On Saturday I did my local 5k parkrun. I’ve done this reasonably often over the last year or so, usually plodding round at the back with a lovely fella who’s had a triple heart bypass. We chat, and he cajoles me into a sprint finish, stopping just before the line to let me through first. What a gentleman.
This week I was late leaving the house, and I cycled to the park for the first time (leaving a string of obscenities in my wake – I’d forgotten just how cold whizzing downhill on a bike can be). I was still locking up my bike when they started the run, and had to sprint across the field to join the back of the pack.
I’d decided I wanted to see just how fast I could go, and I amazed myself by beating my previous best time (from November 2011) by almost 3 minutes.
I was extremely impressed with myself, and have spent a lot of time this weekend pondering why I’ve suddenly improved so much. Was I just not trying before? Was I too busy nattering to put in the effort? (quite likely) Did I eat my weetabix just the right amount of minutes before the run this time?
I’m inclined to blame it on the marathon. It feels a bit counter-intuitive that running slowly for a very long time could make you go faster, but I think that’s what’s happened.When I started running, I read lots of advice that said ‘don’t start too fast!’ ‘take lots of walking breaks!’ ‘you have to still be able to hold a conversation!’ All good advice for beginners – if the first time you run you push yourself so hard that by the end of the street you’re red faced, sweaty and collapsing in a heap, you’re not likely to want to run again! So many people give up running because ‘it’s too difficult’, without realising that if you go slowly, build up slowly, your body gets used to it.
I took all that advice on board, and ran very slowly, with lots of walk breaks. Sometimes my runs didn’t involve any running at all. Sometimes, in fact, I never even left the sofa – don’t want to risk overdoing it, after all. Even when a race day was looming, I wouldn’t push myself. ‘Better to be under trained than over trained’ I’d tell myself.
And so I never pushed myself too much. As I got fitter, I ran a little faster, took fewer walk breaks, stayed out for longer, but I never pushed myself really hard.
This week, something clicked in my brain. A little voice said ‘hang on, you’ve just done a marathon! You know you can keep going for three miles. So what if you conk out half way round? You’ll be outside a cafe, and only a mile from your house – get an ice cream and ring for a lift. Go for it!’
So I did. And while I didn’t win, I did get a lot further before the speedy folk overtook me on their second loop. And, get this, I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the feeling of working hard – even while I was doing it. I loved the feeling at the end, when I realised how much I’d knocked off my time. I’ve basked in a warm glow ever since.
So I think it’s time for me to drop the beginners’ mindset. To stop apologising for being slow. I’ve hung around with runners for a very long time, and I can tell you a lot about running. I’m not a beginner (someone once described me as a ‘chronic underachiever’ – probably more accurate!). I’m going to start thinking, and acting, like someone who knows they can improve, and wants to.
I’ve been in touch with the local running club to see how fast they go on their weekly runs (ironically enough, I may have to go out with the beginners’ group for now). They even have track sessions once a month – a frightening prospect, but one I’m going to try to embrace.
A change in mindset is a bit scary, but rather liberating. I highly recommend it (in fact, I’m considering changing my mindset about a whole lot of other things too – flute playing for a start).
What about you? Are you stuck in a beginners’ mindset when you’re no longer a beginner? What will you do to get yourself out of it?