The mental game: Surviving a track workout

The warmup jog over to the track left my shirt a bit damp. It was 60 degrees at 7 a.m. and the humidity was 89 percent. There are fine weather conditions for many things, but not conducive to track workouts. Not when  your previous month’s worth or track workouts consisted of avoiding slippery frost and wearing gloves. This workout of 600-meter repeats was going to be tough.

I got through the first two feeling OK. This was a challenge. The times my coach gave me for each 600 weren’t terribly fast (relative to me that is) but definitely difficult. And most certainly out of my comfort zone. Track workouts, at least for me, are designed to get me out of my comfort zone. It forces me to run faster in a controlled environment. It makes me stronger and faster in my tempo runs, my long runs and even my easy runs.

But this particular workout was mental. All mental. Oh yes, my body was feeling the physical effects of the humidity and the warmer temperatures. My quads were making their presence known. My core was on fire at certain points. The phrase “pushing back the puke factor” came to mind by repeat No. 4. But despite feeling physically uncomfortable, I was hitting my prescribed times. I was pushing my body out of its comfort zone, but into a range it completely could handle. My body had the wisdom, the knowledge to know, that I could run this workout just fine. It was my mind which needed the tune-up.

Here is what I noticed: Negative thoughts came, but the left my brain pretty quickly because I didn’t pay much attention to them. This is hard, today. Maybe I’m not in great shape. If I can just get five out of my seven in. But I didn’t engage with those thoughts. I didn’t follow them and get myself all caught up in a negative spiral. But neither did I judge myself for having those negative thoughts in the first place. There they were. OK then. Let’s move on. Because I have more thoughts. Positive ones. I’ve got this. Strong and steady. Forget about the time. Just work hard. Because part of me knew that showing up to the workout, doing the best I could, would be more beneficial than obsessing about my time or how hard it felt. And I let myself in on a little secret: It’s supposed to be hard. This is a hard day. As my friend Hitch says: Easy days easy. Hard days hard. And the hard days don’t have to be miserable. It’s not necessarily about suffering. It’s about getting out of that comfort zone. It’s about focusing. And more important than completing the workout as written was mentally staying focused and positive. It’s not as easy as flipping a switch to positive affirmations. No, the mental work can be as challenging and frustrating as the physical work. And finding what works for your mental groove takes time, just like finding your training groove.

Tune in tomorrow for some examples of mental training, tips and techniques.

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