There was a workout I did during one winter break of college. We were given “suggested” workouts while we went home for the holidays, and I happened to be at my sister’s place the day we were supposed to do a 6k lactate threshold run (basically a tempo run). I planned to do it at a high school track so I didn’t get lost or have to figure out a 6k loop of some sort, but I woke up to find half a foot of snow on the ground (I wasn’t too keen on checking the weather apparently?)
This was not one of those times that I had a martyr coach or teammate to shovel off the entire first lane of the track for me. My choices were either to go pay money to a gym to run on the treadmill, postpone/skip the workout, or just go for it on the snowy track. So being the silly and stubborn person that I was, I decided that I would just do it on the track.
I warmed up and was feeling sluggish and tired. I was at higher altitude than normal, it was freezing outside and I was alone. I was also feeling stiff after driving 8 hours to get to my sister’s house the day before. I called my sister after the warmup and started crying because nothing was going as planned. Dramatic. I know.
After some tough love from her, I sucked it up and decided I was going to modify the workout to be 5k, and I wasn’t going to care about time. I was supposed to come through in something like 18:30 for the 5k split of the 6k workout, but I decided I was not going to look at my watch until it was over. I was just going to put in a good effort.
Despite being in a negative mindset beforehand, I was able to pull it together and just start the workout. I did the 5k tempo by myself in my trainers on a track that was covered in half a foot of snow. It was tough and I wanted to quit every single lap. But I figured out a way to stay mentally calm, and then it was over.
I crossed the finish line (I think I did, couldn’t see it under the snow), and was so relieved and proud of myself for getting through it. Then I looked at my watch for the first time and saw that I had run over 19 minutes. Immediately, my mind went from relief and pride, to sheer dissatisfaction with myself. I had failed. I had run so slow and failed to meet the assignment. Not only had I modified it from 6k to 5k, but I had run like a minute slower than I was supposed to. This day was a failure.
Looking back, I can see how ridiculous this is. In the worst conditions ever, I put in a solid effort and overcame some mental weakness to get in a workout. I should have been celebrating with pancakes and being proud of myself for getting it done, but instead, I beat myself up over the time it took me to run the 5k.
I took it the 5k time as a reflection of my fitness and my mental toughness. Little did I know that just a few weeks later, I would run my best 6k LT of the whole season (coming through in a minute faster than this day). So of course this was not an indication of my fitness, and since I put in a good effort; it certainly wasn’t an indication of my mental toughness.
This dissatisfaction is so common for me and is for so many other runners. After a race, we immediately analyze what we did wrong. Why we didn’t win. Or if we did win, how we could have won by more. Even if we PR, we didn’t PR by enough. The dissatisfaction never ends!
Have you ever finished a race and KNOWN it was all you had in the tank, then looked at your time and been extremely disappointed in yourself? Ya, I think we all have.
I think this is where the dissatisfaction comes from, and how we can overcome it:
- We believe that we can do better: You finish a race and think “I KNOW I am capable of running 10 seconds faster.” Great. That’s awesome. It’s ambition that makes you work hard. But right now, focus on what you did well. When you’re ready to run 10 seconds faster, you will!
- We let times dictate what a “successful” race or workout was: Instead of caring so much about what time you ran, think about how much effort you put in. If you couldn’t have run faster, and you did ALL you could, how can you possibly be mad at yourself? Time is irrelevant in determining your effort. And if you put in a good effort, then it was a success.
- We compare. Comparing yourself to other runners will NEVER make you feel good (unless you’re comparing yourself to someone who ran slower to make yourself feel better lol). The number of factors that contribute to what you ran on a certain day vs. what someone else ran is just absurd. Training, fitness, genetics, sleep, nutrition, etc. etc. etc. Just because someone ran faster on a certain day doesn’t mean you are a lesser runner. You may beat them in the future. Maybe someday soon, or maybe someday long down the road. And if you don’t, who cares?… If they truly rank themselves above you because they are faster, then they probably don’t have much else going on in their lives outside of running races.