The Brain is the Critical Organ

This morning was my first back at the SPU track since March. Same crowd (no one, rowers on the canal). Same weather (cold). Same scene (before sunrise). Same track (littered with hurdles). Same parking lot (empty).  The only thing that was different is that I feel like a total novice on my feet these days because I haven’t been able to put the work in to build to where I was pre-Boston, let alone where I’d like to be. I’ve been joining track workouts on Tuesday evenings, but the experience is different in the evening and my focus isn’t as tight when I’m dodging kids, soccer balls and potholes. Not to mention I’m a die-hard early bird.

Today I needed to take care of business pre-work, so Coach prescribed me a workout of 4 x 1200 @ 5:05 with a 400 recovery in between each set. I’m not very familiar with 1200’s and have solely focused on 800’s in the past, so I wasn’t sure how to start out. All I could think was that it better be freakin’ fast in order to hit 5:05, knowing how hard 800’s had been through last winter at a nearly identical pace with time at 3:20.

Freakin’ fast was right. I started out so fast I thought I might puke, but turned out a 4:41. After recovering from nausea I decided that while too fast it wasn’t THAT too fast, and proceeded to crank out a 4:51, a 4:48, and a 4:51. Not bad for a speedwork flunky! With each 1200 my confidence built, and per the usual on my last cool down 400 all I could think was, “I coulda done better. I coulda run that last one faster. I should probably do one more.” (I didn’t do one more.)

I came across this article today that truly illustrates pushing yourself and reaching your personal best is a mental game. When athletes raced against an avatar that represented their personal best, but that was truly pacing at an accelerated speed, the athletes beat said avatar. The thought is that athletes “knew” that they had performed at that speed before and felt confident they could again live up to their proven best. When athletes competed against an avatar that was communicated to be pacing faster they gave up and paced at their personal best from the get go. The moral of the story being that if you think you can go faster your brain can actually tap into energy reserves and make it so, but if you think you can’t you’ll prove yourself right. I do recommend reading the article for the full story, but the timing of finding this research was so apropos.

I’ve built confidence on the track over the last year or two of running, but even after BQing I still felt like a novice. When people call me a runner I smile and wear it proudly, and scoff in my mind. But now that I’m trying to become a triathlete it’s almost like running is a new sport, and having become adept at two new ones has given me a lot of confidence to try new things, push myself and make it happen. I can’t say I walked on to the track this morning thinking “This will be easy!” but I didn’t discount the pace as impossible and instead gave it a try. And completely owned it, might I add.

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