On running strengths and weaknesses.

I’m just gonna go out and say it.

Running is frustrating the hell out of me lately. 

And feeling like a frustrated runner makes me even *more* frustrated. 

Because I am capable. Because I am lucky to be able *to* run. Because I know that ultimately my frustrations are mostly of the headcase variety.

So rather than wax poetic about the last couple weeks of my run challenge or whine about my running frustrations, I thought I’d use this post more effectively and productively by exploring my running strengths and weaknesses (a la Amanda at MilesGoneBy and my sis, too!) and maybe I’ll come up with some better rationale on my ‘meh’ running experiences of late.

(are ya still with me after that massive preamble?!)

I’m going to mix these up into weaknesses-turned-strengths, because honestly, I think half of my weaknesses have a strength to them, if that makes sense. Sort of like when you are interviewing for a job, and they ask you what your weaknesses are? And they are sort of strengths masked as weaknesses? Am I making any sense right now? Show of hands? Head nods? moving on…

Weakness:

  • I am a headcase, by nature. And this certainly affects my runs from time to time (okay, a lot, lately, anyway).  If my breathing is off, if I feel the twinge of a cramp or I have any sort of calf pain, that is all.i.focus.on. And it can ruin a run for me.

BUT

  • While I may be a headcase, I have vastly improved this weakness and therefore, feel it is a strength, or at least an improvement. I am so much better at powering through a run, at booting my overthinking out of my brain and ‘just’ running as much as possible, to actually enjoying running. Comparing myself now, as a runner, to who I was at the beginning of this run challenge, even, and I’ve definitely shifted this away from automatic headcase at the outset, to more of a rarity. (but it still rears its ugly head, like the last few weeks!)

Strength:

  • I am determined, like whoa, to stay consistent, improve my pace and focus on even breathing. This run challenge has, by far, kept me running four days a week for almost the entire winter, something I had never previously been able to do, because the dreadmill has always been my nemesis. But in embracing it, I embraced intervals (hello pace increases!) and it massively helped my breathing. Given it is easier to breathe on a treadmill without a lot of incline or natural road shifts as with the outdoors, it was much easier to keep my breathing in check, and in turn, take my mind off my breathing and onto the run itself. HUGE shift for me. HUGE.

BUT

  •  I am stubborn as hell when it comes to my running schedule and mileage. I have been, in recent weeks, so focused on fitting in all of my runs (amid a building schedule for teaching at barre n9ne etc) and trying to extend my distance (amid some less than pleasant weather making it much less motivating to run long INDOORS) that it just bound me up. I ran stressed. I overthought all of my runs and what to fit in where and how to get my longer run done solo (when I know I am not the best runner by myself). I declared being at peace with mileage  yet I still struggle with that. I wonder if I am better with a goal than goal-less runs. It’s huge food for thought for me right now. (thoughts welcome)

Weakness:

  • I’m still (relatively) slow. Not that speed is my ultimate goal, because let’s face it, I will never be an 8mm runner. If I had to hazard a guess (since I don’t run with a Garmin or anything), I’m probably somewhere between 9:30-10mm but closer to 9:30mm…and I’m actually proud of that. Weakness is probably the wrong term here. And calling myself slow is probably the wrong way to put it too…I guess what I mean by this is, I don’t know how to run fast outside. It’s easier to do that on a treadmill because you have something helping speed you up. Outside? It’s all you. I so easily slide into my comfortable pace than trying to pick it up a little. This is why I am a ‘bad’ solo runner as well.

BUT

  • I am a fast(er) runner than I was six months ago. And a better one, at that. My running is stronger, faster, more capable (thank you barre n9ne for stamina, like whoa!). So no matter if I consider myself ‘slow’, I am still faster than anyone on the couch and I am still faster than the runner I was six months ago.

Strength:

  • I’ve learned to embrace hills, speed work and getting into the uncomfortable zone. I always steered clear of hills and speedwork because I would get out of breath in a flash, and then aforementioned in-my-head-ness would occur and all bets were off for the rest of that run. It was terrible. But now? I rock the intervals at the gym (today was a particularly strong one as I pushed myself to go 30 seconds faster for each interval, which for me, is big progress, as I’ve been scared to do that for well, several months, admittedly).  As for hills? While I still WANT to shy away from them, when I face them, I slow down, and I take it slow and steady (thanks sis, you always push me through these when we run together!).

BUT

  • I’m a bad solo runner. I still have a lot of work to do here. And I think this is the root of my ‘meh’ runs of late. The most ‘meh’ runs I have had in the last 3-4 weeks have been those that I have attempted to do solo. When I start to struggle with my breathing, or get a leg pain or any other phantom pain or fear, my first instinct is to stop. I regress back to the ‘old’ runner that I was rather than draw upon my newfound running confidence. And it is so friggin frustrating. I WANT to be able to run outside by myself and enjoy it. I know I am capable of that. But herein lies the problem. I’ve gotten so headcase about it that I just plain don’t like it. And I honestly DO prefer to run with others (which is also an ironic shift since I NEVER ran with others a couple of years ago!), because it’s motivating, it’s fun, it keeps my mind on the conversation, not into OATT.

