an athlete photographer's blog

The Uncomfortable Zone

Dear Swift-Footed Runner Guy,

Thank you for your words of encouragement on the trail today.  I passed you right when I needed a cheerleader the most.  Thanks for the extra boost.

The Picture Runner

The Run
4.00 miles

The Picture

Follow the Path

The Recap

I’ve been looking forward to today’s run for the last week.  It has been 10 days since I’ve run somewhere besides our property.  I needed a change and a break from the grass.  I felt liberated dropping my daughter off at gymnastics and hitting the trail.

I’ve been talking about wanting to get faster and how I’m just starting to incorporate some speed work.   This morning I read an article about the 3 Key Workouts Runners Should Do Every Week.  Here’s my favorite snippet:

Those slow aerobic runs take an awful lot of time, train your mind to avoid pain, and slow you down. They keep you in your comfort zone. That’s great if you want to race in your comfort zone. But most people at least talk about running faster. You need to embrace the pain in order to get faster. Training in your comfort zone will keep you racing in your comfort zone.

That struck a chord with me.  I have been doing a lot of comfortable miles.  I do not want to race in my comfort zone.  Not even a little bit.  There’s no time like the present so today was a great day to make the change.  So with 65 minutes of child-free time and a harden trail before me, I set out to run an uncomfortable four miles.  I was trying to run the fastest four miles I could.

Mile One

The hardest part about racing and speed work is going fast enough to meet your goal, while not going too fast so that you burn out.  I felt like I was running too fast as soon as I started, but I reminded myself that uncomfortable was the name of the game today.  I was running faster than normal, but I definitely was not sprinting so that was a good thing.  Totally over-dressed wearing running tights, long sleeves, and a t-shirt, I passed an older guy (maybe in his upper 40s?) going the opposite direction in long-sleeves, shorts, and a visor.  I thought, That’s what I should have worn.  He was running like a swift-footed deer.  He made it look so easy.  He said, “Hi.”  I said, Hi. And I wondered how far he was running today.  I decided I would stop to remove the outer layer when mile one was over.  Mile One Complete – time – 8:01.

Mile Two

I threw my shirt in my pack and snagged a quick sip of water.  Eight minute mile – whew, that was faster than I meant to do.  I slowed it down a bit.  I was planning a bigger rest at then end of mile two because it was near the big red barn I took a picture of last month.  I figured I would get my picture in there.  As it turned out, mile two ended a little further up from the barn.  Mile Two Complete – time – 8:40.


SaturnThat second mile was slower for sure, but it was still hard.  I was starting to get out of my comfort zone.  This was my turn around point and a mid-rest point.  I did a light jog up to the marker and saw that I had made it to Saturn in the Little Apple Solar System.  I still wanted a picture for today, but I didn’t want to take too long.   Today was a running day.  It was not about the picture.

I decided I was allowed to take three pictures.  I took The Picture, this one of the marker, and then another runner came around the bend so I packed up my camera.  I didn’t want to wait for them to be out of the shot and I didn’t see anything I was dying to take picture of.  It was time to run again.  I took a quick sip of water and started mile three.

Mile Three

Only a few steps in and I already wished I had taken a bigger drink of water.  I really wanted a negative split, but I wasn’t sure it was possible.  And I wanted a picture of the Solar System sign because I never have time to really look at it.

Solar SystemI had my phone ready and I only stopped for a quick second.  The picture wasn’t even straight.  I didn’t even check to make sure it was in focus.  I just kept running.  I was really starting to hurt, but somehow in my running fog I decided I would compare mile one to mile three and mile two to mile four.  They matched in my mind.  Mile three needed to beat mile one, but I had fresh legs for mile one.

I wasn’t sure where I’d hit mile three because I had jogged ahead during my rest so it wouldn’t be at the same spot.  I pulled out my phone again.  0.85 miles.  Ok, come on Alexia – almost to mile three.  Finally, Mile Three Complete – time – 7:51.

Mile Four

7:51!!  Oh my goodness!  That was fast.   I grabbed a sip of water and started mile four.  My quads were starting to burn.  The path made its only real downhill – Use the hill, Alexia.  Pick up some speed.  But of course, what goes down must come up, so I had to run up the only real uphill.  My quads were on fire.  I was trying to dig deep, but I felt like I didn’t have much.  I thought of Sara Hall who wrote about her quads being on fire during the LA Marathon.  Yes, mine were about ready to give up.  If she could push on, so could I.  Be like Sara.  I rounded the corner and saw Swift-Footed Runner Guy.  As I passed him, he said, “You’re rockin’ it girl!”  Really??  Maybe I don’t look as bad as I feel.  But all I said was, Thanks!  You too!  He was still running with great speed and ease.  As for me, my quads were on burning and I wasn’t sure I had much left.  That little bit of encouragement was just what I needed.  I could do it, come on!  I looked at my phone I had only run 0.55 miles.  Are you kidding me??  I felt like I had nothing left.  I just wanted to finish.  The phone now said 0.72.  Ok, only a quarter left.  That’s probably to those trees.  Nope. Those trees were only 0.85.  Ok, it’s probably only to those trees.  Nope, only 0.92.  Ok turn it on, give it all you got!  I pushed through to the end.  Mile Four Complete – time – 8:23.

It’s hard to want to do these kinds of workouts.  It’s like getting out of a warm bed on a cold morning.  It’s not comfortable, but it’s good for you.

I did not lose my lunch at the end, although I felt like I could have.  It was a good feeling though.  I got my negative splits.  The first two miles were 16:40 and the second two were 16:14, which gave me four miles in 32:54.  I know, there were breaks.  But I walked away knowing I had given it my all.  I think the entire time I was running I was thinking, I am not comfortable.  I am not comfortable.  That was the goal though!  I pushed beyond comfortable.

The best part was since I was running so fast, I didn’t even have to worry about being back to gymnastics on time.  Got back 20 minutes early, which then made me think, 20 minutes….that means next time I could try to run 5 fast miles.  🙂


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