Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Shifting the balance

After my long run this weekend, it occurred to me that the mind game I've been playing of late is all about shifting the balance of my thoughts from the negative side to the positive.  Whether I do that by tricking my mind into thinking that I feel good when I don't or changing my attitude to embrace the feeling of complete fatigue in my body at the end of a long run/hard effort as something valuable, it doesn't really matter.  Positive (constructive) thoughts must beat out the negative (destructive) ones.

Since I've been letting the negative creep in slowly over the last couple of years, there's much work to be done to reverse the trend.  The Fearless Athlete Program I'm going through is helping me get at the underlying beliefs and expectations that keep me stuck in the same old rut.  I admit I am disappointed in the audio portion of the program since the "coach" is simply reading what's written in the workbook.  I was expecting it to add value to the program.  That said, I do like the lessons in the workbook and think the process so far has been enlightening.  I am only 6 days into it and am already learning a lot.  I thought I'd share what I've been working on in some recent lessons.  

Creating a Functional Mindset
After understanding how fear of failure and perfectionistic tendencies can affect performance, the program works on uncovering the beliefs and expectations that hold you back.  The author explains that being a perfectionist is not all bad.  He explains that some behaviors can actually be functional and help you succeed.  So, the trick is to know the difference between those behaviors that are helpful and those that cause fear and anxiety.  I listed the following five characteristics I wanted to change and came up with a plan to change my non-functional mindset into a functional mindset.  I am supposed to review these daily and use them in my race day visualization as well as in training.

Non-functional mindset/functional mindset
1. I demand high expectations of myself because I work so hard to achieve my goals.
    --I choose to be confident in myself because I've done the hard work and trust in my abilities.
2. I assess my performance as either good or bad with no middle ground.
    --I will assess my performance on a scale from 1-10.  Most days will be 5 or 6, not 1 or 10.
3. I must control my performance under pressure to make it happen the way I want.
    --I will trust my ability to perform in races and allow my body to do what it was trained to do.
4. If my race isn't perfect today, I must analyze and fix it right away.    
    --I will race with the race I brought today and worry about mistakes in training.
5. The best way to perform perfectly is to avoid making mistakes.
    --I choose to perform functionally and focus on what I want to have happen.

Expectations and Confidence
The next exercise had me analyze my expectations and replace them with a confidence statement.  This distinction between expectations and confidence was good for me to understand.  The author defines expectations as "...demands that you place on your performance that cause you to judge how you're doing compared to how you think you SHOULD be doing." Having strict, perfectionist or unrealistic expectations undermines your confidence.  By contrast, confidence is a belief in your abilities, without judgment attached.  After each hard training run and race, I am supposed to review how I did in terms of setting aside my expectations and performing with confidence.  Here are some of the expectations that I have for my running and the confidence statements that I will replace them with:

Expectation/confidence statement
1. Marathon pace should feel easy.
    --I am confident in my fitness and know that I can run marathon pace on race day.
2. I need to run faster in training than I did in the same workouts before the Twin Cities Marathon.
    --Each workout I do regardless of pace is helping me get fitter so I can achieve my goal.
3. I should always feel good in workouts, or it means I'm not fit enough.
    --I embrace difficult workouts because they are important for training my body and mind.
4. I can't stop during a workout or, if I do, I am weak minded.
    --I have a strong mind that can handle adversity.  Stopping during a workout does not take away from that.

View from the halfway mark on my Bear Valley Trail run Friday. 
My workout on Sunday was a great test for me.  I knew it would be going into it.  I had run 9 miles on a coastal trail Friday afternoon that had some good hills on it.  I tried as hard as I could to baby my legs on the downhills with my coach's voice in my ear telling me that my legs wouldn't recover in time for Chicago if I took them too hard.  I felt successful enough in that I did not have any pain in my legs at all on Saturday.  However, there's really no way to run up and down hills and not sustain some muscle fatigue.  I felt this as soon as I started running on my brick legs Sunday a.m.  My 20-mile workout included:

~6 miles moderate pace
3 miles at goal marathon pace (GMP)
1-3 miles moderate
10 x 90 seconds @5k effort w/ 2 min. jog rests
1-3 miles moderate
3 miles at GMP

You may have noticed, as I did, that's a lot of stuff to pack into even a 20-mile workout.  I started the 3 miles at GMP about 5 miles into the workout and held 6:10 pace.  I could tell that the end of this workout was going to be a dinger with my legs feeling as heavy as they did.  That's when I decided that this was a great time to practice tossing out my expectations and replacing them with internal confidence statements.  The whole point of this workout, in fact, was to get me used to running GMP on tired legs in the late stages of the marathon.  I had the perfect conditions staring me right in the face.  

