I have no idea how many times I’ve done a tempo run. Too many to count in the last four years or so. But there I was, Saturday night, having a slight panic attack about Sunday morning’s workout. My coach gave me a 10-mile run to do with four of those miles at a tempo pace. From my understandings of tempo pace, we’re talking something faster than easy pace but not quite race pace. Think “moderately hard.” Only the pace for those four miles seemed a bit fast for “moderately hard.” At least at the place I’m at these days.
Sunday morning I arrived at the municipal building to meet running buddy Sue. And I was scared. Scared? Of a run? Of a training run? Hadn’t I moved past this a long time ago? And what exactly was I scared of?
Sue chatted away during the first two miles of warmup. She knew I was nervous about my tempo run and the conversation turned toward that, she offered me her best running wisdom: We do the best we can. We give our best effort. The watch is just for our amusement. It’s our effort which counts.
And therein lies the basis of my fear. What if I give my best effort and it’s not good enough? What if I give everything I have and I still fall short? What if my best effort disappoints the people I care most about?
Indeed, there are times when I tried my hardest, when I worked and gave my best effort and thought good thoughts and still failed. Sometimes it was a race. Sometimes it was work. Sometimes it was a relationship. But maybe it wasn’t for lack of trying or talent or innate goodness. Maybe it wasn’t even failure. And maybe I don’t need all the ontological answers right now.
Back to my tempo run. Sue and I started the four mile segment together and I turned my thoughts to one simple thought: Just run. The first mile was primarily downhill and I was 15 seconds faster than I needed to be. Good solid start, I thought. Until the end of the first mile when I got the worst stitch in my right side. Hadn’t had one of these in a long time. I pressed on it, slowed up a bit, exhaled forcefully and kept going. It seemed to go away, and I started counting my breaths. My Garmin beeped for Mile 2 — and I was 25 seconds slower.
Cue the panic.
But wait. I was working hard. This was OK. My overall pace was still in the tempo range. I went to my key words: focus and fearless. I could get it back. And if I didn’t, I would sure as hell work hard to try. Forget playing small here, I thought to myself. You kick ass. The next mile was spot on my tempo pace. The side stitch returned for Mile 4, but I was close. So close. I knew I could push through it. At the glorious buzz of my Garmin that final mile was again spot on my tempo pace. The speedy downhill first mile offset the slower second mile and I completed the four miles on target.
As I trotted through the rest of my 10 miles, it occurred to me that what mattered wasn’t the number on the watch. It wasn’t the physical rally that mattered. It was the mental rally. By not getting sucked into the downward spiral after a slow Mile 2, I actually set myself up for success. By facing the fear, allowing myself to acknowledge that I was scared, I could move through it, rather quickly and with results that were pleasing, encouraging and joyful for me. Perhaps the goal is not to erase fear, but to learn how to use it to my best advantage.