Category Archives: psychology

The Comparison Trap

The other day, one of my girls said, “I’m in a pain hole and I can’t get out!” We spend a lot of time on our team working to push ourselves when you reach that fork in a race where you can either choose to blast through the pain tunnel or stay where it’s safe and (more) comfortable. She excels at getting into the pain tunnel but post-race can be just plain miserable for her; when she crosses the line, that’s all she has and we end up carrying her back to the tent. As much as we giggled about her pain hole comment (and her question about whether she still had arms), I found myself thinking about it this week as I checked my email for the fifteenth time looking for interview invites (for residency), checked an online message board for the interviews others were getting and scrolled through Instagram looking at everyone’s seemingly amazing training and racing posts. I realized that I’m caught in a comparison trap and I can’t get out. 

There’s a saying about never knowing about the rocks that other people carry and I think social media exacerbates this in a way. Despite knowing that social media is highly curated, it’s hard to avoid the creeping sensation that everyone else is running faster, doing more and generally better than you. For me, daily posts by other runners that include phrases like #neverstop #workharder #rundaily don’t inspire me, they discourage me. I’m nowhere near lazy; I’m busy coaching a team, applying to residency, and keeping life going but if I’m not killing my workouts (or even really interested in doing them), I feel like a failure by the time I’ve done my first internet scroll in the morning. I’m not sure what the solution is but I definitely need to start the process of building a ladder or find some teammates to carry me back to the tent to regroup.

How do you react to the comparison trap? Have you tried a social media hiatus? What is it about social media that makes us automatically filter our lives?

Week in Review: 6.27.16 to 7.3.16

Monday: Had to get drug tested for a couple of the hospitals I’m visiting this year so didn’t get to the Illinois Prarie Path until 11 when it was already 90 and full sun. Promised myself I’d just do the workout on effort and happily executed 5 by mile at tempo pace (6:52, 6:53, 6:51, 6:53, 6:48) in the heat. Legs after.

Tuesday: Forced myself to take a prorated off day of 7 miles. Too tempting to jam in running with my more open schedule.

Wednesday: 9.2 miles on the CalSag with strides afterward. Legs totally cooked from working.

Thursday: 9 mile interval workout. 2 by 800, 600, 400, 200. Pace progressed through the workout and finished with a 37 second 200. Legs after.

Friday: Hour run around the neighborhood.

Saturday: 12.2 mile long run. Felt horrible for all of this because I ate WAY too close to running but just took it a minute at a time.

Sunday: Hour run with mile of ins/outs on the track. Arms after.

Total Miles: 60.4

The theme of the week was tired legs. I had a big block of work this week and my legs let me know it, with stinging and aching galore. Despite that, I got solid running in and am starting to feel some fitness come back under the fatigue. The opportunity that this presented, however, to practice working on effort rather than prescribed paces was an awesome one and I’m proud that I was able to do this successfully for both of my workouts and my long run.

This will be my last “up” week before I cut back for the half. I have a continuous tempo on the docket for today, minute hard/minute easy later in the week and a 2 hour long run before my 50% week.

Don’t Believe Everything You See on Instagram

Disclaimer: I love social media. I once coordinated the volunteer response to a hurricane on social media and continue to do research on the role of social media in public health promotion. I benefit from social media; my relationships with Skechers and Nuun and with countless other companies who send me free things to review or comp my race entries are closely tied to my social media presence.

With that disclaimer out of the way, I am also deeply concerned about the way that social media is changing the way we run. Is is possible to go for a run without posting a picture of your Garmin? Is it possible to eat a recovery meal without first snapping it in pretty light? How many shots does it take to get a good daily run shot and WHO THE HELL IS TAKING ALL YOUR RUNNING PHOTOS?!?

Much of this has come up for me over the past few months as I continue to figure out how to balance the PR and training components of my running. I am deeply grateful to my sponsors and want to represent them in a good light and demonstrate how their support makes it easier for me to meet my training goals. That said, I also don’t have time to set up a photo shoot after every run nor do I have someone around to take a photo of every workout or run. All of this came to a head a few weeks ago when I was down in our gym doing legs after a workout. I wanted to get a picture after a good workout and was busily trying to set up a timer app on my phone to capture me in the middle of a single leg squat. After 15 minutes of trying to get a shot with decent lighting, however, I was out of time both for squats or to post a picture and as I was showering started to reflect on the sheer ridiculousness of compromising both my social media presence and training to get a good workout shot.

