Excuses. We all know they’re no good and hold us back. And that they totally stink. But sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between an excuse that’s just mental chatter holding you back as opposed to an actual, solid reason that should not be ignored.

Like anyone, I definitely find myself coming up with excuses when I don’t want to do something. In the November Project community, holding each other accountable and not letting excuses get in the way is a big part of the culture. And it’s surprised me sometimes how powerful this can be – is that a little twinge in my ankle? Am I extra tired today? Is it really going to be 98% humidity in the morning? Better skip it and get 1 more hour of sleep! Ugh, but I told so-and-so I’d be there. And it would be great to get my run in before work. And my ankle is totally fine. Alright, gimme that alarm. When you ignore the little things and show up for yourself and your friends, it feels so good to kick excuses to the curb, overcome the doubts, and enjoy a great workout.

But just like it’s tough to know when to push yourself vs. when to rest, it can also be challenging to identify an excuse vs. something valid…

I was pretty proud of myself on Sunday morning for being out the door for my longest-yet long run at 7:30am, somewhat unable to believe that this is my life. I just don’t do these things. Did I formerly wake up and go to yoga on weekend mornings? Yes, but I certainly didn’t leave BBQs early to be home by 10pm, lay out all of my clothes/gear, prep overnight oats, wake up at 6:30am to eat said oats, and head out the door before the sun made the day too hot. Running requires quite a bit more planning and a lot of self motivation (as opposed to showing up and letting a teacher tell you what to do), so I was feeling pretty great to start out.

My goal for the morning was to hit 10 miles. I also wanted to slow myself down to start, and then try to pick up speed super gradually since I tend to do that classic newbie thing where I come out fast (for me), pick up speed for a few miles, and then find myself slogging at mile 6.

All went according to plan and I looped the Chestnut Hill Reservoir before heading down Beacon to the Charles.

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A hot and hazy morning by the river.

I noticed more soreness and pangs of hunger than usual, but I kept my mind on the beautiful morning and felt pretty good.

Until mile 6. I suddenly found myself struggling and my pace slipping.

Why did this feel so hard? Why today? What’s holding me back?  A few things came to mind:

  1. I didn’t eat enough or well the day before
  2. It was super hot and humid
  3. I had taken a few weeks “off” traditional long runs

My first thought was that I needed to ditch these excuses for slowing down, and that I should just suck it up, power through, and soon I’d be cruising along.

After pushing for a couple of miles, the excuses popped back into my mind. I thought about them a bit more (so much time for thinking as you run!), and realized they weren’t really excuses at all. Let’s take a closer look.

  1. I didn’t eat enough or well the day before. I know how important fueling is, but due to visiting friends and fun summer BBQs, I didn’t eat the way I normally do (a lot of food + fairly healthy). This has never bothered me before a shorter run, but by mile 8 my stomach was twisting in knots and I couldn’t believe how hungry I was mid-run, a very new sensation for me.
  2. It was super hot and humid. Even though I was out the door early to avoid the high of 90F,  I could feel the humidity hit me before I was halfway around the reservoir. I also felt generally exhausted recently with this heat wave and lack of A/C in our apartment. The interruptions to my sleep felt like they had been slowly catching up and taking a bit of the pep out of my step.
  3. I took two weeks “off” traditional long runs. Between vacation and NP Summit, my “long runs” from the previous weekends had both been around 6 miles, and while I knew this wasn’t a big deal, I had been enjoying the consistency of adding a mile each weekend and felt a little thrown off by suddenly feeling like I was tacking on 4.

In this context, I feel like “excuse” can have two meanings: first, a thought or statement to get out of something you don’t want to do, and second, a thought or statement to justify why you’re not performing to a standard.

I wasn’t using these 3 list items to avoid my run, but I did originally think I was using them to justify running slower and get out of pushing myself for the day. But I soon realized that I was pushing myself, and just not quite getting the results I’d expected. I decided that thinking about these 3 things as excuses was making me feel like my lack effort was behind the slow pace, whereas thinking about them as reasons for why I wasn’t feeling 100% was valid and helpful. Okay, so a few things threw me off; let’s acknowledge them as real and see if I can work through anyway.

This freed up my mind from trying to overcome feeling weakened by excuses, and empowered me to know that conditions might not be perfect, but I can still be strong and learn from tough experiences. I can’t control the temperature on the day of my long run, but I can wake up just that little bit earlier to avoid it and plan to hydrate. I’m not willing to miss out on socializing, but I can plan fuel ahead of time to make sure I’m not hungry midway through. I’m not willing to give up weekends away in the summer, so I either need to meet my long run distance or just be okay with reducing and later ramping back up. This attitude shift allowed me to see this run for what it was: my toughest yet and a chance to tap into some mental strength and flexibility.

I also realized another reason why I probably wasn’t having the best time: I was super annoyed by my pace. I’m not a naturally speedy runner, so I knew that as I signed up for this half and started training, my goal should be to finish and have fun, and not worry about pace. That would be for my next half!

Sounds so simple and practical, and up until this point I’ve stuck with this plan.

But wait? What’s that? Could it be my ego tugging on my sleeve, suggesting I should probably also keep getting faster?

I’m surrounded by lots of fast runners much of the time, and I have a natural competitive streak that’s hard to tamper. Yoga has helped me enormously with this, but it still flares up from time to time. I’ve found myself getting faster as I train just by increasing mileage and strength. I don’t do a lot of speed work (read: I haven’t run on a track since high school and even then it was just logging miles for soccer), so I can’t really expect much of a pace change without putting in that time. But each of my long runs has also gotten faster as I’ve added more miles, so I was expecting the same from this one.

6 miles – 10+ pace

8 miles – 10:00 pace

9 miles – 9:45 pace

10 miles – 9:30 pace! Duh! And by the time I get to the half, it will totally be a 9:00 pace! That’s how math/running works, right?

Yet my pace for this run was 9:54. Once I finished the run – my longest ever – I felt disappointed instead of excited.

Luckily, I noticed this almost immediately and decided it was ridiculous. I knew that this was another great milestone, and a powerful learning experience in leaving ego behind and acknowledging strength. I soon turned my attention to more important things: post-run stretch in the grass, breakfast, and all the hydration.

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Chris was out running later (and faster) than I wanted to, but he left me this scavenger hunt for some cold water.

While I love a lazy Sunday sleep-in, I have to say…there’s nothing quite like walking into brunch armed with a long run in the books and 3 different drinks (ice water, coconut water, & iced coffee – the trifecta of hydration/recovery for me) in tow.

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I’m away again this weekend, so time will tell whether I decide for another 10 miler or tone it down for this week. Either way, I’m going to aim for less ego, less pressure, and more joy.