Playing at the edges: The return of run intervals

There are times when I wish my weekly phone call with my triathlon coach was video in nature. Because too often my blank “are you kidding me?” stares go unappreciated.

In our Monday call, coach asked me if I’ve done intervals on the treadmill before.

Blank. Stare.

Does he not remember all the pain and suffering he has heaped on me? All the whining and wringing of hands I’ve done over intervals, particularly on the treadmill?

But I calmly answer, “Um. Yes.” And we carry on.

March entered like lion in terms of my training with my first interval run workout in around two months. I did what anyone in my situation would do — call for reinforcements and begged my friend Sue to join me for the session. This was purposeful. Not only would Sue help me search for positives, she has a coaching background of her own and could help me get my head around the interval work again.

I much prefer speed workouts on the track. There, I am in control. On the treadmill, I am at the mercy of the numbers game. It messes with my head. But perhaps that means I need these kinds of workouts, to hone my mental game.

Let me walk you through a track workout on the treadmill:

  • A warmup of 1.5 to 2 miles (depending upon how quickly I just want to get the workout over with).
  • Interval set. Turn up the speed on the treadmill to the appropriate setting and run that pace for the designated time period.
  • Rest interval of walking (or straddling the treadmill).
  • Repeat
  • A cool down of 1.5 to 2 miles (usually only 1.5 because I’m tired, sore and hungry).

My return to the treadmill intervals came with a slight trepidation. And so I talked with Sue during the warmup and decided to ease into my interval pace. I started about five clicks lower than where I wanted to end up and increased until I was running my designated pace. Not exactly how the workout was written but it did accomplish some very important things:

  • I ran harder and faster than I have in the two weeks since I’ve returned to running.
  • The feel of the interval workout returned.
  • I left with a feeling of accomplishment and success. I felt good about the run.
  • I pushed the limits of my comfort zone.

After pushing the boundaries of my comfort zone, I found that my maintenance speed, my “easy pace,” was a bit faster. Speeds at which I had struggled with last week felt easy and enjoyable during this run.

No, I may not have held my upper limit speed as long as I would have liked. But I did push the boundary a bit and discovered a new value.  As I play at the edges of my comfort zone, what I find comfortable expands. Playing at the edge opens up new possibilities in the middle.

What is now possible, what feels easier and natural, now that I’ve dabbled on the edge of my comfort zone? What new levels of confidence have I created by playing at the edges and then returning to my center?

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