Stepping Into My Capability Zone

Five weeks ago, I was preparing for one of my favorite marathon workouts: 8 x 1-mile repeats at lactate threshold. I love this workout because each repeat feels controlled, but the cumulative effort is massive. Every ounce of energy is slowly squeezed out of the tank, and what remains is an incredible mix of exhaustion and a weirdly immediate sense of fitness gain. It’s awesome.

But my feelings about the workout on that particular day were somewhere between anxiety and dread. For the previous 10 weeks, I had prepared for each workout and long run by looking back at the result of the same workout during my training cycle for the Mercedes Marathon in February 2015. The timing and my fitness level certainly lent themselves to comparison. I followed the same training plan for that race, which was just one week later in February than the LA Marathon is this February. I ran a big PR at that race, and I was feeling more and more fit as my current training progressed. But each time I looked back at last year’s workout results, instead of being excited to see what I could do this time around, I felt simultaneously limited and intimidated. I would lace up my shoes and think, “I just need to be a little faster than x:xx per mile.” And then I would immediately be stricken with fear: “What if I’m not faster today than this same workout last year?” It was as if my mind was convinced that my ability to run a PR hinged on every individual workout being just a tiny bit faster than last time, and if even one workout was slower than it was during the buildup to my PR, then there would be no way to PR this time. I knew it was a ridiculous thought pattern, but I couldn’t tear myself away from the comparison cycle.

In an effort to maintain my excitement about the workout that day, and not let it become fully shrouded in anxiety, I decided to keep last year’s training log closed. Instead of setting a limiting and fear-inducing expectation, I allowed myself to be curious about what my body could do. I’m sure you can guess how it turned out… I ran my fastest version of that workout. I felt strong and confident. And it certainly convinced me to stop the pre-workout comparisons. As I look back on that day and that week, I can see now that it was a turning point in this training cycle. I threw away the adage of “getting out of my comfort zone” because it wasn’t serving me well; it was just as limiting as my comparison game had been. Every workout is uncomfortable on some level, and mine were doubly uncomfortable - physically and mentally. Instead of just getting out of my comfort zone, I stepped into my capability zone by letting my body and mind organically explore the various nooks and crannies of discomfort and challenge and growth.

I’ve considered a couple of marathon time goals over the last few months, including the logical step to 2:50 from my current PR of 2:52:27. Then, as my training progressed and I saw some fitness gains, I started eyeing 2:48 as a goal. I also tossed around the idea of a place goal (top 10), but that can be tricky in a race where you don’t know who might show up to compete. On Sunday, during my last “long” run (14 miles) of this training cycle, I held each of these goals in my mind for a while. I let them roll around and try to settle into my consciousness. I imagined what race day will feel like, and I tried to see the finish line clock. And each time I envisioned a time goal on the clock in my mind, my heart responded first in a whisper and then in a booming echo, “But what if you can do more??” My legs churned a little faster as I considered the possibility of letting them fly free and unhindered by expectation on race day. Just as I drifted out of my day dream and back into reality, I noticed a couple walking toward me on the opposite side of the path with a yellow labrador. The dog looked up at me and immediately flashed a huge dog smile. Sure, it was just a happy dog with a coincidentally timed smile… But I’m choosing to believe it was the universe telling me, “Yep, you got it. Let your legs run free.”

So, in the spirit of non-comparison, and with free legs and a free heart, my goal for the LA Marathon on February, 14, 2016, is to step into my capability zone and allow my body to surprise me. Head up, wings out!

 
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