Eat the elephant one bite at a time 

I started my run on Sunday morning, and I wasn’t more than 20 steps in when I began to hear the voices.

My legs are really sore.

Why does this feel so hard if I’m running so slow?

How am I going to do today’s workout feeling like this?

Was that noise my joints popping?! 

Ugh. It’s windy. 

You know these voices, right? I bet you’ve heard them a time or a hundred.

The day before, I had ridden four hours at a base ironman effort – but with a series of FTP intervals interspersed throughout. Fifty-five minutes worth of leg and lung pumping work sandwiched inside of a long race-pace ride. That explains the sore legs, right?

But that didn’t explain how exactly I was going to make it through 5 x 1800 meters (5 x 1.12 miles), descending from just above 5k pace to just below 5k pace.

Nope it didn’t explain it in the least. 5k pace? I was barely jogging a recovery effort.

coffeeBefore I even started this run, I procrastinated about as long as I could. How many cups of coffee can one leisurely have? Turns out, quite a few, folks.

Quite. A. Few.

By the time I finally got out the door, it was late morning. I drove to two different tracks – both of which were already in use by the high school teams.

The nerve! But wait: It’s a sign. Don’t do it, whispered the devil voices.

Response: Shut up. It’s a sign you waited too damn long to get started. There are always roads. Time to suck it up, buttercup! 

That counter-voice is a saucy-bit, isn’t she?

My rule is every workout gets at least 10 minutes (unless, of course, I’m sick or injured – then I rest!). If after 10 minutes, I feel worse, I pull the plug. But usually, I don’t feel worse, I feel fine, and the workout happens. It’s a reliable rule and keeps me consistently training even on days when I’d rather not.

As I began a 20 minute warm up, my legs protested. After 10 minutes, I didn’t feel worse. I certainly didn’t feel great, but I didn’t feel worse, so on I went.

Stubborn, stupid – you pick.

By the time I was done with the warm up, I found myself near my street. And I had to pee. (Did I mention COPIOUS cups of coffee?)

So, I made the turn to my house. I did my business and headed back on the road. That was a tough choice to head back out for a second time, believe me. But big dreams require a series of tough choices – made repeatedly, especially when no one is watching.

Again, stubborn or stupid. Maybe I’ll rename my blog.

I ran 5×150 build efforts as the remainder of the warmup. The first one felt like razor blades. My legs just didn’t want to move. By the time I got to the fifth one, I felt a little bit looser, but still wondered how in the mother loving earth is this workout going to happen?

The fear and doubts wanted to mess with me. I toyed with just finishing the run at an easy to steady effort. But, I thought a bit more. I realized that I wasn’t dying. In fact, I wasn’t even close to it. I was just a little fatigued and tired – but not as bad as I was in the first 20 steps of this session. This moment was another tough choice, so I made it.

track workout
While I was not physically on a track, it was helpful to imagine running the repeats in segments of 200s. In addition to breaking down the goal into manageable bits, visualization helped me stay strong through the sets.

I decided I would run those suckers 200 meters at a time, stacked end to end. At the paces I was running, each 200 meter piece would be less than a minute. I can do anything for less than a minute.

And then again: I can do anything for less than a minute.

And then again.

Again.

Again.

Before I knew it, I was into the third set. And was well beyond just dealing with the workout – I felt great and was even having some fun.

AGAIN.

It has taken me a while to find enjoyment with running hard over the past several months, but there is a part of me now that really likes. The endorphins alone are well worth the pain!

I finished each of the sets exceeding my pace targets. I don’t say this to brag (okay, maybe a little because I’m pretty pumped at some of those splits!). Mostly, I want to emphasize how valuable it can be to break down seemingly impossible workouts or race goals into manageable bits.

If you had to eat an elephant, you wouldn’t eat it all at once. You’d take one bite at a time. By making the unmanageable manageable with a change in perspective, I made the seemingly impossible completely possible.

The brain is amazing but we have to work to control it – every day, every workout. It won’t be in our corner on race day if we don’t train our thoughts day after day.

The success of this bite-by-bite method is particularly striking if you consider how I started this workout: I was ready to quit it before I even got started. I want to be clear about that.

The story gets better: after the run, I had a one mile best effort swim. If you think I wasn’t feeling the run, imagine the shiny happy thoughts I had before the swim.

But I ate the elephant – one little 25 yard bite at a time. You bet I did.

What do you think? Share your thoughts and experience!