As I passed by the high school coach addressing her team, I could hear the conviction in her voice. She wasn’t yelling at her high school team during this early morning practice. (Really? High school teams practice at 6 a.m.? Who knew?) However, she was direct in the observation she gave the girls: “I can tell by your body language when you’re not challenging yourself,” she said. “I can tell by the way you hold yourselves that you’re not challenging yourself.”
Her voice trailed off as I continued down the track, but I heard the phrase “challenging yourself” at least three more times. The high school team was practicing on the field while I circled them, running my 2,000-meter repeats on the track. And while the coach was imploring her collection of teenage soccer players to work hard, she got my butt moving a bit, too. I had entered that interval, my fourth and final 2,000 of the morning, content to jog it out. I had run the first three well. This last one? Heck, as long as I’m close to my range, that’s OK by me. But when I heard this woman put down a challenge, well, I accepted. Even if it wasn’t meant for me. Hey, why don’t I challenge myself on this final interval?
This was the workout I had dreaded all week. While the long runs are painful and the recovery runs feel like slog fests, this particular track workout seemed daunting. After about a two-mile warmup I was to run 4 sets of 2,000 meters on the track. After some math calculations I realized that 2,000 meters equals five laps of the track. Zoinks! I had a generous rest period between each interval and the pace was hardly blistering. Still, 2,000-meter repeats? The longest I had done previously was 1,600 meters (four laps of the track) and that scared the crap out of me. This workout here? I was totally intimidated.
On Interval No. 1 I concentrated on running steady and controlled. I didn’t want to give out everything in the first one. With the help of Best Running Pal Sue, I paced my way through that first one, hitting smack in the middle of the time range my own coach had given me. Interval No. 2 was a bit more aggressive, thanks to Sue who started to take some of her life frustrations out on the track. I survived, but I didn’t think I would be able to continue running that fast. Yeah. I was wrong. On Interval No. 3 I ran each lap at exactly the same pace and nailed a great time. I was extraordinarily proud of this interval, causing me to not care so much about Interval No. 4. I would be on my own for this one (this is what happens when you set your alarm for “P.M.” instead of “A.M.” and your running pal has to get to work) I started off content to just finish. Then I heard the high school coach’s speech about challenging yourself. The final two laps I kicked it into gear and picked it up even more on the final lap. The result? My fastest interval of the day.
I often don’t challenge myself because I think it will hurt. Or be hard. Or that I’ll fail. Or get hurt. Or be disappointed. Or get laughed at. Let me tell you, those 2,000 meter repeats were hard. At the end, they hurt. And I was afraid of not making my times, of falling short of my own expectations, of disappointing others who are on this marathon training journey with me. But the real danger is not in the perceived “hurts” that could come from challenging myself at the track. The real danger is trying to protect myself from ever getting hurt in the first place.