couch to 5k

So You Want to Be Jon Snow

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Well, it’s official. With the first snowfall (and the collective city-wide freak out—WE’RE GOING TO GET 16 INCHES, QUICK EVERYONE TO TARGET RIGHT NOW), winter has come to the Twin Cities. And it will likely never leave. I’m taking bets on the reappearance of the grass—April, or it didn’t count as winter.

If you live in the Twin Cities you know the unnecessary pride and extensive disgust that comes with surviving a Minnesota winter. You likely own several pairs of long johns, four different types of boots (going-out boots, why-am-I-shoveling-out-my-car-at-four-in-the-morning boots, last-year’s-no-longer-waterproof-step-around-puddles boots, and a pair of ankle boots to round out the look), and more winter coats than you care to count (yes, I do need four different peacoats, stop asking stupid questions). You know that your oven can double as a space heater, and that a heated blanket is pretty much a necessity. You take pride in the ridiculous temperatures (“I stood at the bus stop in -10 degree weather for twenty minutes this morning!”), but refuse to let it break you. Props Minnesota, for building a colony in America’s Siberia and refusing to back down. We’re all just a few steps into crazy here.

I’ve decided to take braving the Minnesota winters a step further; I’ve decided to keep running. And no, I don’t mean I’m going to get a gym membership. I am poor and unemployed, and the outside air puts hair on your chest! Let’s go running!

I recently completed the Couch to 5K program, and have since moved on to the 5K to 10K program. But I will not be deterred by the snow. I will not let 20 degree weather prevent me from working out! (When did I become this person?)

If you insist on being this crazy, you should take some precautions. As my Monday run proved, I am nowhere near prepared for this disaster. Just googling “running in Minnesota winter” results in a slew of articles, many questioning the sanity of the searcher, and all of them full to the brim with tales of caution. Suffice to say, running in Minnesota winter is an entirely different beast. For starters… ice.

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Guess what? The ice is slippery. And despite citywide laws, not everyone has shoveled their strip of sidewalk for you. Or they’ve iced too early, leaving an unassuming staking rink in its place. Just, copious amounts of fun.

Jon Snow doesn’t go tromping around Beyond the Wall with just a pair of sneakers. He decks out his boots with mini snow treads, and you should too. Enter YakTrax.

Yes, you look like a dork.

These babies will save you from falling on your butt in the ice. They’ll turn your terrible 11:34 (Monday’s pace without them—ie, running through ice and attempting not to fall), into something less awful. I’ve ordered a pair of these bad boys (sorry, couldn’t wait until Christmas, I would have broken my ankle), and I can’t wait for them to arrive. Sliding all over the trail, while a great exercise for your core, isn’t exactly going to improve your speed.

Another thing to note and accept about running in winter? Goals should probably be tossed out the window. While I’m still training in winter, I’m likely not going to fret over my pace. Winter is an entirely different beast, and it shouldn’t be approached with the same enthusiasm as summer running. Stay close to home when you’re out for a run, wear bright colors, and don’t push yourself. Because, in the words of The Maple Grove Barefoot Guy, “you’ll get hypothermia and die.”

Clothing is another beast to tackle in winter running. Monday’s run proved that I am also unprepared in that aspect. Layering is key, so break out the long johns, running tights, and swishy wind-resistant pants your mother insisted that you buy for your semester abroad. You never thought you’d wear them? HA. This isn’t a fashion show, you are trying to protect your body from failing you. Wear the stupid pants.

That also goes for hats, scarves, mittens, wool socks, and full face masks. Sure, stepping outside in 20 degree weather is fine for a few seconds, but running outside for 40 minutes is going to be dangerous. I’d rather we all look like weirdos and stay toasty than suffer from frost bite. Jon Snow wears four animals on his back, you can wear a balaclava.

Do you run in winter? What are you tips to staying safe and happy? Am I crazy?

Wait, don’t answer that last one.

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I’m Taking It

A few weeks ago I complained about titles, and tried to decide if I could call myself a runner. Shortly after posting the article, my cousin sent me this:

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I think that quite succinctly put my fear to rest. So I’m taking it. I’m going to call myself a runner.

