Giving our best effort

Every week, I get on Skype with my coach and we chat about my workouts and general goings on in the world of running and endurance sports. As we went over this week’s workouts he gave me instructions for a mid-week brick. The hour on the bike should be a good, solid effort he said. Then off the bike, I was to run.

“Do one mile easy to warm up,” he said. “Then two to three miles of hard effort. I’m not interested in your time. I’m interested in your effort.”

The morning was cool and clear with low humidity. Score right? Only the wind was gusting to 20 miles per hour. Still, I pushed a hard gear in my bike, harder than I would in a race because this wasn’t a race. This was training. And my goal was to work hard. My core was getting sore near the end of the hour from holding my body upright on the bike. I thought about my form and my cadence. And I was worried what my somewhat trashed legs would do on the run.

But I remembered the words of my coach. I remembered the purpose of this workout, my intention at the outset, which was to give a hard effort. Whatever that worked out to on my watch, so be it.

Now, if you have never done a brick workout, never gone for a run immediately after biking, let me give you a frame of reference for what your legs feel like. It’s an odd combination of cement and jello. Your legs are heavy and awkward and you don’t feel as if you have complete control over them. My Garmin set only to distance, I set out for my easy first mile, hoping my lower body would start to feel normal before I had to kick it up a notch in Mile 2. My Garmin buzzed and I checked my pace. Um, wow. That’s a good easy pace for me. Off to my two hard miles.

I didn’t think about running fast. I thought about my effort. Give a good effort. Work hard. Push here just a little. Keep it strong. And with those thoughts going through my head a funny thing happened. I ran fast. Without even trying.

This does not happen every time I run. The next day was a 7-mile easy run and while I felt good, my average pace was much slower. But that’s OK. Because I thought about my effort. And my intended effort for the 7-mile run was steady and easy. Easy days easy. The triumph in this run? My paces were even with the exception of my first mile (typically my slower mile) and my last mile (often where I’m so excited to finish I go bit fast). Overall, my pace was in my “easy” zone. And that was huge. Because  it’s not always easy to honor easy days. Sometimes, it can feel like cheating, or sloughing off, or regressing. But it’s not.

What does it mean to bring my best effort? Some days it means pushing outside my comfort zone. Other days it means ignoring my inner critic and embracing recovery. Mostly it’s about trusting myself. If I show up as my best self, regardless of what the day brings, the results will take care of themselves.

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