The Mental Gymnastics of Getting Through a Hard Workout

The night before

“I am still feeling a bit tired, perhaps I should postpone tomorrow’s workout with a day or two. It’s important to go into workouts feeling fresh and ready to go, and this one will be especially demanding with 8 kilometres at threshold pace. Yeah, that’s that decided, then, I’ll definitely push the workout unless I’m feeling better.”

The morning of

“The cumulative fatigue is definitely still too high to try an LT session today, yeah, no doubt about it. Glad I decided to postpone it. The roads are quite icy, though, so I’ll just go to the gym and get on the treadmill just in case I feel really good once I get going, and want to push myself after all.”

An hour before

“I wonder which shoes I should run in today. The Bostons are probably a safe choice, but if I do end up feeling great, it would be a good chance to test the Vaporfly 4% while running fast. Yeah, I’ll go with the Vaporflys just to be sure.”

Warm up

“Oh man, I’m so glad I decided to push that LT session because my favourite treadmill is busy. It’s impossible to know how the other treadmills are calibrated compared to that one, and it’d be a pain running on HR alone. I’ll get on this one here instead, and it doesn’t even matter that it’s making strange noises because I’m just running easy and taking it slow today.”

Upping the pace

“Hey, look at that, the girl on ‘my’ treadmill just left. Perhaps I should hop on over to that instead, and run a couple of kilometres at a quicker clip. And if my legs respond, perhaps I can do some LT work after all.”

It’s on

“Alright, I’m running at close to threshold pace here, and it doesn’t feel too bad. If I just get it over with today, I won’t have to worry about fitting this workout into my schedule over the next couple of days, which would be great. Let’s do this!”

0.3 out of 8.0 kilometres completed

“Oh no, what have I done?! This feels like an all-out spring and I’ll never be able to do 8k of this. No chance. I can’t believe I managed to 6k at this pace just a couple of weeks ago when I won’t be able to get even close today. I just gotta try and make it to 1000 meters, then perhaps I can power through a few intervals of that instead.”

1.1 out of 8.0 kilometres completed

“This is absolute torture, but I think maybe if I can just hold on for dear life, I can make it to 3k. If I just reach that, I can split the threshold session into two runs separated by a break.”

3.0 out of 8.0 kilometres completed

“Maybe I can repeat the workout I did a couple of weeks back, and get in 6k at this pace. If I just manage to replicate that workout, that would be much better than going backwards. And, doing the math, 6k is almost a third of a half marathon, and being able to say ‘I did (almost) a third of a half marathon at half marathon pace’ sounds good to me.”

6.0 out of 8.0 kilometres completed

“YES, MADE IT! I did almost a third of a half marathon at half marathon pace. Almost. Just like I did a couple of weeks ago. Although, if I do manage to suffer through just a few more minutes of this, 7k is more or less exactly a third of a half marathon. I think I am able to do that, I should definitely be able to keep this pace up for a full half while racing.”

6.3 out of 8.0 kilometres completed

“Alright, I guess I’m going for 7k, then. Can’t stop, won’t stop!”

7.01 out of 8.0 kilometres completed

“Hey! What’s going on here?! That was my stop. I was getting off there at 7.00, and the display is showing 7.01… 7.02… 7.03. I’m trapped, and I can’t get off this thing. Please, won’t somebody hear my calls for help and get me off this thing?!”

7.5 out of 8.0 kilometres completed

Meme face determined with tears

8.0 out of 8.0 kilometres completed

“I’m that star up in the sky. I’m that mountain peak up high. Hey, I made it. I’m the world’s greatest!”

Father’s Day Run

The ice is crushing and crunching under my feet, as my spiked winter running shoes keep me glued to the ground. They didn’t offer the most comfortable run but compared to the alternative of wearing a helmet to protect me from the inevitable outcome of running in slippery conditions like these; the spikes win out by a margin.

The calendar shows November 12th, 2017, and in Norway, it’s father’s day. The first since I became a father. The day also marks five months and a day since my little girl was born. Ice crunches under my feet still, and I slip a bit on account of the uneven surface. I keep my balance, no harm done, and I stride on, thinking about that day, five months and a day ago.