So, there you have it. My interplay of strengths and weaknesses of running. As I am into weeks 20 and 21 of my run challenge, I am hoping this little writing prompt helps get me back into the game, back into the fun running can and should be (thanks again, sis, for capturing it perfectly!).

Has this ever happened to anyone else? Struggling to run solo outside? Letting the headcase ruin the run? Etc?

I know it’s relatively common. I know it happens. I guess I am just frustrated that it keeps happening to me, despite all of the improvements I’ve made and the progress, too.

But, at the end of the day, I know I am capable and that will give me the confidence to keep trying, to keep pushing through whatever wall this is. Because I am a runner, and I love to run. (I swear!).

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30 thoughts on “On running strengths and weaknesses.

  1. It sounds like this challenge has turned into a training schedule of sorts. And maybe that’s what’s tripping you up a bit. You’ve obviously learned soooo much and grown so much as a runner. You’re definitely faster, stronger, more confident. BUT….you’re caught up in that training mind game I think. this is just me looking in from the outside too of course. I could be totally wrong.

    As for running faster – I just read an article in Runner’s World about learning to pace yourself. I always just winged it and relied on my HR to give me a general indication of pace. I swear the Garmin makes a huge difference b/c I really do know things like my real mileage and my speed. I can adjust accordingly. It’s not always about going faster faster faster either.

    And just another thought – relying on someone else to push you through can sometimes be tougher – in my mind. I start to get annoyed if I feel like I can’t keep up or they’re pushing me too hard. I found that I have this weird ability to push myself on my own more comfortably – less room for failure perhaps? Like no one will see me fail? Sorry for the epic ramble!

    1. I know we’ve already discussed over email, but you bring up some good points, Heather. (as always!). I actually think my little training/challenge has helped me more than hinder, so now that I am not following it closely, I almost feel lost. I need the structure, maybe. I do need to figure out my pace better and what I run outside vs. inside. I honestly have no idea.

  2. Running is all mental to me and I will lose sleep worrying about a run the next morning. I am always surprised every time I see you and Jess post about another run. You girls are doing everything and should be so proud of yourselves!

    1. It’s SO surprising to me to hear even you say running is mental!! Honestly. And same with running often, I guess I hadn’t really thought about it, but it is a lot, with everything else. Starting to wonder if it’s really my schedule overall I need to adjust.

  3. I feel like you are on the verge of a pretty big runner self-discovery moment. I can’t quite pinpoint *what* that might be or when it’ll show its pretty face to you, but I sense it. You’re very much on the verge of a breakthrough. You’ve come so far with this challenge already but I think there might be more to come. Just a hunch. (and yes, I realize this is entirely unhelpful to you at this very moment in time when all you want are ANSWERS).

    1. Ya know? I really hope so. I sort of feel the same way, I just need to stop tripping myself up. And I need to adjust my schedule and keep my legs as fresh as I can when I have a planned run. I think that’s part of it lately.

  4. Running outside solo takes time to develop. I grew up running with a team and when I was forced to go solo it was tough at first. But then, I grew to love it because I used the time to reflect. I literally think about everything and nothing when I run. I don’t run with music so just let my mind go. Running is a mental act and is all about letting your mind wander to where it needs to be. or at least that is the case for me!

    1. You’re right, it does. But I was SO used to it before and really did love it, even solo. So now, NOT liking it, is frustrating. I just need to let my mind stop thinking when I run! Thanks for your comment and support!

  5. No need to apologize…I’ll see your questions and raise you these:
    When was the last time you took a tangible step away from running (not stopping or quitting, stepping back for a moment)?
    When was the last time you ran with a pure smile of enjoyment on your face? I abhor unsolicited advice, so on that note: Gently close Runners World, lace up your favorite shoes, head out the door and go make running fun again.
    All kidding aside keep up the great work!!!

  6. Ever pushing forward. Ever gaining strength. Ever evolving. Ever improving. < This is what I've been telling myself lately about LOTS of different things. Your post put what I've been feeling mildly.

    I too am a card-carrying headcase (like whoa). I'm trying to be patient with myself and my goals. I know that I am always moving in the right direction – even if it feels like I'm not moving at all (like on a treadmill!)

    You're getting there. Measuring your progress, like you did in your barre challenge, should help, right?

    1. Card-carrying headcase <–raising hand uber high!! YES! And I am not patient with myself AT ALL. Just like you can be hard on yourself often, I know I am too. I just want to love it all the time, I want to improve all the time, I want to gogogo all the time. But sometimes, that just doesn't happen fast. And I need to be ok with that. Thank you T!!