Last week I ran all five weekdays (I know, right?!), totaling close to 14 miles for the week. With the help of Zombie’s, Run! and the strange motivation of actually enjoying running (I hear you, I also have NO IDEA WHO I AM RIGHT NOW), I wanted to run every day. I wanted to test myself, find my limits and use running as an escape. I have always wanted to be the person who goes for a run because they need to clear their head (a romantic notion), and while I’m nowhere close to drowning out the chorus of “we are your lungs, and you are trying to kill us,” I’m close to something resembling calm when I’m on a run. I’ve fleshed out plot lines for my book, dealt with stress of job hunting, and acted out verses of a few Britney Spears hits. I’m getting to a point where putting on my running shoes, stretching, jumping down the stairs and letting my feet hit the pavement is freeing. I love the feeling of running past people, I smile at strangers, I do a few extra dance moves for kicks. I want to cheer on fellow runners as though we’re all in our first marathon. I love feeling ready to quit and thinking “just to that tree, now that rock, now that mailbox, now that trash can, now the end of the block.”

I am ready to call myself a runner. I don’t have the proper shoes, my $13 sports bras are from Target, and I don’t know the first thing about compression socks. I haven’t finished a race, I’m by no means seasoned, and my form is far from perfect. But I’m taking the title.

I am a runner.

I Accidentally Ran a 5K

Run!

Run!

Well over a year ago, I downloaded Zombies, Run! a running app that is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. But thankfully this beast is more than just an app attempting to cash in on the current fads—it is actually a fun running app.

Zombies, Run! is primarily a story, where you are the main character, attempting to survive in a zombie apocalypse. The story is divided into missions, each a 1/2 hour or an hour long, depending on your preference. In these missions you collect items, explore abandoned buildings, search for medical research. The story begins with you crash landing in a helicopter headed for Abel Township, one of the last remaining zombie-free havens. After you survive the crash you must make your way to the township, conveniently about three miles away. Oh, and of course you have to run because your crash has attracted the attention of zombies. Who are closing in. Quickly.

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The great thing about Zombies, Run! is that it takes your mind off running, and gives you something to think about. Sure, you’re thinking about imaginary zombies (and the rude doctor who says she’ll leave you outside with those flesh-eating zombies if you don’t get the medical records she needs so badly), but at least you’re not thinking about how your legs hurt and your lungs will explode soon if you have to run any further. The plot weaves through your music, keeping your attention just long enough to distract you, and the sporadic picking up of imaginary items (“you picked up a pair of underwear and three cans of food” the robot voice says) always feels like some strange success. The game works for the very reason most people hate running—it combats the mental angle for you.

On Tuesday I decided to try out this app I downloaded forever ago, and I was more than pleasantly surprised. After a successful Monday run, I figured I would just have fun with Zombies, Run and run/walk for the plot line. Thanks to the great pacing and entertaining story, I actually ran further than I’ve ever run—3.4 miles. I completed the mission, and then just kept running. Zombies be damned.

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My favorite aspect of the app, which I’m excited and terrified to try out, is the Zombie Chase option. If you turn it on, the app will randomly decide that you are being chased by zombies. If you don’t increase your speed by 20% for one minute, the zombies will get closer, and you will be forced to abandon items to distract them.

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I am so excited I downloaded this app. At a cheap $3.99, it’s well worth the investment. Today for Couch to 5K I ran 2.45 miles at a surprising 10:13 pace. This, I’d like to credit to the zombie chase I experienced on Tuesday. If not for the plot, I would have never been able to prove to myself that I could run a 5K, so today’s run was a breeze. Zombies, Run! is a wonderful proof of one’s abilities, and I highly recommend the challenge.

Zombies, Run! is available for iPhone, Android and Windows platforms.

Am I a Runner? A Lesson in Backtracking

If you’re any sort of creative, you’ve likely heard the speech about owning your title. “I’m not really a painter,” you say. “It’s just a hobby.” And you’re not a painter, because you don’t believe it—you won’t add the identity to your own. For years I never referred to myself as a writer. I thought I could have the title once I published something, once someone told me I was a writer, once I had a completed novel to send out. Up until someone else validated it, I wasn’t really a writer, just a faker with some creative ideas.

I feel the same way about being a runner. I haven’t yet accepted the title of runner. I’m waiting to finish a 5k, to finally invest in real running shoes, for a friend to casually drop the word while we’re out. I want someone else to give me the title, when it really won’t mean anything until I give it to myself.

