Just recently I acquired one of those fancy devices that allows me to track my heart rate, duration, distance, pace, mood, likeability factor, weight, percent water in the body….you get the point. It’s a device that has a lot of numbers.
At first, I found the device absolutely overwhelming. First of all, how can you tell where you are going if you are always looking down at your wrist. Second of all, how can you call something reliable or even useful when it is always fluctuating. Third, is there a particular speed I am looking for that would allow me to call myself “good”.
So I've been thinking about numbers lately and then I read Marit's post which was all about numbers. It got me to thinking that a lot of us have numbers on our mind. Counting laps, counting steps, pedal strokes, swim strokes, intervals, speed, watts - ours is a sport filled with numbers to study and analyze. So with one more device to download and observe would it really do me (or us) any good?
Up until recently I had never done anything with pace. I never knew how far or how fast I was going. I would just guess. And the closest I ever got to a measured course was riding one of my favorite run routes on my cyclocross bike to measure it out. I became highly disgruntled when I realized my 1 mile route was actually .9 but close enough. That was the last time I measured any of my courses.
When I got this new device I thought I would have all of my problems solved. I thought I would finally know how far and how fast. But after a few runs it became apparent that I didn’t really need to know. And I shouldn’t really care. Because most of the time what it proves is that yes, I am running slow. And when I am going fast, yes I am going fast.
After a few runs I actually got angry at the device. It would start out slow (slower than my slow) – at a pace that I swear I haven’t run in years and then all of a sudden I would be moving along at mach speed. I figured there was a warm up period and then a delay between the satellites and the device. But still all of this waiting, guessing, pacing just got me mad.
Not only that, but it distracted me on the run. It got me away from focusing on what was really important – how I feel. Making the connection from my breathing to my body to my feet to my pace. And that’s what really counts. Because if you are running along and staring at your GPS device the whole time my friend, you are missing out. You are missing out on what running is really all about – listening to your body, pushing past, digging from within and breaking through.
I almost felt bad for getting such a device. I have sold out. Real runners don't watch numbers - they just run. So honestly I’m thinking I am going to abandon it for now. I didn’t need it up until this point and there’s no point in starting now. I’ve run fast in the past without it and I’ll run fast in the future without knowing how fast I can go.
Plus, there is always that feeling of disappointment when I start to push the pace and I look down at my wrist and it say x:xx. Which could be about 30 seconds slower than I feel I should go. Then I start to feel sorry about myself. I start think here it is, proof that Fedofsky has lost her touch. She has lost her run. And that’s really what we’re looking for, right? An excuse to confirm our worst fear for ourselves – that we are not fast, that we are slow, that we are going to lose, that we are stupid for even trying at all.
Running, swimming, biking fast is all about feeling good. It’s all about getting in that zone where you push past the redline of hurt into an effortless zone. You dissociate from your body and your mind carries you through. That is where the best swim/bike/run occurs. And to get there you have to really be in touch with yourself. You have to be pushing from within and ready to cross into that zone. When you are constantly checking your wrist/the clock/the computer and weighing your pace against your preconceived notions about numerically what is fast and slow – you distract from your opportunity to dissociate and reach that point.
And so, is our fixation on numbers, pace, and instant data feedback really just holding us back? Are the numbers setting us up to feel sorry about ourselves which turns into a cycle of I keep pushing and I get no where. I thought I was slow and this now confirms that I am slow. How will you ever run faster if that is the dialogue you are always having with yourself?
Furthermore, what about the reverse? Let’s say you are running along and the GPS picks up a pace that is really, really fast. Will your defensive mechanism kick in the other way to protect yourself? In other words, will you start to slow down because you think you are not good enough to hold that fast of a pace?
My point here is that before you get fixated on the numbers over and over again – ask yourself what the numbers really mean. What is the point of knowing your pace? If you know that you are going x:xx/mile will that make you have a better day. Or feel better about yourself. Or win a race. I will say with certainty that I have never showed up at a race knowing that a 6:27/mile pace would win the race. Sometimes it does but what really matters for the win (whether personally or overall) is that you respond to the race and race within yourself. And your best race might be a 6:27 pace or a 7:27 pace or 8:27, 9:27 – it is whatever it takes on that day, on that course.
When we focus on numbers we lose touch with that side of ourselves. We put obstacles and distractions in the way of just pushing from the gut. We get wrapped up in how far and how fast. When really we should just unwrap, unravel, just GO! Which is a hard sell. Because we judge and value ourselves based on speed – whether on the swim, the bike or the run. We want speed, we want fast and we want it now. But honestly, no matter how often you look at your wrist or watch the miles click by that won’t make you any faster overall. Because when you get to a race, what you need to do is go fast on that course. Chase down your goal. And push from within.
At some point you have to let go of the numbers, the paces, the heart rate. At some point you just have to swim, bike, run. Free your wrist (and chest) – and yourself - from the shackle strapped around that is holding you back. Sometimes you just need to abandon the GPS, the heart rate monitor and go by feel. Whenever I do my “hard” workouts I put all of that stuff aside. Hard is hard is hard. Fast is fast. It doesn’t matter how hard or how fast just push dammit. Go by feel. Feel it from the inside of your gut. Hurt. There is no magical number you hit where you can now say “I am hurting.” You just get there! And as long as you can put the effort down and get yourself there – it doesn’t matter how fast you go.
I was talking with one of my athletes the other day. She was frustrated because she didn’t hit her intervals in the pool. I asked her if the effort was there – she said yes. Then you win! Guess what, some days you hit your best pace and some days you don’t. Some days you feel like you’re blazing along at 10 seconds faster than your T-pace and the clock says you’re actually 5 seconds slower. You can’t get lost in tracking your progress day to day. And that is why you have to let numbers go. Because what you’ll find is that for every ONE good workout where you feel fast, there are about three to five where you ARE slow. You can’t win them all. But you can push through, you can reflect back to find what you learned and then when race day comes around you can give it your best. It will show.