  7. I guess I just don’t overthink my runs. I went for five miles last Thursday. And then Saturday I was supposed to do a long run of 10 miles. I think I was able to run about 4, and then I had to walk back home. I literally walked for an hour to get home because my legs felt like lead, like i had been running for milllllessss. It sucked A LOT. but i got home and i got over it. I’m trying not to let my head get to me because the race is like a week and a half away. I’m going to try and run tomorrow and then Friday 8 miles. Right now, everything I do is better than what I was doing before, so I’m just happy with that. But I do believe in anything, you have to have goals so that you feel like you’re moving forward. I agree you should have goals. Right now my goal is to finish. I’ll work on speed later ; )

    1. Wow, the walk back must have stunk, but better to have cut it short then hurt yourself or push when you just can’t. You are doing so awesome, I am so proud!

  8. Sometimes it really does help to take a break. I didn’t run for maybe three weeks after my half-marathon in March and it really, really helped me mentally. Sure, I probably can’t run 10 miles right now, but if I’m killing myself to be able to run a certain amount of miles at all times, it’s not worth it, if that makes any sense.

    Unrelated, but I’m getting very excited for the Digital Summit.

    1. I think the break might help, definitely. Maybe burnout is part of it, just across the board. A lot of go go go of late. I want every run to feel worth it, not onerous. Ya know? And I cracked up reading your comment ‘unrelated, but I’m getting excited for the digital summit’ <-ME TOO! Just emailed you!!

  9. Get it out!! I am glad you are airing out your frustrations, this will help you take a look at what and how you can fix things. To be honest, I think the sooner you release all these noise and focus on what you are doing in the moment, it will just click.

    I had days where I could go 10 miles without blinking and some days 2 miles was hard work. Your days will be full of peaks and valleys, it’s all making you a better runner/athlete, etc.

    Take a breather, reset and know this happens to everyone. I’m pulling for you!! Keep positive!

    1. Aww thank you!! I know, I already DO feel better getting it out and it’s already starting to click. I am already feeling like I know what changes I need to make to get back to running being good. A reset is definitely part of it! thank you for your support!

  10. I think that by writing this you have taken the first step toward a change that you obviously want to see. Running is by nature is a “You win some, you lose some” sport. My advice for enjoying more outdoor runs alone is to seek out new places to run – I do this often. Bike paths, new neighborhoods, etc. Just go somewhere new and run, then you’ll have plenty of new stuff to look at and keep your mind occupied.

    As far as overthinking every strange breathing pattern, twinge, etc. I like to think in terms of – am I breathing like this because I’m pushing harder? What is the twinge? Is it pain, or just a slight muscle twinge. If you think about it, 9 times out of 10 what you’re feeling is your body getting stronger, just like the shake at the Barre or the (holy hell) burning shoulders. Learning to tell the difference between getting stronger and sheer (bad) discomfort is key!

    Also remember that Barre is your true passion, so if you have to ease up on running a bit to chase your true passion, do it. You’ll feel happier and less stressed I’m sure.

    1. You are so right, what I am feeling is strength, not weakness. I just need to shut my mind off more. You know how hard that is for us OATTers. And I also think I do need to come to terms with less running right now, if need be, as I teach more. At least as I adjust.

  11. I loved this honest post! And I loved reading thru all of the great comments. I nodded my head and amened (a total word;-) more than once!

    I loved reading how far you have come and how you dedicated yourself to the challenge. You should be oh so proud. Now make it fun again! Relax. Enjoy it. Or take a break. Whatever you think is right for you. Running will always be there. Figure out why you have stuck with it for so long. Miss it. Want it. Or not. You will find your way with it. I agree with your sis…I think that you are on the verge of a running breakthrough. Excited to see where it will take you!

    1. I know, I Do need to take a break, regroup, reset, do what I need to do and then come back to it. If that means a few less runs here and there, so be it. Thank you for posting about strengths and weaknesses! It was such a good idea for a post :)

  12. I loved how you laid out your strengths and weaknesses and are honest with yourself about it. The mental part of running is hard for me, especially because I too am pretty damn stubborn. As others have said, maybe a break and a breather? I believe you have the right intent and purpose for your run challenge but maybe it’s adding just a little extra weight and stress on you that’s making it hard to just let it go and run?

    1. I think a breather is in the works, and to just not be so hard on myself. One run at a time, right? I think I am added pressure to myself when I just don’t need to do that. What’s the point, right? Just run! Enjoy!

  13. I’m a little late getting to my reading, obviously, but hi, you and I both know we suffer from a lot of the same “issues” as runners. I’m always a head case. However, I like running by myself with no iPod now. I’ve been listening more to my feet striking the ground and my breathing…and it takes my mind off of “me”. I am a slower runner than you, actually, and while pace will be something I’ll work on improving, guess what? I run, therefore I am a runner. It doesn’t matter how fast you run that mile, it’s still a mile. It’s still better than those that give up or don’t even try. Right? Right. ;)

    I love your approach to this, Jo…seeing yourself for who you are, pointing out what bothers you, but taking care of your self-concept by countering it with a strength. THAT is big stuff right there. :)

    1. We are similar indeed, in many ways :-) Too bad we aren’t close enough to RUN TOGETHER!! That would be ideal!!! I was trying not to be too negative in my post, it’s hard, because I think we are our own worst enemies, of course, too.

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