Whether you have been running for two weeks or two decades, you are constantly asking yourself, “Why can’t I run faster?!” Your enjoyment upon reaching a new PR lasts about as long as that ice cream cone or latté you treated yourself to.
There’s nothing wrong with establishing, then exceeding, new benchmarks. Your expectations should rise as your distances climb and your times drop. But sometimes we get so caught up in moving forward that we forget where we have been.
I remember vividly the day I started running again. I had been an avid runner when I was in the military, receiving a squadron award for chalking up 200 miles in six weeks and logging a 9:10 in the 1 ½ mile run. Then I tapered for, oh, about 20 years.
One morning in February 2002, I rolled over in bed and discovered my belly took an extra two or three seconds to make the trip. I needed exercise, so I strapped on a pair of 10-year-old cross trainers and headed out.
In Air Force training, everyone ran for 12 minutes every morning. No matter how slow you went, you ran for 12 minutes. It seemed the best way to start my new healthy lifestyle. I’d go up to the top of the leveé, where there was a bike path, and run for 12 minutes. Piece of cake.
Surprise! I barely made it up the hill to reach the path. I couldn’t catch my breath. My total running time: two minutes. Seven months later, I ran my first race—a 5K that I completed in 28:17.
In the next five years, I chopped six minutes off that time, and ran respectably in dozens of races, including two marathons. But I still get pretty obsessive about improvement.
In order to re-establish some perspective, once a month or so I’ll take out an old running log and examine what I did on the same date a year or two earlier. I’ll note the route, distance and splits. Then I’ll go out and run the same route and distance at my current pace.
I picture myself warming up next to my old self, then gradually pulling away from him in the first 200 yards. By the time I reach the first milepost, I glance back over my shoulder and realize I can barely “see” him.
During my shower, I picture my old self just coming in the door—exhausted, huffing and puffing, vowing never to run again.
No one starts running because they are already in great shape. Regardless of your current condition, speed or experience, you are crushing your old self. Give him a rematch every once in a while and watch him go down to defeat yet again.