I ran about 1.5 miles at moderate pace and then started the 5k intervals.  This took me over 5 miles to complete.  I was now only 4.5 miles from home and had another 3 miles at GMP to knock out.  So, I jogged for about 1/2 mile and launched into the next 3 miles at GMP.  This is where I confronted the money part of the workout.  I was exhausted, now running in 80-degree heat and I needed to focus everything I had on staying positive and running smooth and relaxed.  I stopped at a water fountain half way through to get water and did not judge myself.  I felt like I needed water at that point and found no shame in breaking up my GMP work to get it.

I ran those last 3 miles at 6:19 pace and was very happy with myself.  As I told The Genius later, I would be ecstatic if I held 6:19 pace at the end of Chicago.  This workout, not just my physical performance in it but my mental performance as well, was a huge confidence boost for me.  I thought about all of the times I had judged my workout performance instead of simply seeing it as a process that pushes me closer to race day fitness and as a chance to practice handling adversity.

I think this is a good lesson for us all.  I read many blogs (including reminiscence on some of my own past posts) and am blown away with how much judgment I find.  How are we ever supposed to build confidence in our running fitness and abilities if we spend so much time beating ourselves up for not achieving unreasonable expectations that masquerade as "goals"?  Think about it.

And now for something completely different:
An Effin' J Invention Alert
I'm pretty sure I'm the first to think of this, and I want to be the first to publish to the web in case it really takes off so I can collect royalties at a later date.  Some colleagues of mine and I were driving in Point Reyes, CA on Friday morning when we spotted a runner carrying water bottles around her waist.  My colleague had seen her running before we left and mentioned that she thought it was me.  I made a quip that sounded something like, "I'm a real runner and don't carry water bottles around my waist."  It was a joke.  But, it astounded my two colleagues.  I said I plan most of my runs around water fountains so I don't have to carry water. I hate carrying water.  After I complained for about 10 minutes about all of the useless inventions I've tried (really, pretty much every one), my colleague challenged me to invent something better.

I did.  Subcutaneous fluids.  It's really quite perfect, though there are a few details to work out yet.  The idea came from a medical procedure I performed regularly for months on one of my late kitties who was diseased and required fluids.  I simply stuck a large needle under her skin and drained saline into her until she had a nice little "kitty camelBak" bubble on her back.  She carried it around for an hour or two while it slowly diffused into her body, rehydrating her like a champ.  Why can't marathon runners use this same technique?  It seems like we could insert saline, and possibly a glucose mixture under the skin in various places throughout the body with just the right volume to last for an entire marathon.  There would be added weight to deal with, but think of the time that would be saved in fumbling with bottles and gels.  The potential for gastric distress would be eliminated!  I think it's awesome.  Or, maybe I should stick to ecology...


  1. Cris/Darkwave/AnarchaSeptember 29, 2010 at 6:51 PM

    I like it -- it doubles as a breast job.

  2. Holy crap, Cris, you are brilliant! Women already have built in pouches for this. Men too, but the shorts might not fit right.

  3. Stick to ecology. Anyway, it wouldn't be good for racing, as you're carrying this extra weight at the start. For training, what's wrong with a 'fuel belt', or some other waist bottle system? Or just stopping for water like you do?

    Good ideas in the rest of your post. I like #1 of the Expectation/confidence statement. Reminds me of Steve Moneghetti, who never ran marathon pace in long runs (he'd run about 3:45 to 4:00 kms), but had the confidence from his overall training that he could run marathon race pace on the day. I also like the 1-10 scale rather than good or bad.

  4. New reader here, and I love your blog!

    Unfortunately the fluid idea wouldn't work on humans. I have used it too on animals, but they have much more skin than we do. The method IS actually used on humans, but as a natural alternative to pharmaceuticals for pain management during child birth. It is so effing painful to inject saline puffs under the skin in humans that it releases a lot of endogenous endorphin that numbs the pain from the contractions. I had them done while I gave birth and didn't get much effect, but I have heard from others that thought the saline injections hurt waaaay more than child bith itself!

  5. Ewen: I've tried all of the fuel belts, and they just don't stay put. They ride up from my hips to my waist unless I cinch it so hard that it keeps me from breathing. They just don't work for me.

    I would say that #1 has been my biggest challenge over the years. This training cycle, however, marathon pace has actually felt relatively easy. I'm taking that as a good sign. The last time MP felt like this, however, I had a horrible marathon the first go around, followed a few weeks later by a spectacular one. I know that my fitness is there right now, I just have to hope that the rest of the details line up on race day.

    Jenny: Thanks for reading and for the comment. I thought that sub-q fluids would be a hard sell. I just have to find a willing guinea pig for my grand experiment:)

    Chris: Thanks for commenting!

  6. I stumbled upon your blog when I was searching the net, found it interesting that's why I continued reading it. And I am right, it is really interesting and I learned something for this. Thanks for sharing such a nice post! Keep it up!
    Happy Trails!