There’s no greater feeling than running a hard workout or race but feeling as if you’re flying; your feet hardly doing any work at all. This week in my training, I found myself back on the track for my quickest workout so far this fall, and it was wonderful having that kind of feeling back in my legs. However, as the workout went on, I started thinking back to last spring, when being fit as a fiddle and running at sea level would have meant I could be doing this workout 10 seconds faster without a struggle. As these thoughts started creeping into my head, suddenly that feeling of weightlessness disappeared, all because of one thought, “this should feel a lot easier.”
The truth is, I know that my fitness is just fine for the time of year and position that I’m in, but somehow I started wondering if it should have felt easier to run that pace. It was just like in a race when things get tough and you start thinking things like, “If I feel this bad running ‘x’ pace or being in ‘x’ place, something must be wrong with me today.” These are the kinds of thoughts that I believe plague every runner throughout their career, and can easily be the breaking point in a tough workout or race.
Throwing it back to my collegiate cross country career (after all, this is NCAA XC Championship weekend), I really feel like I went into too many cross country championships without expecting the race to feel as hard as it would. I knew in my heart how bad I wanted to finish in the top ten, and I knew my body was as fit as need be, but the problem lie between my own two ears. You see, if you go into a race without your head in gear, it doesn’t matter how excited your heart may be or how ready your legs may feel. No matter what race, there still comes a point when those legs begin to tire, and that heart begins to ache at the thought of missing out on your goal. The mind however, has the amazing power of overriding these feelings; but only if its been conditioned with one simple truth: “Nobody said it would be easy.”
When an athlete learns to accept the fact that their competitions won’t always (and perhaps rarely will) feel easy, they have nothing to be worried about because dealing with pain becomes second nature. This is why you might watch the winner of an Olympic race and say to yourself, “I wish I could feel that good in a race, they looked like they were hardly trying!” The truth is, they were hurting, maybe not as much when the adrenaline really kicked in, but anyone competing at that level has dealt with a lot more pain than first meets the eye, they’ve just learned to accept it.
Learning to accept the “no pain-no gain” mentality doesn’t mean you have to go into a race worrying or focusing on how miserable you might feel, because you still need to carry a great deal of confidence to the starting line. However, with confidence sometimes comes comfort, and going into a workout or race expecting it all to be smooth and comfy isn’t really a smart approach either. It’s all about finding that balance between confidence and comfort, learning to visualize yourself feeling awesome, but also imagining yourself overcoming that inevitable moment of struggle.
Whether you’re lining up for a Championship race this weekend, or getting ready for your Turkey Trot next week, just remember one thing, it might not be easy, but that’s what makes it worth it!