In 45 days I’m running a half marathon.
Thursdays are my most difficult run day, which doesn’t make much sense because Thursday is always a recovery run — low miles at a slow pace, to help me bounce back from Wednesday’s speed work or tempo run and get loose for Saturday’s long run. But every Thursday, I have to talk myself into putting on my running shoes because gah I am so tired. And so stressed. And so far behind at everything.
I have the same conversation with myself every Thursday, starting as soon as the alarm goes off: It’s only four miles. It won’t take long. It’s supposed to be easy and slow. Just get it over with.
By the end of the first mile, I feel pretty good; by the start of the fourth, I’m thinking I might as well run five instead because I’m already out here, right? But I stick to the plan because the plan is what gets me to the goal.
I love running, but I love running more when I’m training for something. I am the most motivated when I’m moving toward something, less likely to think about how tired and stressed I am and more likely to put my shoes on and go. I wish I had realized this 25 years ago, when my approach to exercise consisted entirely of trying to change my body into something that looked more like what I saw in magazines and less like what I saw in the mirror.
Which is not a realistic goal.
I started swimming at the beginning of September; my goal, honestly, was just not to drown. So far, so good! But here’s a funny thing: since I added the swimming to my training plan (four times a week, every week) I’ve cut nearly 15 seconds per mile off my running pace. Crazy! It’s possible that I’m running faster because the weather is cooler, but I’m convinced the swimming has something to do with it. That wasn’t my goal, but it’s a nice bonus.
When I run, I think about all sorts of things: the details of projects I’m working on, things that are going on with my kids, lists of stuff that needs to get done. When I swim, I can’t do that; I have to focus on my breathing and my stroke and the number of laps I’ve finished. That time in the pool, the time it takes me to finish 1300 yards, is a complete break from the day, the only one I get, typically. Ahh.
I have my training plotted out through the marathon, all my swims and runs, and every day I check to see what’s on the calendar. I like the feeling of control that the training plan gives me, and the sense of moving forward that comes with the goal. It helps me to deal with all the unschedulable, uncontrolable things that are going on in the rest of my life.
Are you an athletic goal setter, or do you enjoy exercise for the sake of exercise?