This week I decided to backtrack in my Couch to 5K journey. After two weeks of failing to run for the full 25-28 minutes, I decided it was time to get some wins under my belt—even if I’d already achieved them. So I took it a step back a few weeks, and returned to running with breaks. On Monday I ran for five minutes, walked for three, ran for eight, walked for three, and ran for another five. And while it sort of felt like a failure to have to try again, the real failure would have been listening to that skank in my head who keeps saying “just quit—you’re not a runner.” So I got some good music, did a little dancing, and felt great. I did two ten minute runs on Wednesday, and again felt great. Music got me pumped (Sia’s Chandelier makes me look like a GLORIOUS IDIOT—1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, DRINK!—hand motions and all), and the weather kept me sane. Today I ran for the 22 straight minutes again in the terrible cold (46?? SNOW IN THE FORECAST? I hate you Minnesota), and felt surprisingly great. I even kept running after the stop time. I kept a 10:16 pace today, which is a step down from days past, but I’m calling it a win. I’m not overexerting myself, I actually enjoyed running.

I don’t know if I feel comfortable accepting the title of runner yet. At this point, I’m a little worried if I call it out too soon, I’ll spook it, like a scared rabbit. That just as quickly as I’ve started running, I’ll stop. I know it seems ridiculous, but I’ve begun and quit enough things (I’m a poet, I’m a pianist, I’m a playwright!), that I want to careful with what I commit to. So perhaps it isn’t now that I call myself a runner. But maybe, someday, I’ll find the title at the end of the block.

Nora Ephron to the Rescue

Woo, Nelly. It’s been a rough patch of running. After a brutal Wednesday, I choked my way through a terrible Friday and an even worse Monday. I have been stopping to walk in the middle of my runs (sometimes for great lengths of time), and every time my legs started to slow, I felt like a failure. “I am not a runner! This is miserable, I’m miserable, why am I doing this?” I have thought very seriously about finishing with the whole endeavor, and never running again. I have never considered myself a runner—why am I allowed to take the title now? Especially after I’ve failed?

Today marked the second day of 28 minutes straight. I’ve been struggling with what to listen to to drown out the mental hurdles of running, and my go-to pop playlists are feeling drab. You can only listen to Britney Spears tell you to “work, bitch” so many times. After a while, Brit’s sage advice doesn’t feel genuine anymore. Sadly, I just don’t believe I will get a Maserati by running, Ms. Spears.

Today I tried something new—an audiobook that wouldn’t make me want to fall asleep (sorry, Margaret Atwood). Today, Nora Ephron and Meryl Streep joined me on my run with Heartburn. And it was mostly a success.

I did stop a few times, but ultimately kept running for almost the entire time. I felt great! I don’t know if I reached a runner’s high, but I certainly didn’t feel ready to be sick. The trade-off? I’ve lost almost 40 seconds on my pace. Even with the occasional walk on Wednesday and Friday, I kept around a 9:55 pace—my best yet. I slowed down dramatically today to around 10:27.

I like running fast, and I liked feeling like I was going somewhere with the fast pace. But I did feel like retching when I got to the finish line. For right now, I guess I can’t quite have speed and distance at the same time. And I think I’m ok with that. Besides, I’ve got a while to work on my pace.

Now, about that 5K to 10K app…

There’s a First for Everything

When it comes to running, I talk a big game. For the most part, I’ve been unnaturally successful on this journey—I have yet to hit the breaking point, to face the painful reality of quitting. Well, until today.

On Monday I started the first big week of running with Couch to 5K—25 minutes without breaks all week long. But after a few good Fridays with 20 and 22 minutes under my belt, I thought I was prepared. To keep my concentration away from the slow downfall of my lungs and heart, I put on an audiobook. Which was all well and good until the halfway point, when I wanted to scream at Margaret Atwood for not writing more action packed scenes. The mental battle shouted through the prose. “You’re halfway, which means you will be TWICE as tired when you’re done. Face it, you’re not really a runner, you’re not going to do this for the rest of your life, so let’s just bail.” I took a few seconds to change to music, but screwed up the Couch to 5K timer, losing all of the data I’d gotten for the first half of the run. I decided to run to where I’m usually allowed to quit, and hope for the best.

