Just over a week ago I ran my first half-marathon: the BK Half.
It was awesome, easy, and terrible. I had wanted to simply finish the damn thing under 2 hours. I ended up with a 1:45:43 finish. In my last four miles I got my fastest 5k for the year and one sub 7-minute mile. WTF!?
This result got me thinking about working out in a way I haven’t in a long time.
Prior to moving back to Brooklyn two years ago I lived in Miami for seven years. When I first moved to Miami in June of 2005 I was training for the Dublin Marathon. It would have been my first marathon. But I got injured a few weeks before the race. The injury put me off of distance running and racing.
Through some twists and turns I eventually helped start Crossfit 305* just before the boom of the fitness-as-sport boom. I stopped running unless a workout called for it, and I still got faster with my best mile at 5:30 and my best 5k at 21:30.
Even though I haven’t done CrossFit workouts on the regular in over two years my success in the BK Half reminded me of a couple of lessons from those workouts.
Lesson 1 – Workouts are hard
When training for the BK Half I ran, on average, 2 days a week. One of these runs was with my friend Sean. We ran longer (no more than 7 8 miles) and talked the whole way. It was an easy run. This was not a workout in my mind. It was a run with a friend, it was social, it was getting in some miles, it was being outside. I never left these runs feeling particularly taxed.
The other run I did during the week was either hill sprints or what you could call short tempo runs (no more than 5k). The tempo runs were not meant to be tempo runs (I didn’t even know what a tempo run was). When I run alone I have a hard time taking it slow so I run fast (for me). Sometimes I barely hold on to a pace. I thought I was just working out, but I was really doing speed training. Without my CrossFit background I might have just cruised through these runs, but instead I ended up doing speed work, and that helped me in the BK Half.
Lesson 2 – I wont die
CrossFit taught me that my workout may be so hard metabolically that my body wants to give up. The physical challenge often translated into emotional and mental triggers – I often felt that I was going to literally die. My rational brain would kick in and tell me I wasn’t going to die BUT I should stop because any number of reasons. Thee peer pressure of group CrossFit workouts prevented me from stopping (unless I was injured).
Learning to pushing through the severe physical, emotional and mental stress of intense workouts created a mental toughness that was essential for me in the last quarter of the BK Half. My last mile was pure suffering, I had nothing left. I was running not on top of the concrete road but through it. The last 800 meters felt worse than the 12.6 miles before it. I felt like I was going to die. I didn’t. But I did crush my own expectations.
Mental toughness is often talked about in sports and fitness literature. Just like the physical side of competition you have to train for it.
In the last year I have fallen off of doing regular fitness workouts (I climb three days a week, these are more skills based workouts). These lessons, that are ingrained in my, allowed me to do way better than I thought I could. It’s gotten me thinking about what could happen if I start applying them more methodically (as I did when I did CrossFit) to my running. Maybe this blog will see a resurrection along with my interest in getting better at running. Maybe I will do better than 4888 place in my next half marathon.
*I generally have a good opinion of CrossFit as a fitness methodology. I have a lot of problems with how it is implemented. The CrossFit culture negatively impacts the implementation of the methodology and leads to unnecessary injuries.