Vicious Cycles

So far, there’s been a cycle to my Couch to 5K workouts that goes something like this:

Phase One: Completion of Workout

As soon as I hear the words “Cool Down!”, I feel awash with shock and exhiliration. I made it! I survived! Not only did I survive… I feel an overpowering sense of accomplishment. For a few glorious moments, I feel like there’s nothing I can’t do.

Phase Two: Cooling Down, Checking Stats

As my pace slows and my breathing returns to something more normal than a pant, I log my workout in the app and check my stats. My pace has improved considerably since I started. My best pace so far has been 16:07 minutes per mile, which is down almost 3 minutes from my first outdoor workout this season. Now, the authorities at The Internet tells me that a 16 minute mile is not actually running, but a “brisk walk” at best. I don’t know how heavy or fit the people who test these statistics out are, but I can assure you that at 350 + pounds… it’s running. My goal for my first race is to finish at an overall pace of 16 minutes per mile, which I think is pretty reaslistic and accounts for walking up the odd hill.

As I’ve mentioned before, being able to finish the workout is more important to me right now that how fast I finish it, but I’m not nearly zen enough to to not care at all about how fast I did it.

Phase Three: Skipping Ahead, Freaking Out

After verifying how fast (or slow) I did my most recently completed workout, I check to see what the next one has in store for me. Sometimes, it’s exactly the same and I think, “Okay, that was tough, but if I did it once I can probably do it again.”

Then there are the other times. The times when I see the next workout and think, “Are you kidding me?!?” That’s how I felt when the running intevals went from 1.5 minutes to 3 in Week 3. And again when they increased from 3 minutes to 5. When I was running those 3 minutes, I was working hard, stretching the limits of my endurance. It didn’t seem possible to go any further… but then I did. Now I can run 5 minutes and it’s not easy, but I know I can do it.

Today I completed Week 5 Day 1, which involves three stretches of 5 minute jogs, separated by 3 minute walks. Thank goodness, I was able to do it around the neighborhood instead of on the dreadmill. It felt very challenging, challenging enough that now I wish I didn’t know that Week 5 Day 2 calls for two 8 minute running intervals, with a five minute walking break in between. Just like the last time and time before, doubt has set in. Should I even try to run 8 minutes? From running 5 minutes, I can tell you that about 3.5 minutes in, I start checking the clock and pushing through. It’s hard to picture myself running past the 5 minute mark. Actually, it’s not hard to picture as long as the movie in my head includes me collapsing on the side of the road at 5:30 mark.

Phase Four: The Repeating Debate

Of course, I can repeat workouts, or entire weeks. It’s not like there’s a gun to my head or an angry drill sergeant forcing me to stick to the 9 week schedule. It’s a good thing, because all last summer, I repeated Week 1, Day 1 over and over. 5 minute warm up, 1 minute of jogging, 1.5 minutes of walking for 10 minutes… except I couldn’t make it for 10 minutes. Most of the time I could get through about 5 – 7 minutes of walk-jogging (or “wogging” as I like to call it) without having to quit and walk the rest of the way home. Running wasn’t a big priority for me at that time, just something I tried to do once a week to complement my walking and strength exercises I was doing most days. It wasn’t until this winter, when I was desperate for some indoor exercise and figured out I could walk up and down the length of my house and run in place for the jogging parts that I finally saw the “Workout Complete” screen.

Since that first completed workout, I’ve had to quit or repeat a few times. But, for the most part, I try to keep progressing. I figure a lot of people have gone through the program, and it might know better than me about when I can handle running X amount of minutes. I still find myself trying to calculate the likelihood of my success on the next run. Honestly, the likelihood of me running 8 whole minutes (at any pace) seems pretty slim right now, but I’ll probably end up at least trying it. I like to be the kind of person who tries things even when success is not assured. It’s a strategy that’s lead to the best things in my life, so why stop now?

Phase Five: Next Run

Once the decision to go forward is made, there’s really nothing to do but lace up my running shoes and start- the best part, because this is when the constant stream of internal dialogue in my brain shuts down for a few minutes. It pretty much has to. There’s not much room for thinking when it gets hard. All my concentration goes to making one foot land in front of the other one, until my body craps out or until the Couch to 5K voice in my head tells me I can stop. If I can’t finish (like I couldn’t a couple days ago), I immediately start trying to puzzle through what went wrong and what I can do to finish next time. When I finish… right back to Phase One I go.

As a beginning runner, I wonder how the cycle will change as I go. I hope there will be less freaking out and more pushing and improving, but maybe there will always be some freaking out. Pushing myself means the workouts get longer and faster, so it could be that I’ll always be wondering… can I do the next hard thing? It’s possible that without that part, I wouldn’t get that amazing feeling that sets the whole thing in motion. As far as I’m concerned, that feeling is worth the doubt about next time that comes along with it.

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