Whether it's running a certain pace/distance or how much money you are willing to spend on clothes/groceries/a house/and or car...everyone has limits in their life. And for the most part, limits are good. They keep you on budget, from drinking too much on a Friday night, or from eating a gallon of ice cream. However, at the same time, limiting yourself can also hold you back from accomplishing your goals and taking the necessary risks to get better in different aspects of your life. Setting financial or caloric limits usually involve taking the time to calculate a specific number that has some meaning to our lives and our future. In comparison, when we tell ourselves I am only capable of doing/running XYZ, the number is often times some arbitrary limit we have picked out for ourselves that feels good enough. Hard enough. Not too outside our comfort zone. But, are these predefined limits really helping us make any progress toward our goals? And how much more progress could we be making if we threw these limits out the widow?
Let us go back to Friday's run, and talk about just how good it can feel to go beyond these predefined limits. The one thing I love about running on the treadmill is that there really is no excuse for not steadily increasing the speed at specific intervals and hitting negative splits on the majority of your runs. Except there is an excuse. You see, running at XMPH does not eve phase me mentally or physcially when it comes to running on the treadmill. Like, my brain could care less what the speed says, as long as I am upping it consistently every half mile or mile. What does freak me the fuck out is that little number running across the treadmill screen that tells you what pace per mile you are running at any given speed every time you up the speed. It terrifies me to only be 2 miles into a freaking 6 mile run and already by at 9:00 min/mile pace.
You see, I've never been a big fan of knowing just how fast I'm running at any given time. When I'm running outside and having the time of my life, I run based off of feel. If I feel good my body and mind just sorta automatically sync up to push me to run faster without me even being consciously aware of it. I have so much more fun running this way, and I have the choice of whether or not to look at my Garmin watch when it alerts me that I am either ahead of or behind my pre-programmed running pace (aka my predefined limit). And, since Friday was going to be my first 6 mile run in 5 days...I was more than ready to limit myself to running 9:15 to 9:30 pace or even slower because like everyone has their limits...right?!
When I hit the 3 mile mark and saw that the second half of my 6 mile run would be completed at a pace of 8:34 min/mile and faster...that terror turned to sheer disbelief. I am not an 8 minute miler...no No NO!! On a good day, like a day when all the right conditions come together and I am not stuck running on the treadmill...I am a 9 minute miler at best. And for me to be able to run sub 9 minute miles at any point during a long run (aka any run over 3 miles) it sure as Hell isn't going to be for 3 flipping miles in a row. No way. That is way over and beyond my abilities and the predefined limits I have set for myself when it comes to running. And who know my body and my running capabilities better than myself...
As I cruised onto miles 4 and 5 while upping the speed every 1/2 mile...I couldn't help but find myself wondering why running at this fast of a pace wasn't getting hard the longer I ran. I mean, it was no walk in the park, let me assure you. But, it didn't feel impossible or like I was going to be thrown off the treadmill at any point. It felt comfortably hard...if that makes any sense to you non running folk. It was hard enough that I found myself questioning how in the world I could maintain it for so long at the very same time that I was doing it with ease. I had two major realization on this run when I finally hit 6 miles in a time of 53:22 (average pace of 8:53 for you non math majors).
The first realization is that I (and you all too!) am capable of so much more physically than I give myself credit for. I know that I am in way better shape than I was 6 months ago. I've lost close to 20 pounds since last summer and I have really been killing it in my lifting sessions since I started lifting 6 times a week back in November. It totally makes sense that my definition of what is hard, impossible, and outside my comfort zone should have evolved along with all of these physical (and mental!) changes. Still, I find myself limiting myself in how fast I run, especially at the starts of a long run such as the one I had today. I convince myself that if I'm running 6 miles...it is necessary to start out at a slow, leisurely pace (6.2 mph) for the first 1/2 mile or 1 mile so that way I don't end up running out of energy later on. This means waiting until I have reached a "safe point" in the run...aka the last mile or so, to really push the pace and get really uncomfortable.
And for a race like the marathon or half-marathon...this strategy sort of makes sense. However, you still need to be able to mentally adjust and say to yourself, "I know in the beginning of your running journey 9:00 min. miles felt really fast and scary...but here we are like a million years later with really jacked legs and sorta jacked arms and in the best shape of our life. It's time to re-define what hard looks like."
The second realization I had, is just how hard it can be to nail a new PR when you're on the treadmill and you feel like you're running fast enough in the moment, but before you know it it's too late and no matter what speed you run for that last half mile or so...you will not be able to hit it. And it sucks, because you know that if you had just completely thrown those predefined limits out at the very start of your run, hitting that PR would have been a whole lot easier. When I ran outside and didn't know (or really care that much) about pace I seemed to hit new PRs every week almost effortlessly. And maybe that's the real secret to getting past this whole predefined limits dilemma...just not being super obsessed with hitting PRs and accepting the fact that you are stronger/faster than you think...and that you are capable of being an 8 minute miler.