Ahead of the Pack

Me, heading out for a run. February 2011.

If, on a random Tuesday at 5:30 a.m. as I tied my shoes and set my Garmin, someone said that she expected me to run a six-mile route at a pace one minute per mile faster than the speed at which I typically run--and for readers who aren't runners, that's no mean feat--I'd respond that expectations aren't reality.

Ouch. Yuck. Pain.

Yet that's exactly what happens on race days. I'm a speed demon. And it doesn't even feel that difficult.

What is it about a starting line, race bib, and a crowd that makes me run faster more easily than I could on a regular day?

In fact, a race atmosphere makes everyone run at a comparative clip. Some runners credit people cheering from the sideline and the adrenaline of competition. For me, it's an instinctual need to get away from the herd--being in a crowded field of runners makes me anxious. Though I won't deny that loudspeakers blasting music and people clapping help with motivation.

Could I do six miles on an average day at my typical 10K race pace? Probably, but it would feel a lot more miserable.

Further proof that, more than anything else, running is a mental game.

I've been running for a number of years now and I do at least a few races a year. Yet I still marvel at this phenomenon. And it makes me wonder: In what other areas am I psyching myself out of doing as much as I actually can?

How do we hold ourselves back? And how can we mend our ways?

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Reader Comments (3)

I am not sure that it's a matter of holding yourself back rather than setting a "living" pace.

Granted I don't know you well enough to make detailed personal observations.

However, in general most people engaged in any sort of habitual activity such as a sport, or a game, or even in their working lives set a pace for themselves that is both productive and comfortable enough to be maintained over a long period of time.

A race, or a gaming tournament, or a big client brings out the "A game" that has slept within us because that is the moment that it's required. That is when you really do need to have it all on the line and hold nothing back. A wake up run on a random weekday isn't that critical so you use your normal pace.

You cannot for example rev your car engine to its full power all the time. You would burn out the engine. Just the same way you cannot expect to go all out every time you go out to run.

Again I don't know Leslie well enough to make detailed observations, but my initial impression is that you are your own most stern critic and you expect far more out of yourself than from anyone else.

Yes, keep going and keep improving yourself and reach for that next level of performance but remember you are not holding yourself back or psyching yourself out. You are so way ahead of the pack in so many ways.

November 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterWilliam Pora

These are really good reminders, Will. And as I was sort of beating myself up that day for being a backslider, I needed them!

I do think, though, sometimes, we get complacent and in a groove and don't exert the oomph we need to rocket to the next level. That's something to always be on the watch for--although sometimes we don't realize it until something new comes along to shake us out of the norm. Is it possible to see it before we get shaken up? And if so, how so?

November 26, 2012 | Registered CommenterLeslie Farnsworth

Oh yes. The "new" thing will come out of left field and there is no way you will see it and it will totally revamp your field.

But that's the fun part! Someone comes up with a new wrinkle on the old formula and suddenly you're back where you were 20 years ago and getting a chance to totally re-innovate everything again.

That doesn't mean that you're complacent. Just means someone out there has a slightly different view of things than you.

You ARE going to get to the next level but please, leave a little bit of time and some space for Leslie. She deserves it.

November 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterWilliam Pora

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