Progress

It was weather every runner dreams of – high 40s. Sunny. A slight cool breeze. Just like Lakefront Marathon, I remember thinking as I strode through the warm up mile of last night’s MP-practice-turned-HMP-practice tempo run, watching my running skirt bounce on the hips of my shadow.

I cruised through mile 1 at my typical warm up pace and into mile 2, intending to ease into goal marathon pace by mile 3. I became a little concerned when my breathing started to get heavy, and I saw this transition mile had actually been an 8:31. Okay. Guess we’re not waiting until mile 3 to start goal pace. I tried to just stay at that pace. I’ll just do two cool down miles instead. My body and legs were feeling good but gosh darnit lungs, get with the program! It was like my breath couldn’t keep up with my body. What gives?

As if reading my thoughts, my Garmin suddenly chimed in with the answer: 8:04.

Oh.

I tried to ease up on the reins, but not too much. Result: 8:12.

Well, shoot. I’d better…wait a minute. My breathing is stable. I’m not panting anymore, in fact, I’m not struggling at all. The next three miles ticked by – 8:12, 8:11, 8:15.

I’d hit it – “nirvana” pace. When there are springs on your feet and a motor on your back, an invisible hand pulling you gently along, some higher running power doing all the work for you. All the elements click into place and you feel like you could go on like this forever.

A year ago – a couple months ago – I would have let a run like this get to my head. Look! I ran one day at an 8:14 pace and it was comfortable! Well then, I’ve arrived! No need to bother with any more of this easy running in the 9:00s, this one run means I am clearly way faster than I thought! Quick, better start shaving 5-10 minutes off all my finish time goals! 

But now I know – a good run is just a good run. There will be more of them sprinkled throughout my training, among the many more inevitable runs where I have to practically bribe myself out the door just to labor through an easy pace. I will have days like today, buoyant and shining, and days like I had last week, humbling and uncertain.

One bad run does not define me as a runner. And, as much I hate to admit it, neither does one excellent run. The tempo run where I float through low-8:00 miles like a derby girl on roller skates doesn’t define me any more than the tired easy run where I huff and puff my way through 9:30s.

So what does define me?

It’s progress.

That thing that happens not after a rockstar workout, or a week of rockstar workouts, but when I keep getting out there and pushing myself, week after week after week until the weeks turn into months turn into seasons. When I stop overthinking every mile, hyperfocusing on every workout, and zoom out to look at the months and weeks I’ve put in the bank so far. The big picture.

Progress = practice.

It’s how three months ago, I also ran some “nirvana pace” 8:14 miles – during a 5 mile run, when I was running about 20 miles a week. Now I just ran 8:14 miles with the same effort level during an 8 mile run, with sore legs coming off a 46 mile week.

It’s how several weeks ago, my splits in pace practice and interval repeats were all over the place and luckily averaged out to around goal pace. Now, I marvel at the fact that in my pace and track workouts and races lately, my splits have become remarkably consistent.

It’s how I see myself doing things that used to be hard and overwhelming – mile repeats, 20 mile long runs – with control and finesse. Finishing strong is no longer a goal, it’s become a habit.

It’s how I thought to myself during this run: this pace used to be so hard for me. There was no defining moment, no pivotal workout, in which it ceased to be hard. But it did.

And it’s how I couldn’t see or appreciate any of it until I finally accepted that progress is a slow and gradual journey. Getting better and faster as a runner is like the rotation of the Earth: now matter how hard you try, how furiously you squint, you can’t see it happening with your own eyes. And yet, the sun rises and sets every day, the seasons change, people grow older. Trust the change you cannot see, and only then will you start to see it.

 

During my last pace mile I imagined myself crossing the finish line of my BQ race, the most triumphant grin on my face. That’s going to happen, you know.

One day.

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18 thoughts on “Progress

  1. I so relate to this, and I love your outlook about how one bad run doesn’t define us, so one good run doesn’t either. When I do speedwork or pace work, my body feels great but my lungs hurt! I was wondering if it was just me.

