A big part of running faster is learning to suck it up

A couple days back a couple friends of mine gave me the sage advice that to run faster you have to run faster.  This was a combination of a “ha-ha” joke, folksy wisdom, and a true statement.

After my tempo run yesterday I found myself thinking about it again.  I’ve been working out regularly for the last three months.  But nothing strenuous.  No max effort workouts.  When I did my two-mile run test last weekend my pace was about 8:14/mile and at the time I thought I was going as fast as I possibly could.  The effort felt extremely uncomfortable. 

But on Saturday, I did a four-mile tempo run and the pace was 8:25/mile.  Double the distance with only a 10-second drop in pace.  And I wasn’t pushing nearly as hard on the four-mile run as I was on the two-mile run, in terms of perceived effort and physical disomfort.  In fact, thinking about it now I might have been able to push the pace on that tempo run enough to match the pace from my two-mile run.

Did my run fitness improve so much in one week that I can run twice the distance at the same “max” pace as a week ago?  Probably not.  What happened is that over the past week I’ve been pushing hard instead of cruising comfortable through cardio workouts.  As a result, my body is learning what it feels like to run faster and just how long and fast it can do it.  I’ve gotten more used to the discomfort that come from higher intensity training and running.  I can endure the unpleasant sensations of running at a harder pace longer just by doing it more and knowing what it feels like and how that translates in terms of pace and performance limits.

In other words, during my two-mile run test last week it wasn’t my heart or lungs or legs that were the limiting factor; it was my physical awareness and tolerance for suffering (discomfort) that dictated my max effort.  I think the next time I do a two-mile time trial I’ll see a big improvement.  11:54 here I come (eventually).

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