Time to step out of my comfort zone

By: Brad Deel

We all have our comfort zones.  We have our comfort zones at home and at work and we have our comfort zones when it comes to running.  Perhaps it is a route you have run a thousand times.  I know that I can start from my job at the University of Charleston, run a particular route through Kanawha City, and put in just over 7 miles.  Or, I can run over the Southside Bridge, down Kanawha Boulevard to the 35th Street Bridge, cross and run back to UC for a run of a bit over 6 miles.  I have certain workouts I am comfortable with as well.  Not that they are easy but I have run them so many times that I know what effort to use in order to get through the workout without fading badly or having too much gas left in the tank.

I have my comfort zone at work.  There are classes I have taught numerous times and now barely need to look at the material before class begins.  We talk of familiar foods as "comfort foods" because, well, they are in our comfort zone.  

Despite what you hear from the self-help gurus of the world, comfort zones are not inherently evil.  We do not need to challenge ourselves constantly.  Being in a comfort zone reduces the level of stress and, at the risk of restating the glaringly obvious, too mcuh stress reduces productivity and has serious negative physical consequences.  Want to run a bad race?  Make sure you do it right at a time when your life is at its most stressful.  Still, although we need to spend time in our comfort zones, we need to get out of them as well.

The reality is that in nearly every area of our lives, running included, we only improve after we stress and adapt.  In the words of the immortal Bill Bowerman, "that's all training is.  Stress, recover, improve."  Bowerman was referring to physical stress in training but mental stress in either training or racing can allow us to improve as well.  Thus, I am stepping out of my racing comfort zone.  

On Saturday, March 1, I will run in my first 10,000 meter race.  Notice I did not say that I was running in a 10K.  This race will be 25 laps around the track at Laidley Field.  The University of Charleston is sponsoring an open event and the track coach signed me up to run.  I have to admit that if he had not put my name on the list, I probably would not have done so on my own.  I have thought of plenty of excuses for backing out.  I am not in 10,000 meter race shape right now.  Given that the other competitors will be college students or close to it I will be, by far, the slowest person on the track.  I have plenty of other things I probably should be doing.  

I am not sure how to approach this race.  Since I have no chance of racing for any place other than last, should I set a time goal and try to run even splits?  Should I try to simply run by effort and not worry about splits?  If I run by splits should I run 400 meter splits?  800 splits?  1,600 meter splits?  Should I try to start off a bit slower and try to pick up the pace every five laps?  Should I try to go out hard, settle into cruise control, and finish hard?  Given that a track is cushioned, should I wear my 3.5 ounce racers that I normally reserve for short races or should I wear my 7.5 ounce racers that I use in longer racers?  

As is obvious, I am well outside my comfort zone with this race but that is good.  I am almost positive I will make some mistakes.  I may make a huge mistake.  I may go out too hard and blow up.  I may be scared and go out at a crawl.  I may have a bad day.  Of course, I may have a great day.  Who knows?  What I do know is that I am excited to get out there and do something I have never had the opportunity to try.  These are the kinds of challenges that I think can keep us coming back to this pursuit for decades.

Thus, I am setting myself a new goal.  Every year, I am going to try something new when it comes to running or racing.  I have no idea what that new thing will be but I intend to make a concerted effort to try something that will make me uncomfortable.  And the thought that I can try something new and uncomfortable every year for the rest of my running career is somehow a comforting thought.

See ya out there.


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