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Lessons in Small Doses — Whisper Running | Sport Psychology

Finishing my daily aqua-jogging routine for reprieve from sciatica, I make my way to the locker room for a shower.  The room is rather busy, and as I look toward my locker, a man in his 80’s is using the locker just beneath mine.  Rather than get in his way, I head to the shower for a long rinse. Afterward, the gentleman is still there, so I bide time by running my shorts through the suit dryer, then weighing myself on the scale across the room. After exhausting everything I can think to do, I approach the man and excuse my reach. He politely moves aside while I grab my belongings.

“Did you have a good workout?” the elder asked.

“It wasn’t much of a workout, it was merely some PT to help with my sciatica,” I replied.

“Well, I’ve got Alzheimer’s, so we’re all dealing with something,” he says with a smile.

In an instant, albeit only for a moment, my sciatica was gone. I experienced a similar encounter two weeks earlier when a gentleman using the hot tub exited by climbing out using only his hands to get into his wheelchair. And I am reminded of a dear friend who passed too early, when his wife told me that her running was now “easier” since she spent the past few years mourning his death.

Things are hard, until they are not.

This past weekend, I ran into a friend of mine, Mechele, at the Scary Run.  Mechele has been a runner as long as I can remember and she recently hired a coach to help her become faster, at the ripe young age of 58.  Mechele shared with me that in all the work she does on her own, she rarely includes speed training as part of her workout because, in her own words, “Speed work is hard!” 

Some people come out of the womb with an ability to run fast, while others take several decades to achieve, or sometimes never at all. At Whisper, beginning runners are reminded that the discomfort they are feeling when running hard is normal and short lived.  This makes me think of the sign I read at the Eugene Half Marathon that read, “If you think time goes by fast, trying running a marathon.” 

Okay, so when you’re in the moment of running, it may seem to take forever, but in the grand scheme of things, i.e., workouts, it really does go by fast. 

Teaching runners how to run hard can be administered in small doses called Intervals.  These are physical lessons of stress and prolonged discomfort, and on the mental side, they are lessons of tolerance and repeated achievement.  Again and again, intervals are practiced, consistency is yearned for, and fitness improves.  In time, intervals are lengthened, and the cycle continues – workouts improve conditioning, which improves confidence, which leads to an enthusiasm for the next practice.  Keep in mind, we only meet for workouts twice each week, so the multiple days of rest between workouts is more than sufficient.

The life lesson.

If there is a silver lining in my bout with sciatica, it’s that six weeks on the shelf has brought healing to my Achilles, something I have not had in 10+ years.  My body says, “Your Achilles needs a prolonged rest, why don’t have lay down for a while,” and I do so as I type this from the floor of my living room.   Stress is part of life, and the valleys callous us for when we are ready to  come out the other end stronger and wiser.

Should one experience sciatica day in, day out, year in, year out?  Hopefully not!  Similarly, easy runs, intervals, fartleks, tempos, and steady-state runs have seasons, and ebbs and flows.  They come in just the right doses at just the right times in just the right order for just the right moment.  Intervals teach us that it is okay to experience stress, and in fact, we should be excited when it arrives!  They provide us strength and confidence and guide us into running experiences we would otherwise never know. 

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