My bigger concern, however, is around the authenticity of content on social media as it pertains to running. No one, and I repeat no one, has good runs every day. Perhaps every run has moments of good but the reality is that if you run regularly, most of those runs are average and run of the mill. And that’s okay. No single workout or run makes a training cycle. It’s the stacking of average run on average run that leads to breakthrough performances and personal records. So why the pressure to talk about how amazing every run was or how fast you were on every repetition? Why the cultivation of the myth that running and training should always be glamorous and photo ready? Some of my biggest breakthrough workouts are the ones where I miss my paces but stick it out anyway or the ones where I drench through my mismatching clothes. Where’s the rush to post those moments?

Part of the story but not the whole story.

Part of the story but not the whole story.

In general, I think I do a good job of being real on this blog. In fact, I think I am a little too rough on myself which is something I noticed when reading through race reports recently. On Instagram, however, I fall into the trap of cultivating my content. Some of this is unconscious; if I don’t have time to post a picture, I don’t. Some of it, however, is 100% intentional. When Will and I have time to run together, I regularly ask him to take pictures of apparel and shoes while I’m running and we do way more than 1 take. As I was flipping through my phone photos this week while planning out this week’s content, I busted myself (thus the impetus for this post) for taking pictures of all the amazing veggie concoctions I’d enjoyed all week. The issue was not that I took pictures of pretty summer vegetables, it was that if I posted just those, it would create the image that I eat perfectly healthy meals and erase the reality that one of those nights of a bright salad was only because we’d opted to eat chips and salsa for the rest of our dinner. It erased the reality of Friday where we had tons of cookies leftover from a dinner party and I literally ate only cookies for breakfast and dinner. Why was THAT not on my camera to share?

Going forward, my personal plan is to be more mindful of what I’m choosing to put on my social media accounts and be less self-conscious about sharing the real moments while taking everyone else’s content with a grain of salt. Hair a tangled mess and face blotchy from working hard on the track? Resist the urge to filter the sh*t out of it. Posting a picture of a great, healthy meal? Own up to cookie breakfasts and lunches or to the days when I eat zero vegetables.

Would you engage with a social media account that was more…average? How do you decide what to post on social media? 

Race Report: 10,000 Meter FSU Eric Loeschner Invitational

This entire race report could be summed up as round and round it goes. Alternatively, not as bad as expected.

I headed up to the Fitchburg area on Friday night. One of my close friends from medical school lives in Harvard, Mass which is only 20 minutes from FSU so I took the opportunity to visit her (we get pretty far flung during 3rd and 4th year) and have a much calmer race morning. I left for FSU around 8:30 and was onsite by 9 am. They toyed with starting the 10,000 at 10 am instead of 10:15 but one athlete said they wouldn’t be ready so we waited for the 10:15 start. I ran around the campus of Fitchburg State to warm-up, then swapped into my racing flats (wore the GoMeb Speed3) and stripped down to my uniform. It was really chilly and windy when we arrived but by the time we were lining up, it was comfortable when you had a tail wind and just a tiny bit cool with the headwind.

Having never raced a 10,000 meter and since my last track race was 16 years ago, I had almost no idea what to expect from this race other than that the number of laps could lead to some significant monotony. To break this up, I mentally split the race into 4 pieces: 8 laps at marathon effort, 8 laps at tempo effort, 4 laps at high tempo effort then 5 laps at interval effort. The intent was not to pick up my pace throughout the race so much as it was to increase my effort to HOLD my pace. Like last weekend, since I am racing again on May 1st at the Plattsburgh Half, I also didn’t want to go so hard that I’d need a week to recover.

There were about 20 guys on the track and only about 7 women. We lined up behind the guys and we were off. I was hoping we could form a pack to work together through the wind but I led from about 10 meters in. I went through the 400 in 90 seconds, which felt easy but was way too fast for my current fitness so I backed off a bit, going through 800 in 3:08. I felt comfortable and cruised through the first two miles in 6:17 pace. The wind was intermittent. Sometimes it was okay and sometimes we were getting blown around on the back stretch.

