Slow Down, Don't Stop
"Don't believe everything you think. Thoughts are just that - thoughts" - Allan Lokos
Most of the time we talk about injuries, and how if something hurts you should be sensible and stop. But what about those who aren't injured? Those who just lack motivation? endurance? speed? training? I experienced a great example of this on the weekend when I raced a half marathon that didn't exactly go to plan...
At the start of the race I purposely positioned myself in the crowd of people between the 1:30 and 1:40 pacers, thinking this was a sensible and conservative choice. Before a race, everyone always asks you " what time are you going for" - a question I dread. I don't want to tell others my actual goal for the fear of not achieving it and then possibly even greater disappointment after. I can only assume this is natural competitive thought process - and probably a fairly negative reaction, because of course no one will actually care if i get a 1:45 or a 1:25. But alas, I'm only human. My response to this question was anything under 1:40 I would be happy with. Which is completely untrue, as I was shooting for a sub 1:30... Thats a big difference!
The race started out really well, almost too well. I felt really good in the beginning and almost felt I was being held back by the people in front of me. I was running next to the 1:30 pacer without really much effort. In fact, I was in front of him for the first 4-5 miles. Deciding I wanted to get some distance between the pacer and myself, for a bit of leverage, I sped up just so that I could make sure I was well under my target. Retrospectively, I probably should have been alarmed seeing splits that I only ever see when doing my 5km Parkrun pace. Instead, going by feeling, rather than a race plan, I kept going.
As the time ticked on...the sun came out and it got HOT, or at least it felt like it. The temperature was supposedly in the low - mid 20's by 10:30am and the sun was blaring down at us, not a cloud in the sky. My pace started slowly creeping up on me, and the 1:30 pacer, whom i smugly passed a few miles back, caught up. Around 7 miles, I could tell things were falling apart when the pacer was about 50 meters ahead of me and excuses started piling into my head:
"I didn't want to run this anyways"
"He's too far away, ill never catch him"
"It's too hot out"
"A 1:35 is still a good time"
I think there is a point in a race when you start to fabricate these excuses, but you can still battle them. Some of these excuses you may have even planted before the race, saying (for example) your ankle was sore, you stayed up too late, feeling a cold coming on, etc. The breaking point is when you actually give in and let your mind win. The mind is a very powerful thing and can make or break of a race no matter how fast you are.
What happens when your legs are telling you to stop AND your mind is telling you to stop? Who is on your side to keep you going? I've thought about this for a few days now, and I have two answers. The first being, all those people you told you were running the race beforehand. Being held accountable for something is a big motivator. The second is, believe it or not, the crowd. Having a complete stranger shout at you to keep going is such a rush of adrenaline when you're in that state. You wouldn't believe it until you experience it.
My pace gradually slowed down, but I didn't stop, because for me, that is giving up completely. Even if you aren't going to achieve your goal of a certain time, or place, you can still make gains by just finishing. I like to think I achieved a mental win in that I made myself keep going. I allowed myself to stop at the water station for about 5 seconds (which is completely unheard of for me to stop for water!), but that was it. Eventually, with my head slightly dragging behind me and a finish that wasn't even close to a sprint, I made it across the line, 4 minutes over my target.
No, it wasn't a pb and it definitely wasn't my best race. But I finished, and I was exhausted at the end. I'd rather that, then finish feeling fresh and not having put enough effort into it.
Something I've left out until now, is that I didn't actually 'train' for this race. Yes, I run those distances often, as my weekend long runs usually range anywhere from 10-20 miles. But I haven't done any speed work or fast runs in the past year that would justify me being able to hold that pace for an extended period of time. Although I may have the capacity to do it, its going to take a bit of leg work to get there ( literally).
Working a lot with runners, I often get asked "how do I run faster". Theoretically I know the answer: You have to train fast to run fast. That is exactly what I didn't do, but thought I could maybe pull it off anyways.
I really should follow my own advice.
Bottom line: If you're not injured - try slowing down rather than stopping. You might still be able to get it back if you can convince your mind otherwise. Even if you don't get the pace back, you'll train your mind to keep going.
Also, training faster helps.
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