Today I finally had to face the full 25 minutes. And my subconscious chose to sabotage me. “You’re not actually going to be a runner. Once you’re done with this, you’ll probably stop running altogether. You don’t enjoy this that much, and you never stick to anything, so why are you doing this at all? Just, stop running for a second.” And that’s when I did it. For the first time on this whole adventure, I stopped running before the app told me I was allowed. I walked for half a block, mentally screaming “ARE YOU KIDDING ME? YOU BROKE????” I started to run again, but the damage had been done. For the next mile I stopped on and off, feeling the seconds stack up on my average time. I was a mix of dread and shame. “Am I a runner? If I can quit this easily, if I can talk myself out of it so quickly, maybe this is all in vain. I haven’t found the runner’s high, I am miserable the whole time I’m running. Is this all just a prelude to one giant failure?”

For the last five blocks I ran without stopping, vowing to reach the end of the song to prove that I wasn’t a complete failure. And, thankfully, the 25 minute mark came first. I genuinely almost threw up when I stopped. I got so far as to plan out where I would do it, should the opportunity strike. Those bushes? That trash bin? The street? Which place would cause the least amount of stress to the neighborhood?

I hated feeling like a failure, so I pushed myself a bit in the cool down, running a short half block, and sprinting a half block to my apartment. These don’t change my running average, but to get over the mental hurdles, I needed to prove that I could do more.

I dreaded looking at my pace. I imagined something in the 11-minute range. I walked, which immediately adds minutes to my average, right?

To my utter surprise, today I averaged 9:51 over 2.54 miles. This is my best pace for straight running.

The unfortunate side-effect is that the questions still hang in the air, and now that I’ve opened the Pandora’s Box of negative thought, it’s pretty difficult to close. I’m proud of myself for getting such a great pace, but I worry that the damage has been done. I know, objectively, that running will get easier with each day, but in the moment, as my stomach cramps, and my lungs feel like they’re going through a paper shredder, success doesn’t feel real. I guess I’m not done with the mental battle yet.

Achievement Unlocked

When people find out I’m a vegetarian, they often ask why I made the decision. Sometimes, I spout off political and economic reasons, but if I’m being honest, I just thought vegetarians were cool. Most of the vegetarians I knew had a sense of confidence I lacked, thought more about politics (which, barely registered for me), travelled the world, listened intently. I wanted to be all of these things, and I figured being a vegetarian would be the gateway to that.

I did not get any cooler simply by being a vegetarian. And I definitely didn’t get any healthier. I ate fried foods almost exclusively (mozzarella sticks, potato skins, french fries), and didn’t really pay attention to the impact these foods had on my “political reasons” for changing my diet. I was not (and I’m still not) a great vegetarian. Now, it’s just far too complicated for me to try to teach myself how to buy and cook meat. No, becoming a vegetarian was not a life-changing experience I thought it would be.

Instead, vegetarianism taught me less about my health, and more about my stamina. As a kid I never liked challenging myself. I felt embarrassed when I looked like a fool in front of my friends (sports coordination was not my forte), never felt any sense of accomplishment if I failed. Trying didn’t really count as effort if it didn’t succeed, so I just sort of bailed on the whole thing. Until I became a vegetarian. With every month I stayed a vegetarian, the more I felt like I had accomplished something. For the most part, changing my diet was a big deal—getting rid of meat was difficult and complicated. But when I could answer “I’ve been a vegetarian for about a year now” I felt both surprised and elated. I had changed some huge aspect of my life—I had actually changed and stuck with it.

When I started to get healthy, I took the achievements of being a vegetarian as proof that I could do it. And within a year I had lost almost 40 pounds. With the knowledge that I could actually make a change and stick with it, I was able to actually get healthier.

About a month ago I went on a pretty mediocre date. There was nothing wrong with the guy, but there was clearly no real connection—we scrounged for things to talk about, stumbled through back stories. When I got in my car to head home, I felt a sense of failure. What was wrong with me? How was I so boring?

The next day I spent in my TV chair, plowing through episodes of Teen Wolf. I ate poorly, felt like a boring, old sad sack. I let the crappy date explain my entire life up until that point. I was a boring, mediocre person, and I could very easily fail at everything. You’ve had those days, I’m sure. Where everything seems to go wrong, and you just sort of let it.

