Honey Badger Don’t Care.

A few weeks ago, I was talking to the Modernist Caveboy about my training, and he said something that floored me: “I really envy you getting to try new distances every week.  I miss having that little bit of extra nervous excitement to fuel the run.”  My first thought was, “Really? You find that kind of uncertainty fun?  Think how much could go wrong! I could run out of water!  I could twist an ankle!  What if it turns out that I am perfectly adapted to run 15 miles, but anything beyond that will kill me, like some sort of endurance distance 5-Point Palm Exploding Heart curse?”  (Full disclosure: I tend to be a wee bit of a hypochondriac when I get a little stressed.) 

 The conversation did get me thinking about my comfort zones, though.  I checked my log, and the last time I ran a new distance PR was a 15-miler in April of 2009.  I’ve logged a few more 15’s since then, but I’ve been perfectly content to leave off right there.  This Sunday, however, I  am staring down 16 miles.  I should note that until I started marathon training in July, my long runs had been about 8 miles for the past year, so in reality, I’ve been venturing into unfamiliar territory for weeks now.  I’d forgotten what it feels like to grind out a distance, feel completely steamrolled by it, and realize that I have one week to get myself in shape to run two miles further than that.  I’d forgotten the jitters I’d felt the night before my long runs when I was training for my first half, and the worry that I wouldn’t be able to finish.  I’d also forgotten how physically and emotionally draining it all is.  

 I came across a great article about pre-run nerves in Running Times a few weeks ago: http://runningtimes.com/Article.aspx?ArticleID=4924.  It discusses exactly how anxiety can impair athletic performance, and it turns out that the idea that it’s all in my head is not all in my head.  Worry and stress really can sap your energy, tighten your muscles, and destroy your focus.  And from there it’s just a hop, skip, and a cramp to a slow pace, high heart rate, and a lousy finish.

Nervousness is my neurotic running partner, always reliably there to pace me and pipe in with helpful suggestions:  “That hill is way more climb than you trained for.”  “Don’t you think your heart rate is a little higher than you’d like?”  “If you push it now, you may not have what you need to finish. Better play it safe.”  Frankly as a running companion, she sucks, and come race day her screaming becomes completely insufferable.  Part of the reason I wanted to do a full marathon was that I knew I would have to shake my doubts if I was going to get through it.  So far, the only strategy I had to outrun my nerves was by over-preparing and training well beyond the race distance. For a first marathon that’s not really a viable option.  I am left with no choice but to develop a new outlook—Cavegirl 2.0—and a new, fearless approach.  I’m calling it Honey Badger Don’t Care.  As in, “Honey badger’s quads burned out a quarter mile ago, but Honey badger don’t care.  Honey badger’s going to keep running up that hill.”  Bring it, 16.

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