I ran that day, too. 21 097 and a half meters or so, and the run lasted a little over an hour and 38 minutes. It wasn’t a race, but it’s not something you quickly forget, what you ran the day your first child was born. Of lesser significance is the fact that it was the first time I ran the half marathon distance in under 1 hour and 40 minutes, which was the goal I set for myself at the start of the year. What times can I post in my race in September, I thought after completing the run on the day my daughter was born.

After that, I didn’t think about running for a week. My daughter was born on a Sunday, a month before we expected her arrival, and the next Saturday she left this world again while in the arms of her parents. The ice continues to crackle below my feet, and I feel tired. But not from running. It is father’s day, and I think about my little girl as I look towards the sun, high in the blue sky. It wasn’t supposed to end up like this, but what can you do? I don’t know, so I just run.

About halfway through the run, I stop to take a gel. While the temperature is hovering around the freezing point, the back of my jacket is wet from sweat below the vest I’m wearing to bring along my water, phone, and of course the gel. My stomach has been a challenge through many runs, but as I am going to complete a marathon at some point in the not too distant future, I need to practice consuming nutrition while running.

On the day the doctors informed us that there was nothing they could do for our little girl, my mother asked me if I thought I would continue to run after all this had reached an end. We were driving home from the hospital, for a quick shower and a change of clothes before going back to spend the night with the little one, and I remember that the question stumped me at first. At that point, I couldn’t imagine ever again having the energy to run, so after thinking about it for a little while, I only answered no.

The gel is supposed to taste like a combination of strawberry and banana, and to my surprise, it’s not too bad. I drink some water to wash down as much of the gel as possible, before putting my gloves back on and picking up the pace again. Here, the sun has melted away most of the ice from the sidewalk, and the feeling of spikes on asphalt sends shivers up through my feet and into the rest of my body. I try to stay just on the outside of the sidewalk, where it’s mostly dirt and gravel.

Icy winter roads

When the thought struck me at first, I felt guilty for the answer I had given my mom. How could I possibly even contemplate letting my little girl’s short life be an excuse for not accomplishing something I had said I would. Everything I did, and continue to do, from the day I first got to hold her, has been and will be for her. But this, this one thing that I had somehow thought I wouldn’t do because of her, became something I had to do for her. So now I train for the marathon because I have to do it. I have to do it for her.

These little hills are hard, and the combination of ice and spikes is getting to my legs. They feel heavy as I come up to the cemetery where we laid our baby to rest a few months back. “I’ll see you in a bit, little one” I whisper as I turn and run perpendicularly to the graveyard. It is my first father’s day, and I am going to spend it lighting a candle at my daughter’s grave. It wasn’t supposed to turn out this way, but what can you do? I don’t know, so I just run.

Just a couple of miles to go, and the sun has thoroughly imposed itself on the world now. I’m sweating, and try to stay hydrated by practising my ability to do two things at once by drinking and running at the same time. It goes moderately well, I think to myself as the little cap of my soft bottle slaps my cheek.

Some runs are hard, while others, like my night run two days back, are brutal. While all days are hard these days, it had been a particularly unsettling week. You get used to feeling down, sad and despondent, but this week everything felt a little crooked, a little out of place. Going for a medium long run in the pouring rain felt like the last thing I wanted to do, but what else was I going to do? So I ran, of course.

A short climb and downhill to go before I today’s session is over. The wind, cold and gentle, is blowing on my face, cooling my entire body, which is warm from the running. Ask me to describe the perfect day, and I will answer something like this: The world is bright white and covered in snow, the sun is shining on the blue sky, and I am outside right there in the middle of it. Running, skiing or sledging, it doesn’t matter, as long as my cheeks are red by the time I get inside to warm up again.

Before I passed two kilometres on the run two days back, a car had splashed me, and I was soaked through and cold to the bone. But as the rain turned to sleet, the temperature sunk and the wind picked up, it went from cold to freezing. Running is usually a break from feeling anything much at all, but here I found myself not just freezing, but feeling as broken and malfunctioning physically as I have done mentally for almost five months. I can’t take this, I thought, I can’t go on unless someone saves me.

On the final downhill, as I approach our house, I can see across the fields and the top of the church tower where my little girl rests. As I let my feet go, my shoes still keeping me glued to the road, I think about what a great day this was for a run. A layer of snow covers the world around me, and my cheeks are red as I’m in finishing up the final hundred meters or so. I needed saving, and someone gave me a perfect day. It’s father’s day, and it was never meant to be like this. But I know that someone’s looking out for me while I run for her.