    You’re definitely making progress! I like that in running, there isn’t really a destination. It’s all about the journey and the progress we make.

  2. Very insightful post, Hanna! (and kudos on an awesome run!) 46 miles–you are really in the think of training, and to have such a great run is a SURE sign of progress.

  3. The past two Tuesdays I ran the this workout: 2 mile warm up, 4 miles at HMP, 2 mile cool down. The first week I felt great/amazing/strong! This week my legs were tired and I had to constantly work to keep the pace from slipping. Your post is a great reminder to not let one bad run define me.

  4. Progress is such a great feeling! Sometimes it creeps up on me. Like I am just plodding along with training, doing what I’m supposed to do, and then one day- BOOM- I see results! That’s what happens for me with my lifting. I remember being stuck at 25lbs for chest press and not even being able to lean back on my own with the 30lbs. Then one day the 25s just felt like feathers and I knew I was ready to increase!

  5. I love where you say sometimes you need to “zoom out”… that’s such a great way to look at it. I’m always zoomed in, focusing on every second of every run and being overly critical about every single detail. When I zoom out and look at the big picture I can see how far I’ve come over the past few months and it changes my attitude completely.

    I remember last week I did a 4 mile run at 8:14 and I kept checking my watch like wait, is this right!? I don’t feel tired! But then just a few days ago I struggled big time on a 9:00 3 miler. Those ups and downs are exhausting when you start to analyze every single workout.

    P.S. I added your blog roll to my post today and asked anyone who wants to be added to comment. Will you shoot me an email so we can get connected and I can send you a list of anyone who comments and wants to be added? Thanks!!! My email is dixieruns@gmail.com

  6. Oh, I LOVE when you have those good runs where all the stars are aligned!!! Nirvana pace – LOVE!!!! I’m so happy to hear you had a good one. This is such an awesome post, though. I feel exactly the same. There are days where fast paces feel easy and like you could conquer anything, and days where my slowest paces feel like absolute torture. It’s the progress that defines you – the process you had to take to reach whatever your goal is. I love this post!!

  7. You are making a lot of progress! I love the Nirvana moments 🙂 You know it’s really nice when your Nirvana moments happen more frequently, seems like you are having a lot of great runs.
    Keep visualizing that moment, that’s powerful 🙂 You will do it, I believe that.

  8. So beautifully written! I agree; progress is slow but with consistency, patience, and effort, it happens. You’re getting so fast and I can’t wait to watch your journey to BQ. 🙂

  9. I love this post. It’s such an amazing feeling when everything clicks and you hit that feeling of comfort. Nothing like having a GREAT run! And if you keep pushing and focusing on your goal you WILL get that BQ!

  10. I love when you start realizing when all your hard work is paying off. It’s that feeling that hits you all of a sudden and you think, ‘Wow, look what I can do now!’ Awesome work, Hanna!
    Here’s what I like to say: Practice doesn’t really make perfect because there’s really no such thing…but practice makes progress! And you should be so proud of that. And your progress will definitely take you to Boston one day 😀

  11. Great post! I love those “nirvana” runs, I think the last few months have reinforced that those are the runs that makes all the less than stellar ones worth it. You always seem to get one when you need it most but don’t quite realize it. They remind you what you are working towards. You will get that BQ and it will be great!

    1. Thanks Fallon! I always make sure to soak it up when I have a nirvana run – they don’t come around too often!

  12. I love runs like that. It’s the whole reason why I run. Sometimes I’ll have a terrible day and then just bust out some awesome splits and feel a whole lot better. I do agree, though. The really really good runs (and the really really bad ones) can play with your head, if you let it. You’ve been running really well lately. I’m sure you’ll get that BQ in no time.

    1. Thanks Kerry! Yes learning not to let any one run get to your head has been such a crucial lesson!

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