In the latest issue of Runner's World, there's an article by a runner who ran up Pike's Peak. She talks about how she was hitting the wall, about to collapse, when a spectator shouted to her "Way to go! You're in 8th place!" That encouraging cheer helped the author of the article (who obviously is an elite athlete) find what she needed within herself to ignore the pain and keep pushing. She finished the race in 6th place. Her goal was to finish in the top 10.
The rest of the article discusses her research into why the body can respond like that. The gist of it is--your brain can push your body when your body doesn't wanna anymore, but your brain can also slow your body down even when your desire is to keep on going. I've not read the science behind the "no pain, no gain" idea before, and I'm really thankful RW included the article in their recent issue (it's an awesome issue, for any of you who are training for anything right now; and for any of you thinking about starting a running program, there's a whole new "newbie" section). Because I'm smack dab in the middle of pushing beyond my limits right now.
The past two days have been pretty intense for me, running wise. Monday I ran 3.5 miles, and focused on negative splits (for you non-runners, that means running each mile faster than the previous mile). I warmed up at 12:00 for about five minutes, then sped up to 10:54, finishing my first mile in 11:30. The second mile, I set the treadmill for 10:42. I took a .2 mile walk break, then hit mile 3 at 10:31. After mile three was done, I took a .1 mile walk break and finished with a half mile at 9:30. The last part was tough. But, like the article says, if your brain knows there's an end in sight--whether the finish line or a mile marker on the treadmill--it's willing to push your body as hard as you ask it to go.
Then yesterday, I did my first quarter mile repeats. I have no idea if I did it "right." My plan says to run "6 x 400 @ 5-K pace." 400 meters is one lap around a track, or about .25 miles. I have no idea what my 5-K pace is, since it's been so long since I've run a 5-K race. So, I started out running my first leg (on the treadmill) at 10:14, which is what I think I could run a 5-K at. It was way too easy! I walked for .1 miles, then increased my speed for the 2nd leg to 9:54. This was tougher, but I still wasn't dying like I thought I should be. I walked another .1 miles, then for the 3rd leg, ran at 9:31. Now we were talking. My heart was pumping hard, but the .25 miles went by really quickly and it just didn't feel like I was working hard enough. So, I turned it up to 8:50 for the 4th leg. Oh yeah, work it baby, work it. Another .1 mile walk break, then for the last two legs, I ran at 8:31. Seriously, I thought my lungs were going to explode that last half mile (which I broke up with a .1 mile walk break, just like the other legs). It. Was. Awesome.
I kept thinking about the RW article while I was pushing so hard. That my brain has to experience the pain of being uncomfortable if I want to make progress. Another article is titled something like "Why We Suffer." And, as twisted as it is, runners apparently enjoy this pain we put ourselves through. Now, I don't know that I'd call myself a masochist, but I did enjoy the feeling after I was done. I felt like I'd accomplished something big, by pushing myself beyond my limits.
That's why running is addictive, I guess. The rewards of the effort are unlike anything else I've ever experienced. And I simply want more.