As I hit the third and fourth mile, I started to pick up my effort a little bit, running 6:13 and 6:15 for those miles. I had started to lap people which made it easier to stay focused mentally but I was definitely starting to zone out as I ran round and round the track. In the fifth mile, I continued to cruise but found myself unfocused a number of times, lost in thought rather than focusing on my pace. I wanted to know my pace for the last mile so clicked my watch for the 2000 meters of 5 and a hair of 6, clocking in at 6:19. Ooops, definitely paid for my loss of focus. For the last mile, I focused on picking it up and running strong and ran a 6:13 for a total time of 39:10. I’m bummed that I didn’t break 39 but definitely zoned out for a few laps where I could have gotten that time back. I was psyched to have my effort feel spot on for the race and to hold almost exactly the same pace for 6.2 miles. It’s also nice to have an update on what is likely close to my current tempo pace!

After the race, I chatted for a bit with the other All Terrain Runners there for the race. We all stuck out like sore thumbs at a race where the mean age was approximately 20 so it was fun to hang out with my own peers for a bit. I cooled down with Susan who had also been at the Merrimack River Trail Race and we commiserated on how long our legs took to recover after that effort.

All in all, I had a blast trying out the 10,000 and regret that I didn’t run the event earlier! I think it’s a nice combination of endurance and speed and plays right into my wheelhouse. I came into the race thinking I’d never run another one but now I think I’ll look for one later in the summer to see if I can post a better time with some more competition. The All Terrain Series is definitely injecting fun back into my racing and I’m so glad I pushed myself to get into it. I’m also loving the bonus of automatically getting a really good workout in weekly and looking forward to seeing where my fitness is at the Plattsburgh Half in two weeks.

Effective Coaching Praise

I recently had the pleasure of attending a Grand Rounds on praise. While the Rounds were intended for physician education on anticipatory guidance for families, there were some interesting themes that I scribbled down to remember when I wear my coach hat.

Essentially, there are two ways to praise someone: person praise or process praise. An example of the former would be “You are so talented at the 5k!” The latter would be “You worked so hard at that race today.” Both can make an athlete feel good, but the latter has been shown to cause positive adaptations while the former can actually lead to negative outcomes. Research has demonstrated that a person who is accustomed to person praise struggles to persist after failure because they’ve previously attributed (and been told) that their success is ingrained and determined by talent. Someone who has experienced process praise will actually try harder after experiencing failure because they see performance as determined by effort.

Even more incredible are the long term adaptations. A person who gets significant person praise will not only struggle after failure, but they will choose only to do easy tasks to essentially guarantee success. A person with significant process praise will take on even harder tasks after failure, focused on the end goal rather than repetitive but stagnant success. Who reading this hasn’t shirked from a hard workout in favor of one they KNEW they could do?!

I see this every year on my team: extremely talented runners are beaten handily by runners with less talent who work hard. Of course, a little positive self esteem or belief in one’s ability isn’t a bad thing, but it’s the athletes who connect the dots of hard work and great performances that really learn to compete. Running is a relatively easy place to incorporate process praise; most of our season is a process anyway and a bad individual race is truly just a step on the way towards the State Meet.

Perhaps Coolidge knew this long before the body of research caught up when he stated that nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent.

Week in Review 9.15.14 to 9.21.14

There’s a saying about a bad dress rehearsal indicating that you’re ready for a great performance. Here’s hoping that applies to running too, because it has been a disaster of a “rehearsal” week! I came into last week assuming it would be a normal schedule, so I took Monday really easy following my big workout on Sunday which put me behind on miles with the intent of making them up easily later in the week. Then I had a crazy day in clinic on Wednesday which meant that I missed my run entirely, a workout that got cut short on Thursday and insane wind on my race shakeout on Saturday. To top it off, I had a shitty race yesterday. Woof. It was a frustrating Sunday and I would not say I’m heading into the final 3 weeks with a whole lot of confidence.

Monday: Recovery 6 and yoga. Feeling pretty good post-workout.

Tuesday: Early morning 10.2 miler with Carl plus striders at the end. Feeling great.

Wednesday: Off, unscheduled and really mad about it. Lifted arms in the evening.

Thursday: Rushed workout. 7 by 5 minutes at T pace and 2 by 200 at really-effing-hard pace. Jumped in the car and drove to my meeting without a cooldown. Brilliant.

