran the end of my hike Saturday so I could get home to my couch sooner). But when you’re doing a timed run, the faster you run, the further you go – so I think it’s an extra challenge to push yourself.
I started a thread on the Orangetheory Reddit last night about strategy for the run, in case it was uncoached (which it indeed turned out to be). I referred back to some previous blog posts I had written about runs for distance (May, July, and November), and came up with what I thought would be a decent strategy. But then when I woke up this morning, a post from one of my favorite Reddit users got me thinking maybe I should adjust it… and so I went into class not really sure what I would do.
Our warmup was cut a little short today, which wasn’t great; I wanted more time to get in the groove. But when the clock started, I decided to start by following the formula from the coached 22.5 minute run for distance we did last May. That meant starting with a 3 minute push. I clocked the first minute at 10.5, then the second minute dropped down to 10.2, and the third minute up to 10.5, then headed back down to 9.5 for a 90 second base. That 9.5 felt like total blissful recovery, and I thought – I got this!
For the next interval, I needed to do 2.5 minutes of push, again with a 90 second base. Here it started getting a little tougher. I again did a full minute at 10.5, then a minute at 10.2, and then went back up to 10.5 for the last 30 seconds of push before going to base at 9.5. This took me well across the one mile mark (6:05), but as the clock ticked past 8.5 minutes for the first two sets done, I knew I still had a solid 15 minutes left to go – nowhere close to the end. This is where it started getting tough.
I eked out the 2 minute interval using the same strategy (10.5 the first minute, 10.2 the second), but with more than 10 minutes done, I lazily decided that I wanted to take just a quick walk break rather than go down to base like I had planned. I let 20 seconds go by walking, then forced myself to kick it back up to 9.5 for the rest of the 90 second recovery. Unfortunately, that little respite was all it took for my head to not be in the mental game anymore… and the wheels kind of fell off from there.
I was a little over halfway through the challenge, and closing in on 2 miles (which I hit around 12:20). But I just didn’t feel like I could sustain the same intervals, so I decided to take my push down from 10.5 to 10.2 and try alternating between 10.1 and 10.2 every minute (which was the original strategy I was thinking of). I got through three minutes of that before deciding to just take one more teensy weensy 20 second walk break. WHY, LAURA, WHY?! In hindsight, I wish I had just tried going down to my base rather than thinking I needed to go as slow as a walk to recover. I bet I would have caught my breath much more than I expected by still sticking with 9.5.
I did, though, at least have the presence of mind to keep my walk break to only 20 seconds again. That was more than enough time for me to feel recovered and fresh, and after popping back up to 9.5 for the rest of the one minute, I got back in the game. 16 minutes done, 7 minutes to go… but ugh, that meant more than a mile left. This is why running for time rather than distance is so hard: going faster doesn’t help it end sooner! The idea of one entire more mile sounded awful to me, and I really didn’t have the motivation to keep going.
I spent the next few minutes bouncing back and forth between 10 and 10.1, and got a little cheered up as I approached the 19 minute mark and saw that I was coming close to 5K. I watched the screen closely to see the time when I crossed 3.10 miles, and it was 19:15 – a super solid 5K time, I thought! But that shows you how poor my mindset was – while I was running this morning, I just thought it was a pretty good time; it was only later that I realized 19:15 is actually the fastest I’ve ever run a 5K on the treadmill, and significantly beat my 19:57 5K when I did the 22.5 minute distance challenge in November (and cheered out loud as I crossed 5K). If only I had been thinking more positively, that might have been the inspiration I needed to finish strong.
Unfortunately, as I neared 20 minutes, I decided I was going to take just one more walk break before going into the final push. (I know, three minutes left – what was I thinking?!) Again, I think the biggest mistake I made today wasn’t my pacing, but that I allowed myself to take even one walk break, since it then opened the door for me to consider taking more, rather than just having a “no walk breaks” policy. The all-or-nothing mindset really broke me today!
After the walk break, though, there was no more wussing out – only 3 minutes to go. I started at 10.0, and told myself I’d bump the pace up 0.2 every 30 seconds. This part kind of sucked, but the end was finally in sight! When we got down to our absolute last 30 seconds, I pushed it up to 11.0 – and then was careful to hit the stop key exactly when I got to 23:00.
