As the second running boom has swept the United States, many people who have never played a sport competitively find themselves suddenly running faster and farther than they ever dreamed possible—myself included. I rode horses competitively growing up but never played sports, and although I often pushed myself mentally to overcome fears and jump my horse higher, I had never pushed myself physically.
As you undoubtedly know as a reader of Women’s Running and therefore presumably a runner yourself, running demands that we push ourselves. The fight to get in shape initially and keep going despite burning lungs and throbbing legs is an uphill battle, but once we can run a few miles, what is to stop us from calling it quits there and being content with our progress?
The answer, of course, is nothing, and those of us who were never pushed to our physical limits by a coach on a field sometimes find ourselves afraid to push ourselves to our limits on the road. Hey, hitting your max heart rate can be scary! While I thought for a while that I was the only person suffering from this affliction, I’ve since met many people, including my husband, who struggle with the same thing: we’re uncomfortable being uncomfortable.
But how do we get comfortable being uncomfortable? How do we overcome our fears of collapsing or our legs giving out or our hearts exploding and go just a little bit faster or a little bit farther? In my experience, the answer has been baby steps. Rather than making a leap from running three miles to training for a marathon, set your sights on running four miles. Taking it one step at a time is not only less overwhelming, it’s also the best way to prevent injuries and burnout.
The same goes for speed workouts. Seeing your speed increase is incredibly gratifying, but the process can be scary. I wasn’t used to the feeling of my heart beating out of my chest at the end of intervals because I had never pushed or been pushed like that before, and it kind of made me feel like a failure. So if you’re preparing to work on your speed but are feeling a little intimidated, don’t start with all-out sprints or mile repeats. Consider adding some simple strides to the end of your workout (picking up your pace for a few steps, then slowing down). Try a couple of 400s (quarter-mile efforts) and build from there. You don’t have to start with 8-mile tempo runs or 10 x 800m track workouts.
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Pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone is scary when you’ve never done it before, but it’s worth it. Get comfortable being uncomfortable and watch your running reach new heights (and speeds)!