Winter tempo run: Getting out of my own way

I didn’t want to go on the treadmill. I just didn’t Wind and intervals had me on the treadmill twice already this week, so instead I showed up at the meeting place on Saturday morning, preparing to run 10 miles including five of it at a tempo pace. It was cold. Butt cold. The air temperature was all of 19 degrees. And what about the footing? A few inches of snow came on Friday and another coating overnight. The streets were well-plowed for vehicle traffic but sidewalks were spotty and parts of the road were slick and slushy.

I tried to keep my whining to a minimum and soon Sue, Nicole and I were off for the 2.5 mile warmup run. Quickly I learned what a pleasant morning it was. Yes it was cold, but there was no wind. The stillness turned the cold into a crisp feeling. I had the right layers on for me and felt comfortable. It was a downright pleasant morning to run. The footing wasn’t great but neither was it horrendous. As the three of us jogged the warmup route I wished I had a long run instead of tempo pace. This I could do all day. We returned to the municipal building for a water stop before the next segment. Nicole and Sue weren’t doing a tempo pace. Only I was. They were going to run the same looping course I was, so there was company (and help) nearby at all times, but I would be striking out this tempo pace on my own. I stood on the stairs and made a proclamation: I may not run as fast as my coach wants me to. It’s cold. The footing is iffy. I’m tired.

And then I stopped myself. Right there and then.

No, I said emphatically, throwing my hands out to the side for added emphasis. I will not start out this way. It’s not so much that I was offering excuses or explanations. My coach has drilled into my head over and over that the workouts he gives me assumes ideal conditions. And many times (if not most) I’m operating under less than ideal conditions. What matters is how I respond to those. I shunned thinking about pace. I forgot about fast and slow. I turned my focus onto one thing: steady, consistent running. I would run harder than my easy pace but a few notches below any type of race pace. Whatever the watch said would be fine.

Off I went. My focus turned inward. I was very much in the present moment, watching my footing, thinking about my breathing, counting my breaths. I felt the cool air on my face. I may have even smiled at the sun and beautiful winter morning. I thought only of what was in front of me at the moment. I was running in kilometers (that’s what happens when your coach is Canadian) and focused on each K. For two weeks I had been practicing meditation for 15 minutes each day and right now, I was seeing tangible benefits from it. Because external things didn’t matter — where Nicole and Sue were, what the time on my watch said, how this compared with what other people were doing. All that mattered was the work I was doing in that moment. And it turns out I was doing some pretty darn good work. I felt strong. So strong in fact, I picked it up in the final 2K.

I finished off my tempo run averaging 10 seconds faster than planned. I smiled. Because I was pretty sure going in I would be 10 seconds slower than planned. In the end, it didn’t really matter what I ran. I felt pretty strong, though truth be told those last speedy 2K kind made me want to throw up, just a little bit. I was solid. I was secure. I was focused. Most importantly, I got out of my own way. I stopped thinking about reasons why I might not hit my time. In fact, I stopped thinking all together. Instead, I just was a runner, out working hard to see how much I could stretch myself on this particular day.

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