My final distance? 3.69. That just hit my stated goal (to beat the 3.67 I had run in the 24 minute distance challenge last July, which was a minute longer) – but I had been hoping to run further. More importantly, I was upset with my effort and how I knew deep down I had given up rather than persevering.
I posted a (much shorter version) of my thoughts on the Orangetheory Reddit today, and was surprised by the response – someone putting me down for humblebragging. That really hurt. When I really reflected, I hadn’t been trying to humblebrag – I genuinely was mad at myself for not giving it my all, and that feeling stuck with me a lot more than the victories I had achieved (a fast 5K and an overall great distance). Maybe I hadn’t phrased it well, but I genuinely didn’t believe I had put anyone else down. If anything, I was hoping to commiserate with someone else who also had failed to meet their goals, and get some sympathy.
I felt better that a few people stuck up for me, including one user who I had been messaging back and forth with the night before about our strategies for today’s run. My new Reddit buddy managed to knock out 3.799 miles, even with an injured calf, which was incredible! She’s clearly in better shape than me, and I’m excited to cheer her on to a sure 4 miles the next time we do this challenge. But in the main thread, I felt a little better that she said she’s been called a liar for posting fast times, and has stopped posting her times as a result – it made me feel like it wasn’t so much a personal attack.
One of my absolute favorite things about the running community is how we all go after our own goals. We cheer on each other’s successes, and we mourn each other’s losses. When a friend gets upset that they didn’t run the sub-3 marathon they trained for, I don’t tell them that they should be happy with 3:01; similarly, if I were to run a 3:40 marathon, I would hope that my fast friends would be super excited about my giant 8-minute PR, rather than dismissing it because they can run 40 minutes faster. Up until now, I’ve always found that to be the case with running goals – that we all have our own and we appreciate everyone else’s (whether they resonate with us or not). That’s part of why I think the sport is so fun.
In what other sport can you literally toe the same line as the pros, even when you’re going to be finishing ridiculously far behind them, and chat with them as you wait to start your own race? I loved getting to do just that with Neely Spence Gracey at my neighborhood turkey trot the last two years. And when I told Deena Kastor that I wanted to run a sub-22 minute 5K, she took me completely seriously, even though she can probably run 5 miles in that time. In running, everyone is going for their own best effort, no matter what the result of that effort is.
Last week, I ran the Bolder Boulder for the fourth time (race report coming!). When I ran Bolder Boulder last year, I came in 16th place in my age group – just out of contention for an age group award, which they do 15-deep. This year, I hoped to do well enough to get one of those age group awards, and I managed to run a full 94 seconds faster on the course. While last year that would have gotten me 9th place, this year, enough faster women showed up that I ended up in 20th place – even though I had improved my time significantly. You can’t control who else shows up on race day; you can only do your best. And except at the elitest of elite levels, running isn’t about what place you come in or how you compare to others; it’s about comparing your time against yourself, and trying to give it your best effort.
Today, I succeeded by the numbers… and I am proud of that. (5K in 19:15 – HELL YEAH!) But I’m not proud that I gave up in the middle of the challenge and took walk breaks I didn’t need. Today showed me that my mental game clearly needs some work. It’s easy to run when running is easy and fun, but I want to get better at running when the course isn’t easy, or when I’m not in the mood (like today). And that’s the whole reason we run, isn’t it? To keep working on ourselves so we gradually improve, building a growth mindset that we can then apply to everything in life.
No matter how hard I train, there’s always going to be someone faster than me, and it’s just luck whether they show up to the same race. Maybe I’ll get lucky and be able to win a few races / age group awards here and there, and I’ll admit that’s a ton of fun when it happens. But regardless of who else shows up, I can always improve on my own best efforts, and also improve my mental toughness in not giving up just because I’m tired.
As I get older, I know my times are going to stop getting faster and start getting slower – and then the only way I’ll be able to evaluate my running is by looking at effort. Did I keep pushing even when I was tired, or did I only run fast when it was easy for me? Although we try with age group awards and Orangetheory Splat Points, there’s no real way to measure who worked the hardest in a race / challenge – and that means we can’t judge anyone but ourselves. For everyone else, we just cheer their efforts on.
Happy National Running Day!