Progress is often non-linear. A lot of times, it is impeded not only by physical challenged and limitations, but also mental hurdles that must be overcome.
Last week, I was having one of those weeks. I had a mild cold, and I just wasn’t ‘feeling it’ when it came to running. I felt like I was stuck in a rut. I had plateaued when it came to total distance. I had been stuck on a top distance of around 7 miles for my long run for 3 weeks. I had also plateaued when it came to speed. I have always run about 6 to 6.5 mph during my longer runs, but I couldn’t seem to get it going during my speed work. I would get up to about 7.0 mph and feel maxed out (I’m not talking about sprinting, I’m talking about running a mile or two).
Last Friday, I was scheduled to do 8 miles for my long run, but around mile 5, my right foot really started to hurt. Half a mile later, an inner ‘alarm’ was sounding, telling me if I didn’t quit running soon, I was going to be sorry. Now, I’m no stranger to pain during running. There are times when I can work through it, but this was not one of those times.
I stopped at 6 miles. I was disappointed, but I knew I had done what was right for my body. I didn’t dwell on what was ‘wrong’ with me, but I was still bewildered by the foot pain. I decided to do some research on pain, and I stumbled upon this lovely article. It’s a bit lengthy, but very insightful.
What I learned is that pain, like progress, is often also non-linear. We don’t always experience pain because there is actually something physically wrong. There are a number of complex reasons why an individual might experience pain. That’s not to say that, just because a person may not have a physiological problem, that the pain isn’t real. All pain is ‘in the brain’. But, I digress.
The next day was warm-ish for Ohio in January, so I set out on an outside run to try and get at least a few more miles toward my weekly goal of 20 total miles. I almost didn’t make it off my street. I realized that, mentally, I was just done. I did not want to run. I’ve said this before; every time I run, I am faced with a decision to either stop, or keep going. This time I came so close to stopping. The closest ever. But somehow I knew that if I stopped today, that might be it. I might not run anymore.
I kept going. I had borrowed my husband’s GPS watch, and he had turned off the speed function. I am so glad I had no idea how fast I was going. I slogged out the first 2 miles, stopped by my driveway, got a drink, and ran another 2 miles. I had to do another 2 miles to hit my weekly goal, but I wasn’t even thinking about that. I was listening to my body, and my body told me it could do more. So I did. I finished the last 2 miles, tired and happy.
While I was running, I realized that I had been afraid. Afraid of running outside, where I couldn’t control the elements, didn’t have instant access to water, etc. Afraid of the distance, of the pain I might feel, and of getting an injury that could prevent me from running. I had a mental barrier, and I finally broke it.
That started a week of some of the best running I’ve done so far. When it was time for my weekly speed work, I let myself fly. I realized I had been holding back there, too. It’s funny how much your mindset can affect your physical body.
Yesterday I ran 8 miles, and I could’ve kept going. Today I ran my second fasted 5K, with a time of 27:30. And I increased my total weekly distance to 22 miles.
Most importantly, I’ve learned that I don’t have to let fear of pain keep me from making progress. Pain is not the enemy. Pain is an indicator. It means, ‘listen’. I’m listening.