That night, I vowed that I would try to get more interesting. I would start running the next day. That way, at least I had something to talk about on a date. My hobbies include writing and running. Now I’m interesting.

I took the success of being a vegetarian and was able to bring it to my running. I had changed my diet for five years, I could most certainly run for a minute. Two minutes. Three minutes. Five minutes. Eight minutes.

Today I ran 20 minutes at a 10:10 pace. I am still in shock that it happened—that my legs and my lungs actually survived the whole process. On Wednesday I thought two sets of 8 minutes was rough. But today I ran 20 minutes without stopping. (I can’t stop thinking about high school me, and how she’d just stare with her jaw to the floor if I passed her now.) And how did I do that? By proving to myself, again and again, that I could do these little things that initially felt impossible. Every time I kept running through the full length of time, the more I felt like I could challenge myself to do it again. I could do it. I can do it. I just needed a little bit of a push.

Do you challenge yourself? Have you always tried new things, or is it something you’ve struggled with? How have you learned what you can accomplish?

Oh My Gosh, Look at Her Butt

Last Friday, after a optimistic Wednesday run, I dragged myself through another Couch to 5K regiment, landing at a miserable 11-minute mile pace. I rocked out, threw my fists around, mouthed the words to the song (as is now, apparently, my custom), and still my feet sort of slid along the pavement. My ankles hurt, my thighs hurt, my calves hurt. I did my favorite move, the is-she-running-at-all-or-just-kind-of-walking-and-moving-her-arms-awkwardly? Three minutes of running seemed like a feat initially, and after a nice, endorphin-filled Wednesday, Friday came like a sucker punch. Maybe the weather was too much, maybe I didn’t try hard enough. But when I got home and saw the 11:09 pace (after bragging about my 9:48 on Wednesday), I questioned just how useful this whole thing would be. If I’m running at a walking pace, what is the point?

Monday brought a regiment I audibly laughed at when I saw it. Run for three minutes, walk for one and half, run for five minutes, walk for two and a half. REPEAT.

Constance, babe, ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND? I could barely drag my sad legs through two sets of three minutes, you want me to run for 16 minutes now? Ok, cool. Great. Can I do that thing in Mario Kart time trials where I just sort of watch my ghost do the race? Is that ok? I’ll cheer on the see-through version of myself from this curb.

I took the dance-run tactic to a new extreme. I put Nicki Minaj on shuffle, and let her angry, dirty raps kick me into gear. The first stop (no shame): Anaconda.

Have all the issues you want with Nicki, but as a running companion, her take-no-prisoners attitude was extremely useful. There is something hilarious, stupid and freeing about mouthing “oh my gosh, look at her butt, oh my gosh, look at her butt, look at her butt.” And when I’m running, I can totally live in the fantasy world that I am, in fact, talking about my own butt. Because my headphones are loud, and I’m alone, and I look ludicrous, and for a few seconds I can pretend to have a big butt. Really, is that the most embarrassing thing I’ve done today? Not likely.

Next in the playlist was Bang Bang.

The beat is fun and peppy (did I seriously just write that?), and there are several moments in the song where it builds up, psyching you up run a bit faster. Right before the chorus, I actually started sprinting. Not for long (maybe five seconds), but on the second rep of five minutes of running, I needed something to clear my head from the “you suck, you suck, we can’t breathe, we should just stop now,” and pushing myself to sprint the block did just that. Dear brain, our legs just pounded that pavement, so you can shut up, now. We can sprint in the middle of a run. So sit down.

Am I listening to these songs for their musical quality? Not so much. But is a powerhouse female playlist helpful? Is there something awesome about having these straight talking women as running partners? It certainly doesn’t hurt.

Monday’s 9:38 pace and today’s 9:41 pace prove there is something to their madness.

Embarrassing Episodes: Running Music Video

This week for the Couch to 5K I graduated to running for three straight minutes at a time. On Sunday night I looked over the workout for the week and audibly gasped. “Three straight minutes of running? I’ve only run for like a minute at a time—are these people INSANE?” Possibly.

