Breaking through barriers

Though most of the time I am a happy person, I go through weeks where I feel life’s barriers weighing on my back.  Barriers in my personal life, my work life and my running life.

I get quite frustrated when I am not achieving anything worthy, so the best thing I can do when I am feeling this way is to educate myself and experiment with new tactics.  Sometimes, though, that is not enough.

I see this happen with my kids, and I notice that barriers have frustrated them since they were babies.  When they were learning to talk, tie their shoes, master a concept at school. 

Yesterday I attended a track and field coaching clinic hosted by the LA84 Foundation at Mt. Sac and saw legendary miler Jim Ryun speak. (You might think you are a #runnerd, but you haven’t seen anything until you attend one of these clinics where everyone is dressed in nylon sweat suits, carrying around clipboards and asking a million questions about VO2 Max and the effectiveness of tempo runs.)

(One of the other attendees posted a clip of Ryun’s speech on YouTube, so you can view it here.  Here is a link to the race he is talking about in the description.)

We hear so many people tell us to Dream Big or to Believe in Ourselves,  but I have a hard time with this saccharine-sweet sort of talk, because I need hard facts and lots evidence.  Like Ryun says, sometimes I think my fear of failure gets the better of me as well.

When I read that I need to be able to “run a long run without fuel” to get better, or to “complete a tempo run over rolling hills” in order to break through my barrier,  I want to shout, “But I can’t do that!  I am just mediocre!  Those things are for people with drawers full of compression socks and no kids’ futures to lie in bed worrying about in the wee hours of the night!”

This morning I woke up with everything I learned yesterday swirling around in my head.  I pulled on my running clothes and checked the weather.  Rain.  Lots of it.  I ate my energy bar and drank some coffee while I waited for it to subside.

I had 18 miles on the books, so I had to get started sooner rather than later.

Yesterday ended with a massive headache, because when I am in bright rooms for hours taking notes, I am not eating.  Even though I tried to stuff my face from the time I left until I got home, my blood sugar was messed up for the rest of the day.  (Does this happen to anyone else?)  I call this phenomenon, “getting behind on my food.”

So I was going into today’s run feeling a little off. All I had going for me was the determination to get the miles done.


I ran for a few miles before I noticed that there was a trail half-marathon going on, and for a split second I felt bad the runners because the weather was so awful. 


But their enthusiasm was infectious, as they looked happy and determined despite the rain.

(Remind me to sign up for the Rose Bowl Half Marathon next year.)

Days when you just “don’t have it” are good days to try something new.  I decided to make this run significantly slower than last weeks’ for a few reasons.  One, I am now convinced that running long runs a bit slower (one to two minutes slower than race pace) is a good training technique due to what I learned yesterday, and two, I knew running slower would give me the chance to try running long without fuel.

If I had been feeling great, I likely would not have tried anything new.  When you are already feeling bad, there’s only so much worse things can get.  (You don’t have energy, you are cold, it is raining, etc.)

I won’t go on and on;  after all, this is not a race report.  But I did make it 18 miles.  I ran slower.  I only drank some water (I carried my Camel Bak.)

And I made it. 

I checked my Garmin around mile 12, and I thought to myself, “This is your barrier.  Now break through it!  Just keep on going…”  (I don’t say this stuff aloud, of course, as I don’t want to live the rest of my days at the funny farm.)

I honestly didn’t feel any better or worse than I do on long runs where I take in two Gu’s, which makes me think that this barrier was all in my head.


(As soon as I stopped running the sun came out.  Go figure.)


I came home to find this waiting for me.  Middle made me a plate of pancakes to eat after my run.  Even though they were beyond burned, I still smiled because it was such a sweet gesture.   

And so after my belly was full again, I felt like I could go my life searching for more barriers to break down.

And that is the thing about running.  It’s not about putting one foot in front of the other.

It is just one of the many ways we prove to ourselves that we are capable of so much more than we think.

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