When people first find out I like to run, they often say things such as "I hate to run" or "I wish I could run but I tried it and just couldn't do it" or other similar comments. They often say it is just too hard. If I ask a few more questions about their running, it is almost always the case that they are running at a pace that is simply not sustainable for any length of time and leaves them out of breath and miserable.
If they ask me for advice, I usually tell them to start by slowing down and running at a pace where they are comfortable enough to carry on a conversation fairly easily. I really do believe that so many people who claim to hate running are simply trying to run too fast. And by slowing down, they may find they actually enjoy running and will become a runner themselves.
Anyone who has been running for any period of time most likely has that pace where they feel they could run for hours on end, enjoying a conversation with a fellow runner friend as if they were both sitting in a coffee shop or out for a drink. I know I have that pace...that pace where 30 seconds faster feels too fast and 30 seconds slower feels to slow. My nice, comfortable pace.
I also have found myself running many, many miles on the treadmill over the past few years. If it is raining or cold or dark outside...to the treadmill I go. We have a TV in our "gym" that has Netflix and I have wireless headphones so I can listen without having to blast the volume. There are windows I can open to help control the temperature, a window ledge for my water bottle within an arm's reach and a bathroom a mere 30 feet away. I am definitely very comfortable running on the treadmill.
Is there anything wrong with wanting to be comfortable?!
Not necessarily. My problem is that I find myself wanting to be comfortable way too often. If I'm not training for a specific race, I don't ever push the pace on my runs. I don't venture outside in the rain or cold or heat. I don't run long distances. And, as a result, I don't grow and improve as a runner and I miss out on so many opportunities.
I am currently in the midst of training for the Boston marathon. This will be the first spring marathon I have ever run and, consequently, the first time I have had to do 20 mile runs in the middle of winter. In order to be prepared for Boston, I need to run hills (the incline on our treadmill doesn't work well) and I need to run outside and experience the pounding of the pavement on my legs. I also need to be incorporating more speedwork -- tempo runs, track workouts and strides.
All this means that I have forced myself outside of my comfort zone many times already the past couple of months -- into the rain, the wind, the cold, the snow and onto the track for 800's and mile repeats. I have dreaded some of these runs, such as yesterday's when the temp was in the high 20's and snow flakes were swirling in the air and I had a tough 10 miler scheduled.
What I have found the past couple of months has surprised me. I have actually enjoyed being uncomfortable. I have loved the feeling of pushing myself and feeling my body respond...of slipping and sliding on a snowy trail but sticking with it for the entire run...of feeling the cool rain soak me to the core while realizing I have a huge grin on my face...of timing myself on my 800's and seeing those times dropping.
I am learning to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.
And, even better, I am enjoying it! My "comfortable" pace continues to drop as a result of the work I'm putting in each day. The dread of heading outside in tough conditions has almost disappeared as I know how much I'll love being outside once I get going. In order to get my run in this morning, I had to run on the treadmill while the kids were still sleeping and I found myself wishing I could be outside in the dark and cold.
As I was thinking about how much I've grown the last few weeks, I realized how much this lesson applies to not just running but life in general. So many people avoid situations that make them uncomfortable. They steer clear of settings where they will find themselves with people of a different religion or race or sexual preference or socioeconomic status. Or they avoid trying something new or taking a risk with something that is outside of their comfort zone.
Being uncomfortable doesn't have to be overly challenging or painful or difficult. In my case, it was as simple as getting outside for a run in the rain. Or pushing the pace when normally I wouldn't. For others, it could be as simple as taking that first step...whether that is the first step of a run or the first step in making a change in their lives or embracing someone different than ourselves.
Do you have a comfortable pace? In what way do you push yourself out of your comfort zone, either in running or in life?