As I debated whether or not to compete in this year’s Master’s Indoor Track and Field Championships the word “intention” kept coming up. The definition of the word includes: a determination to act in a certain way, resolve, and ‘what one intends to do or bring about.’ As an Alexander Technique teacher, I use the word intention to help pupils become clearer on what they want in a given situation. This helps them make better choices. Taking the simple movement of sitting down, many of us unconsciously aim the butt at the chair and collapse heavily as a result. To bring lightness and fluidity to the same action requires a change of mindset: don’t try and sit down better, instead, just lengthen your spine and bend your knees!
My goal was clear: break the Quebec indoor 1500m record. My intention: complete a training cycle geared to giving me a shot at the record. The rub: how was I going to accomplish this?
For those of you who’ve never run a 1500 competitively, it’s a pretty tough race which goes on 400m longer than it should! To run well and potentially break the record I would need to spend a fair amount of time every week in an uncomfortable training zone, a prospect I dread. And due to a change in my schedule, most of this training would have to be done alone rather than with my club so there would be no one to help me when my resolve might waver…
Wanting something and actually achieving it are two different matters as we all know. Peace of mind sounds great but being prepared to meditate everyday for 20 minutes is a little more difficult. Preparing myself to set the record would require progressively increasing the amount of time I could run at goal pace…fairly easy and comfortable for 200m…getting more unpleasant as the distance increased.
My coach and I had come up with a training plan where each week I would do just that. Starting with a distance I could manage physically (and emotionally!!) he gradually increased the length of my reps until I was doing 5 x 500m at race pace. This would take approximately 6 weeks and then I would do a time trial of 1000m just to see if the plan was working.
On paper this sounds very straightforward. One could almost believe it would simply be a matter of showing up, doing the workouts, running the race, collecting the medal and writing my name in the record book…. One small problem: following through and actually doing it!!
It is said that pain makes cowards of us all to which I would add the fear of pain makes it really easy to skip a work out. How to overcome the paralyzing fear that threatened to derail my plan before it even got off the ground? My will power was not strong or consistent enough. And the extremely logical and rational part of my brain kept looking for a way out…and presented various excuses … Too cold, too warm, to early too late, too tired, what for, missing one doesn’t really matter… it got to the point where if I could divert half the energy I was using up to deal with my fear into actually running I could pretty well cope with any training session no matter how tough !
Fortunately, over the years I’ve developed a routine which follows a well known sequence: ….put on my running clothes, do a little warm up run, then a few exercises, then a few accelerations…you get the idea. Focusing on each element as an entity in itself helped control the tendency to catastrophize the upcoming hard bit. (“ as in I’m going to die, fail miserably, blow up, implode…!”) I’d complete one step, go on to the next and then the next. The really intense section of the workout become just one in a series of steps; just after the strides and just before the cool down.
It was always interesting to note after each session, that the horrible outcomes my mind had predicted always failed to occur and as time went on I got better at meeting the fear and not letting it dominate my thinking or my actions. Which made it a little easier to follow through on my intention: show up every week and do something a little harder than the previous week.
Step by step, day by day, week by week….sooner than I knew, it was race day, 5 minutes or a little less of intense running and it would all be over.
Afternote: the race went pretty much as I’d hoped but sadly I wasn’t quick enough on the day to set the record. I did however manage to win the race…the record though would have to wait for another day.