Friday: 10 mile recovery run through the Intervale.

Saturday: 7 miles of a laughable run. Convinced Will that we should go to the Causeway. Not too bad on the way out, but turned around to a 40 mph headwind. Because we didn’t want to trash my hip flexors, we walked for a mile before jogging back. Striders after.

Sunday: Downtown 10K in 40:27 thanks to a 24 mph headwind and 60+ dewpoint. Felt fine on the warmup and during the race (besides weather conditions) then spent 45 minutes post-race with my head down on Church Street with heart palpitations. Was in serious Sinus Tach until 10:30 (laying down on my bed racing at 140 bpm) and felt off for the rest of the day even when I got back in normal rhythm. Total of 10 miles and total frustration.

It’s hard not to have a week like the last one and not have a total meltdown, get in your bed and decide to scratch all future races. I’m resisting the urge to do that, running full volume until Friday of this week and going into taper with the hope that all my hard work this summer will come together in three weeks.

Warning: Posts in Blogosphere May Be Rosier than Reality

MirrosI love blogging and even more, I love reading other running blogs. There’s something about reading someone’s first hand account of training, of racing or even of life as a runner that makes the running community feel even more tight knit. Increasingly, however, I find that reading other blogs causes me to compare myself to other runners and not always in a positive manner. For example, with so many people in my speed-clique running Chicago this year (which is the same weekend as Albany), I’ve found myself anxiously comparing workouts and progress. When I have a bad workout or rough run, it’s not many steps to a total running meltdown. Granted, this can happen on in-person teams too (I see it as a coach all the time), but sometimes I suspect the digital component heightens anxiety and comparison because we just have to believe what people are writing.

I went on a big unfollow streak this week after reading one too many disingenuous and borderline dangerous blog entries from a fairly big name blogger. I never should have followed that blog as long as I did; she complains about extreme exhaustion but keeps hammering 10 miles a day, runs through stress fractures and serious injuries and generally sets a horrible example of what it’s like to be a runner. After unfollowing her blog, I started to go through my Reader and remove other blogs that didn’t feel like brothers or sisters of the road. If you truly love running every single day and always have perfect workouts, my assumption is that you are either lying about them or you aren’t actually doing them. Everyone blows workouts once in a while. Everyone has days where they just really don’t want to fucking run.

Laurel has written about this before, as have others. It’s not that most little bloggers like ourselves try to be cheery all the time, it’s just not as fun to write about bad runs or races and no one wants to be the Debbie Downer of the Interwebs. The reality is, however, that running is hard and sometimes not that fun. We still get out there and do it every day, but we’re not exactly skipping down the sidewalk. As I go forward with this blog, one of my goals is to find the balance between inspiration, motivation and reality.

In the spirit of honesty for anyone else who finds themselves playing the comparison game, last week SUCKED for me. My mid-week workout was slow and I felt like I was dragging concrete pins and on my Sunday long run, I only did one section of tempo running when I was scheduled to do two. At 7 weeks out, it was disheartening and terrifying and I cried to Will more than once that I didn’t know if I wanted to step on the start line in October.

Am I alone in this? Anyone else find their perspectives swayed by what they read on blogs?

 

Overbearing Sports Parents

In my few weeks off this summer, I have a lot of things on my to do list ranging from “get organized for Step 1” “run 80 mile weeks” and “recover from MS1.” Also on that list is to work through the Mind of the Athlete materials in an attempt to improve my coaching for the coming season. When our new AD started at MMU, he was huge on Mind of the Athlete and purchased a license for all interested coaches. I’ve generally liked what has come through on email thus far and am really looking forward to having time in the next two weeks to work through more of the materials. I expect it will benefit me as both a coach and athlete.

In a recent email, the following graphic came through and stuck with me. I’ve been very lucky to have limited experience with this as a coach and suspect that overbearing parents are less common in cross country in some part because so much of the competition goes on away from spectator eyes. That being said, our team is not not immune and at our parent meeting later in the summer, I will be bringing up some of these issues so that all of our athletes have a calm, supportive racing and training environment.

Overbearing Sports Parents

From a Mind of the Athlete e-newsletter; all credit due to them!

