Just One

Hill repeats. My favorite.

Not.

But there it was on my training calendar. Six 90-second intervals at effort level 8 (out of 10) on a hill with a 7 to 9 percent grade. Followed by six 45-second intervals at effort level 9.

I’d already had a robust strength training session at Body Specs, so in addition to hard running, I’d be doing it fatigued. But the afternoon was cool and dry, the kind that begs one to be outside. And I have ultras coming up, for which hills are essential prep work.

Because this is pretty typical of trail running.

So out I went, although I threw my legs a bone, so to speak, by riding my bike to the hill o’ torture instead of running. Good plan, because as I began a short warmup run with some 20-second strides to get the heart rate up, I knew it would be a struggle. Just those short sprints were hard work.

I’d done essentially the same workout the previous week, on an even tougher hill. But I’d been fresh. Now I was breathing hard with every step before I’d even started the workout. How the heck was I going to do 90 seconds six times, let alone the shorter set?

Well, it so happens I’ve been listening to The Miracle of Mindfulness by Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh. Like the first book I read of his, You Are Here, he emphasizes the need to be present. To be mindful is not to think about the future; what you are doing right now should be the most important thing in your life. If distracting or unhappy thoughts come, acknowledge them and then let them go.

And so, as I was acknowledging the doubts that I had it in me to get the workout done, or on how hard it was going to be (future intruding), a simple clear thought came to mind:

Just do one.

So all those repeats sound daunting? Tough beyond imagining? Okay, just do one. If that’s all I have today, then at least I’ve done one. Otherwise, do another. And so on.

The first interval was pretty tough, but I felt okay. And the 90-second mark hit just before I reached a particular mailbox on the road. So, naturally, it became a goal of the set. Make the mailbox. A challenge to myself – just what I needed.

I didn’t reach it on intervals two or three, but I still thought I had a shot. So on interval four I pushed extra hard the last 20 seconds – and just reached it. And again on interval five. On the recovery jog downhill, I wondered if I could actually pass that mailbox on my final try.

At the bottom of the hill, I focused on relaxing the body and letting the energy flow naturally. I could feel the difference in my stride, and leg power, as I climbed the hill. I blew past the mailbox with three seconds to spare. Woohoo! Now just those 45-second climbs to go.

The second set was a mini-rehash of the first, although I didn’t reach my target location until the final one. But once again, my last was my best. And it’s not that I held anything back before then. No, my body keeps a reserve somewhere, deep down, that it lets me have at the end of a workout or a race. Proving once again that a great deal of a workout is mental. Give the body a chance, and it’s amazing what it will deliver.

One interval at a time.

6 thoughts on “Just One

  1. Well done, Jeff! I remember a friend, who’d learned that mindfulness “trick” in AA, tell me about it on one of our runs. It was very impactful and is quite useful in climbing mountains, it turns out!

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