The main thing on my mind lately has been the whole element of mental toughness, and more specifically, my lack of it. It was evident when I did my bike and run tests, and then reinforced by a recent blog post by Elizabeth Waterstraat. It is truly mental toughness that separates out the elite- the ability to endure pain, crave pain, push through pain. It is also what stands in my way of massive improvements.
A turkey trot has been a tradition for me since I was probably about 9 or 10 years old. Back then, just by being the youngest, I could bring home some sort of prize, typically a sweatshirt a few sizes too big. Anyways, just doesn't seem like Thanksgiving to me without starting the day with a Turkey Trot. In addition to tradition, I was hoping this year's race could also give me a chance to test that mental toughness, and hopefully bump up my vdot. So with that in mind, off I went to the F^3 Events Turkey Chase 8k.
Now of course, I have bad preparation going into this race. Sleeping badly and eating worse than badly is not the way to go. But to counteract this, I talked myself into skipping workouts both Tuesday and Wednesday (after Monday) had been a rest day) to be most prepared. Yeah, obviously my mental toughness was showing well before race day.
After a bowl of oatmeal with brown sugar, I headed downtown. And it was cold. So so cold. Maybe in January that won't seem as cold, but right now, frigid. I was going to race in an underarmour mock turtleneck, my running jacket, and tights. On top of this, I wore my big ol winter coat and sweats to stay warm in transit. I arrived at the race with plenty of time, probably because I'm use to either 1) having to battle 20,000+ people to use a portapotty, and 2) having to check on my bike, inflate tires, put on wetsuit, etc. This small town feel of a road race was refreshingly easy! Eventually I had to part with my extra layers, and that is when I got really cold.
The start was right along the lake. Wind in your face, just in case the cold hadn't woken you up yet. I tried to do some warm-up in the grass, but my feet were numb and legs weren't too far behind. They announced that due to the high winds, there would be no start/finish arch or mile markers. Ok, good, I wasn't making up the winds. As I stood there getting colder and colder, the mental weakness was seeping in- maybe it is too cold to push it, wouldn't want to get hurt, I'll just take it easy. Then the good angel was telling me to still go as hard as I can, maybe it won't be my best, but better to try.
The race went off and I was running at a good effort. My legs definitely felt the effect of the cold weather, and I definitely felt as though that was my limiter at the start. We were running into the wind for the first half. Unfortunately, they didn't have the miles marked in any way (my one complaint about the race) and I was not running with my Garmin, so I really had no idea how fast I was actually going.
Quickly the crowds thinned out. Obviously the leaders were a ways ahead, and I was towards the front of the pack, but mostly alone. I'd occasionally leap frog with a few different people, but mostly focused on my own pace (which was unknown). It was definitely getting harder, as the effort was catching up to me. I knew the wind was against me, so I just kept telling myself that once to the turn around, it would be easier. There were a couple times on the way out where I let myself slow considerably, to get back from that uncomfortable state to the sort of comfortable one.
I hit the turn around under twenty minutes, and was happy. I was on track for a sub-40 (sub 8 min miles) which was my modest goal. Immediately after turning so the wind was at my back, I was getting warm. I tried to keep my focus but the mental weakness was increasing. I am sad to report that I stopped not just once, but twice on the way back. Not just slowing, not just walking a few steps, but stop and stand on the side of the road. ARGH! What is irritating is that looking back on it, I can't remember what was so bad that I had to stop. Was it my legs? My lungs? My brain? Obviously, stopping was not necessary. Obviously I could have powered through. But I didn't. So as much as this race is a benchmark to my running fitness, it also shows my mental game, and that is a major area to work on.
Ironically, even with an out and back, I had a poor concept of where the finish line was. I was switching back and forth from thinking it was right ahead to thinking I had a ways to go. I tried the trick of "you only have 10 minutes, you can do anything for 10 minutes." Turns out 10 minutes is a long time to be uncomfortable.
I ended up finishing in 39:03. Pace-wise, I am happy with this. It bumps up my v-dot, giving me new training paces. It is closer to where I want to be, though my 8k PR is 35:36 so I have a ways to go to get back up to speed. However, I am definitely headed in the right direction.
My plan is to get comfortable being uncomfortable. No more skipping intervals in workouts, no matter what the excuse. I am also going to sign up for a few more 5k-10k races this winter, as I know they push me more than workouts do. I am against paying $45 for 5ks on principle, but maybe they can be worth it to get me over this mental hump. The mental game and type of uncomfortability (is that a word?) is very different in a 5k versus an Ironman, but both require that internal dialogue of SHUT UP LEGS! I want to run my Ironman (yes, run, not walk!) with memories of when I pushed through no matter what the distance. Time to train the brain!