Form. Push. Form. Push. Interval is up. Increase the speed.
That's me on the treadmill this morning, running 90 seconds/resting for 60 seconds x 40 minutes. I'm thinking about my form. I'm aware that I'm not pushing as much as I could. I'm thinking about how I should turn myself inside out for Tuesday's workout--Tuesday & Saturday--the rest of the week is filler. I'm thinking about consistency and how I've been overall consistent with my fitness for five years, but I have not yet achieved a more dialed in consistency with workouts, in terms of consistently working out at the same time of day and consistently following the plan to a T. That unproductive voice in my head wants to talk and I'm actively shutting her down, when I notice the guy a couple of treadmills over. I think he's new to the gym, and he's struggling with the basic operation of the treadmill. My treadmill is running (at 6.2 mph) and I have my feet on either side of the belt while I rest for 60 seconds and take a sip of water. I'm watching this guy when my watch buzzes that my rest time is over, and I jump back into the run for 90 seconds. He eventually gives up and steps off the treadmill, and I kind of notice him off and on, wandering around the gym while I finish my workout and cool down. Immediately following my cooldown I turn up the speed to 8.0 mph and jump on to do sprints: 6 x 15 second sprints with a 30 second rest between each. Jump on to the running treadmill, jump off onto the sides to rest. Jump on to the running treadmill, jump off onto the sides to rest. Form. Push. Form. Push.
I notice the new guy walk out the door while I'm jumping off for a rest and it hits me: 5 years ago I would only use the treadmill if no one was around to see me. I had trouble figuring it, too, but more than that it was so hard to get on and off. I would start it really slowly and hang on while I gingerly stepped on to the moving belt and then carefully increased the speed. I could only step back off if I slowly decreased the speed again to almost nothing and then held on to the sides. Forget about even considering jumping off and on and off and on at full speed--I couldn't hold my weight to do that, let alone trust that I had the coordination to pull that off. But today? That's second nature. I never, ever think about that anymore--never occurs to me. I'm thinking about my music, my day, my form. I'm thinking about my attitude, I'm thinking about my time, I'm thinking about my lunch.
I can get very myopic in my definition of progress--data driven, linear, obvious and tangible. I like those markers and they tell an important story, but the story of progress isn't that one dimensional. When those markers aren't adding up it's important for me to expand my view of progress. I've worked for two years to turn my attitude around, and I did it. I cajoled it and nurtured it and stood my ground when it wanted to veer off course, and I got my good attitude back. This past summer I took a big gamble on a challenge and threw all my eggs in one basket with the hopes of getting my mind back in its own lane and working for the team again and, amazingly, that worked too. Five years ago I didn't own a watch and didn't give two hoots in hell about metrics, I only cared about not looking like a fool and not flying off the back of a treadmill. Without that progress, without learning on how to jump on and off a treadmill, I couldn't have progressed to caring about the progress that the data reveals. And without that progress, the information the data gives me, I likely wouldn't have been motivated to keep progressing to the less tangible lessons of attitude and mental strength. And without that progress, I wouldn't have found myself back at the data, tracking metrics and pushing limits, but this time with a good attitude and a sound mind.
Even on a hard day, when I turn around and look back over the last five years I can find progress all over the place, if I want to see it. Deep breaths and gratitude reveal data that you can't track on a watch, and those intangibles have not only made me a better athlete, but they've given me a better life. I feel like a boss when I jump on and off that fast moving treadmill, and it doesn't hurt, now and then, to be reminded of where I started. My progress might be one step forward, ten steps back, but the aerial view says: You've come a long way, baby.