What experiences do you have with overbearing sports parents? Were your own parents overbearing? Do you see this when your kids play sports?

Edited to Add Link to the Mind of the Athlete Blog where this came from:

http://www.mindoftheathlete.com/site/view_blog/10_signs_of_an_overbearing_sports_parent

Inside Out Underwear

Truth.

Truth.

Believe it or not, this post is running related. It’s also underwear related, although I try never to run in the underwear in question. Anyway, at least once a week, I find myself with underwear inside out and laugh every time. It’s never not funny to have to flip your underwear while wearing business clothes and standing on one foot in a bathroom stall. Because why would you ever find out before you left home…

Anyway, about 2 years ago, I made a life decision that that markedly improved my quality of life, challenged my general insistence on perfection and made me far more likely to find myself with inside out underwear. What was this decision? I stopped folding my underwear. There. I said it. My mom is almost definitely disappointed in me, but at some point while working full time, training, coaching, taking pre-med classes and studying for the MCAT while doing laundry at the local laundromat, I found myself unable to fathom spending 20 extra minutes to fold my underwear. So I didn’t. I headed home and threw them in the drawer where they lived anyway and life went on. If it gives you any impression of how wound up I can be, it was one of the most freeing experiences of my life. I haven’t folded underwear since (unless I’m traveling, let’s not get insane) and it is a similarly amazing experience every time I realize I don’t have to fold underwear for 20 minutes.

So what do my laundry habits have to do with running? Letting go of perfection is really, really difficult for me. This quest for perfection spills over into my running. Of course, some elements of this are part of why I’m successful at running. Other elements, however, self-sabotage me out of workouts and races. If I have a bad repetition or mile, I’m prone to starting the downward spiral towards “I suck and will never reach my goals-ville.” I react to missing assigned paces almost the same as I would react to missing a workout. Bad runs can trip me up for the week to come because for me, not being perfect is unacceptable. I’m literally never happy with a race and barely make it across the finish line before I start picking apart what I could have done better.

Logically, I know that perfection is unattainable in almost any pursuit and most definitely in running and medicine. Emotionally, however, it’s still a daily struggle to realize that giving it the best I have on any given day and getting close enough is the best most of us can ask for.

What silly life “rules” have your broken over the years? How do your personality traits show up in your approach to running?

“You Have Beautiful Form!”

As most runners know, people love to yell things at us. Usually it’s some iteration of Run Forrest Runnnnnn or a slew of angry words because they had to stop at a crosswalk. Yesterday, however, I had an utterly fantastic experience that made my run.

I was starting my warmup on the bike path and trotting down my pre-workout downward spiral of I feel tired and it’s humid out and my hamstring hurts. For whatever reason, when I’m anxious about a race or a workout, my left hamstring feels tight. I panic about until the workout or race starts, then it magically goes away. Anyway, as I was running along, a biker came up behind me and said “You have beautiful form! I aspire to run like you.” I sputtered something back along the lines of thankssomuchareyoutalkingtome. I was stunned both by the fact that someone speaking to me on my run wasn’t quoting a movie from 20 years ago and that someone thought my form was admirable.

Don’t get me wrong. There are good things about my form. I have a quick cadence and I land lightly. In fact, from the waist down minus poor knee drive, I look pretty darn good. Waist up, well, there were Tyrannosaurus Rex(i?) who once ruled the Earth with better arm carry than me. Still, it made my entire workout to have someone say she aspired to look like me when I ran.

Does this mean I just do really good workouts?

Does this mean I just do really good workouts?

Later in the workout, I was on my last cruise interval when she biked by again and said “You are so fast, is that like a 7 minute pace?” “620ish right now” I huffed back at her. “You are AMAZING.” And with that, my amazing random support biker biked off. As I finished the last interval, I was so touched that a perfect stranger would say something, that she dropped so much kindness and support on some sweaty, ponytailed girl huffing along the bike path. I also wondered if my husband planted her to stop my hissy fit. He claims to know nothing.

She wasn't wearing a cape but this is basically what she looked like to me.

She wasn’t wearing a cape but this is basically what she looked like to me.

So to the lady on her bike that made my morning yesterday, you might aspire to have my running form, but I aspire to make other people feel the way you made me feel yesterday.

What’s the best thing someone has ever yelled at you on a run? The worst?