Runners Need to Get More Comfortable Being Uncomfortable
Are you stuck? Manage to run great in workouts, but when you get to the three-quarter mark of the race, you just fall apart? Can you knock off 400m repeats much faster than your 5k pace, but can’t keep it up past 3k on race day?
You might think you need to train harder, train more or find some secret workout to push you over the top. What you really need is to change your focus, and learn how to be comfortable being uncomfortable.
Traditional workouts focus on either physiological markers, like VO2 max or lactate threshold, or they involve pace work, aiming for your goal 5k or 10k or half-marathon pace. These are basically interchangeable ways of looking at training: If you do 5k pace work, you are working close to VO2 max (you could go a little faster but it’s a range), and if you run longer intervals or a steady set between 10k and half-marathon pace, that’s around your lactate threshold.
This isn’t the wrong way to train: the physiological benefits are good, and preparing to run at goal race pace is a good plan. But if it were as simple as that you’d just plug in the workouts and the race result would come. To get over that hump, you need to learn how to be uncomfortable.
The workouts themselves don’t necessarily need to change. Instead, reconsider your approach in three ways: your attitude, your focus and your effort.
Is your approach to intervals and hard training just to get through them? Do you dread the faster sessions? If so, take a step back and reset. Your attitude to workouts should be that you love them. The burn in the legs, searing in the lungs, the sweat on your brow: these are signs of discomfort and signs you are doing this running thing the right way. Look forward to them. After all, if you don’t love running, why are you doing it?
When you set up your workout by looking forward to the hard stuff, you have to follow through. When you run intervals, those are the elements you should focus on. Rather than worrying about how much you are hurting, go looking for those signs of discomfort. Become intimate with the feeling of your legs as they go from peppy to painful. Learn what happens when your breathing starts to get heavy. We often try to avoid these signs and push them out of our mind to “help” us get through the interval. Instead, face them head on.
Finally, let effort be your guide. Lose the watch. OK, yes, you have a set number of intervals at a set distance to run, and you want to run them at a certain pace or in a certain range. The reality is, a swing of two to three seconds per lap is not significant at all in terms of how “good” the workout is. Running 10 x 400 m in an average of 90 seconds is not much different than an average of 88 or 92. Yes, some are faster and some are slower, but what matters is how hard you are working at that speed. Workouts are inputs: you are doing work in order to be able to perform later. Instead of focusing on hitting exactly the right time, focus on your effort. For intervals at 5k pace or faster, you want to be running pretty hard. For longer intervals at 10k pace and up, the feeling you want to have is controlled, but you want to push that control to its limit.
Change your attitude going in, focus on the feelings your body gives you, and run by effort, not by time. If you do this, when you inevitably start to hurt in a race, you will have experienced it all before, and you’ll be comfortable being uncomfortable. John Lofranco is the head of road running for Athletics Canada, a coach at Athleticisme Ville-Marie, and a contributing editor of Canadian Running.