I recently realized, after a frustrating day and with work piling up behind me, that I seem to be serving two masters--running and writing. I had started a 71 day writing challenge this summer which was simply to write and publish a post per day based on one of the 71 running calendar pages on my wall. It turned out to be a bigger task than I had imagined it would be.
The challenge was difficult but going along swimmingly, actually, for about the first 30 days. But slowly I noticed that just about everything else that needed my attention (work, life, running) was hanging on by a thread or being left in the dust. Still I continued to write and post, loving every minute of it but also slowly filling with defeat. How was I ever going to keep running and my running goals front and center, and write and keep advancing those aspirations, and work, and keep up with all of the other responsibilities that I have? What about sleep? What about relationships?
Day 50 of the challenge felt like mile 50 of a 200 mile ultra that I had not prepared for well. All of those things in life and running that had been on the back burner started demanding that I pay attention to them, and I fell a day behind in writing. Then I was behind by two days. When I finally felt somewhat back on track I was ten days behind in posts. I had been writing and had a number of posts in process, but none completed and ready to publish. I felt like I had failed, but worse I felt like there wasn't a solution to the energy required of me from both running and writing. I had two first priorities and I didn't want to choose, and I was frustrated at how the demands of life seemed to be winning over what I love and feel called to do.
During this time I had started working with my coach for one of my quality run sessions each week. He noticed my running was falling by the wayside, and my ability to push myself along with it. Once a week we met for interval sessions of some kind, and we began to work on pacing. What I love about pacing is that it is a pinch of art and a bounty of skill--i.e. you can learn it.
The pros may have a different definition, but pacing to me is looking at the big picture and figuring out how to get yourself from here to there without running out of steam until you make it to the end. For example, my 5K personal record is 29:29. That's an average of 9:31 per mile. So I could go out and run a steady 9:31 pace for 3.1 miles and finish in 29:29. Or I could negative split each mile (each mile a little faster) to end up at 29:29. Both would be pacing strategies. Or, I could go out and run the first mile in 8:30, blow up the second mile, and come across the finish line in 32 minutes. That's failing to think through a strategy so that you use your resources wisely as you go. That's a pacing failure. And you have to do that a number of times to understand the value of pacing. And then, you have to practice pacing, and practice pacing, and get it wrong, and practice some more until you can feel it in your bones.
Last week during my interval work out I could start to feel the beginnings of feeling my pace--not by my watch but through my body. It was really cool. I felt like I could get good at this. I felt like I understood it. It made running exciting. It made me feel like I know where I belong in running. And it made me feel hopeful.
When I was driving home after the workout it hit me: oooohhhh...I blew up my writing challenge. I went out at an 8:30 pace without considering everything on my plate and what would need my attention during those 71 days of writing and posting daily. Pacing is planning. Pacing is looking at the whole picture. And I just got the idea and took off like a shot. I love big challenges and I don't shy away from them, but I do often fall behind in the middle and scramble at the end. I've always thought I was hitting up against character flaws, but maybe they've just been pacing failures. Huh...I like this idea. Fall down seven times, get up eight as the Chinese proverb goes. Or, pace and blow up seven times, then start to feel your groove. The idea that this is about pacing is a very exciting prospect to me, for life as well as running.
I do pretty well in life when I feel my way through and actually act on those feelings. I think that is going to serve me well in running, too. Right now, however, Day 71 of the writing challenge is coming up fast and I'm barely hanging on to the finish. But I am hanging on, and with a really valuable lesson under my belt--a game changing lesson. And I earned this lesson because I kept jumping in the arena and kept getting my ass kicked. But I'm back up, and I'm not filled with defeat. I'm learning to pace myself. And there's nothing but possibility.