Sunday, April 8, 2012

Just Believe.

Sometimes when I run, I feel like I am two people.

The first is a logical, rational person that makes decisions based on concrete evidence. She believes in data. She trusts math & science.

The other is the "runner brain," which I've mentioned before. The runner brain has some magnificent qualities -- competitiveness, determination, resilience, an obscenely high pain tolerance. But she also has all the worst qualities of a toddler, a cartoon mobster, and a 900 pound gorilla -- emotional, impatient, aggressive beyond all logic, desiring instant gratification, unable to be reasoned with.

At the Oakland Half Marathon, my goal had been to run sub-8:00 miles the whole way. The logical me truly, honestly believed that this wouldn't be a problem as long as I didn't have any minor catastrophes along the way. She trusted our training and the strong 10K we'd run only few weeks after taking a full month off.

The runner brain was not so sure. To her, sub-8:00 still sounded really fast, faster than she had run anything farther than a 10K in at least 10 years. She recalled how hard those HM pace runs back in September and October while she was training for Clarksburg had been. In an effort to placate her a little, the logical brain decided to start pushing the pace a little on regular training runs, to try to convince her that the 7:50s were just really not all that big a deal in an effort to build her confidence.

This seemed to have the desired effect, in that, when the logical brain set the cruise control at around 7:50/mile during the first few miles of Oakland, the runner brain didn't protest. She remembered those 8-9 mile training runs & how they hadn't felt all that bad. (And in case you hadn't heard, we did it, running 13.1 or 13.26 or 13.34 miles at a 7:45 or 7:50 or 7:53 pace, depending on who you ask.) That race was a huge confidence-builder. Instead of dreading the half marathon pace runs on my schedule, I started thinking of them as no big whoop. I averaged 7:50/mile for 13+ miles and it didn't even get really hard until 11ish; doing 7:40s for 3-5 miles should be totally fine.

But then Thursday came. Which was the first day since the race that I'd had HMP miles scheduled. And once again the runner brain was dreading them.

I wish I could give you a reason why, but as I've already said, she's not logical. She can't be reasoned with. She feels the way she feels and that's all there is to it.

Her confidence was not boosted by the 20 mph headwind we encountered almost as soon as we set foot outside.

* * *

When I do HM pace runs, I have two options. Option 1 is to drive (or jog, if I'm feeling like tacking on a bunch of easy miles) to the track; option 2 is to just to take one of the flatter neighborhood routes. The advantages of the track include a more forgiving surface, smooth, flat terrain, & no lights or pedestrians, all of which make it physically easier. The main disadvantage is the monotony of running in circles, which makes it mentally harder. Like, a lot harder. To the extent that I am sometimes tricked into mistaking the mental discomfort for physical. I think I've mentioned the trouble I've been having in the sesamoid area of my left foot for the last couple of months; running on concrete can aggravate it pretty fast, so sometimes I just force myself to run on the track, particularly if it's been bothering me more than usual.

On Thursday, though, I didn't want to bother with driving so I just headed out the door on the flattest of my neighborhood routes, which after about 2.5 miles spits me out at the east end of the Panhandle. From here I can make just about as small or large a loop as I like, depending on whether or how far I go into Golden Gate Park. (Running to the Panhandle/GG Park is the most efficient way for me to get street miles in because there are fewer lights.) I don't like running really fast on sidewalks, but HM pace is doable, and the changing scenery and actual forward process does a good job of preventing me from fixating on how far I have left to go.

The one real problem with doing a pace run along this route is that pace and effort don't really sync up. Even though it's relatively flat, I live in kind of a sinkhole so that on just about any out-and-back run, the "out" half will be slightly uphill, and the "back" half will be slightly downhill. For this run, I'd finish my two warm up miles about half a mile from the panhandle, run 1.5 miles at HM pace through the Panhandle & slightly into the park (uphill), turn around and run 1.5 back (downhill), then jog my last 2 easy miles home.

I always remind myself about the uphill grade when I'm about to start pace miles there. "Now remember, goal pace is 7:35-7:40, but for the first mile, 7:50-8:00 is probably equivalent effort wise," I warned the runner brain. "Start slow. Don't worry too much about the number."

But like I said, she still thinks of even paces in the 7:50s as fast, and if you're running fast, you should feel like you're working. So not even into the Panhandle yet, I glance down at my watch and see I am running at a 6:50 pace.

Eye roll. "Jesus Christ, girl."

Runner brain: "RAAAAAAWWWRRRR!!!!"

I forced her to slow down a little as we entered the Panhandle, but every time she sees those numbers creep up above 8:00, she has a tiny little freak out, speeds up, overcompensates, and suddenly we are roaring uphill at a 7:18 pace.

"Stop that!!"


"Or you could listen to what I said before about running this part by effort instead of numbers."


Eye roll.

I finished that first uphill mile in 7:41, which I knew had been too fast & was probably more representative of 15K effort than HM effort. This became even more obvious when I hit the flat stretch at the Park entrance. At the same or a slightly easier level of effort, I found myself running 7:20s. I put the break on a little, letting the pace settle into the 7:30s, which suddenly felt effortless. (Well; not really effortless, but very manageable, compared to that first mile.)

"See?" I said to the runner brain. "This is what it's supposed to feel like. This is the feeling we're supposed to be training for."


Eye roll. "Dude. Chill."

The second flat mile was a perfect 7:37. I gave her another little reminder as we approached the Panhandle again, this time in the downhill direction. "Remember, the numbers will be a little lower this direction, which is fine. Just stick to the same effort. Don't get going too fast."


Eye roll.

Things were fine for the first few yards; I stayed in the low 7:30s, which is about right when you consider the grade. Then this dude swung onto the path behind me, matching my pace almost exactly. It irritates me when strangers stick close to me on a run, and it irritated the runner brain too.

"Hey boss. You want that I should drop dis d-bag?"

"No, I want that you should keep running this same pace and--"


Suddenly we were cruising along at 7:05 pace and the sticky dude was quickly falling farther & farther behind.

*facepalm* "Really?"


After that I wrested control back from her and finished that third mile in 7:30, which wasn't too overly fast, considering the grade.

As I jogged the easy miles back home, I reflected on a few things.

One: I have GOT to get that runner brain under control. She's good at certain things, but when she gets overstimulated & out of control, it's a real problem.

Two: 7:35-7:40 is not as fast as I sometimes still think it is. Yes, it takes work and effort to maintain, but most of the time I don't really start to feel that until after a few miles. I really can run at that pace for a few miles and have it feel relatively easy. I need to get over that whole Gee-this-really-doesn't-feel-hard-enough-better-speed-up feeling. That's when I get into trouble. Rationally, I know that for me it's better to err on the too-slow side & gradually speed up than the other way around, but sometimes it's really hard to execute.

Seriously, runner brain. You can do this. Without it feeling stupid painful. Why can't you believe me?

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed reading this, it's so true. :)