I procrastinated the Monday workout for a long time. I putzed around the apartment, made myself a cup of coffee (or two), watched backlogged YouTube videos, did some dishes—anything to avoid running for three straight minutes. I am a weakling, and even the idea of running for that long sounded terrible.

I finally got outside around 1PM, and when Constance said “start jogging” for the three-minute interval, I did something that didn’t quite feel like running. It felt like speed walking, excessive limb jostling that kind of looked like slow-motion jogging. I always kind of pity those runners when I see them on the street. “Please stop honey, you look like you’re gonna die. Are you even running, really?” (Karma, I can hear you laughing.) Over the course of the run I lost a whole minute on my average running speed (last week I was running at 9-minute miles, I’ve crawled to a 10-minute miles this week). I somehow succeeded by distracting myself. Rather than focusing on the “MY LEGS ARE LITERALLY GOING TO FALL OFF AND MY HEART WILL BURST THROUGH MY CHEST LIKE AN ALIEN” I started to use the time to plot-map my novel. I thought through scenes that I’d been stuck on, worked through backstories for some minor characters. Did I feel all three minutes? Sure. Heart-bursting-from-my-chest felt those three minutes. But I finished them. I ran (read: crawled) the whole time. And Constance’s heart-warming, sounds-like-she’s-giggling “walk” came through in the middle of a thought, so that it was kind of surprising that I was done. I didn’t want to keep running, I wanted to stop and fall down forever when she said I could walk, but it still did come as a surprise. “I did that? Like, I really just did that? But… how?”

Today I pushed myself a little harder. That 10:09 minute mile was a slap in the face. I mean, I didn’t even feel like I had to puke, so what was the point, really? Today I couldn’t concentrate on the plot-mapping, so I tried a different route. I run in a fairly secluded area of town (lots of houses, but not many pedestrians), so I turned up the music in my headphones, and let the imaginary music video start. There is a wonderful release in mouthing along to the lyrics of a ridiculous song, especially if you’re trying to stop your brain from the loop of “WE WILL DIE THIS WAY.” A good pump-up song should be more than just a mental pump-up—get physical about it. By now my workout mix is getting a bit old, it doesn’t quite get me as excited as it first did. So how do I combat that? Mental music video. Just go for it. Make it a giant running/dance party. Get crazy, turn it up, throw your limbs around a bit. I am confident I looked like an idiot—100% confident. But if you saw someone going for a run while mouthing the words from their headphones and dancing a bit you’d probably think, at most, “well, that person is having fun.” And that person will look at you for just thirty seconds anyway, and really, how terrible is thirty seconds of embarrassment in the grand scheme of things? Thirty seconds of embarrassment got me a 9:48 mile today.

Will I do this in an actual 5K? Probably not. But to get the endorphins flowing and my mind heading the right direction, I will run-dance for a bit. Want to look like an idiot with me?

90s and 2000s songs are a great start. You already know the lyrics.

Oh How the Mighty Fall

Oh man. Last week on Wednesday I was all I can keep running forever, running is great, I love running.

Ha.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

Today is not last Wednesday, folks. No, I am quite far from that doe-eyed optimist of Couch to 5K day 2. She lived a pipe dream. This week I found myself realistically wondering what would happen if I threw up. Where would I do it? In that flower bed? Would some snobby white lady run out of her house screaming about how I ruined her hydrangeas? Would I keep running after that, or officially wave the white flag?

Thankfully I did not puke, but man, there were a few moments. I felt my pace slow to a crawl (I’d look to my right and marvel at just how slowly everything was passing me), and my mind kept screaming “OH GOODNESS WE SUCK SO HARD.” My feet felt like they were barely leaving the ground–I was doing a terrible reverse moonwalk, in slow motion.

And yet, when my darling Constance told me it was time for the cool down, I was ready to run again. I certainly didn’t want to, but I was mentally prepared to (I’m terrible at keeping track of how many reps I’ve done). And I think that is a big part of today’s training, that my body can do more than my brain thinks it can. My legs were ready to run, it was my mind that wheezed “WE’RE GONNA DIE.”

So maybe that’s today’s lesson. That many times I’m in my own way, my own brain sabotaging me into missed opportunities because “we can’t do it, we’re gonna fail!” Perhaps it’s time to start telling your brain to take a seat, because it’s speaking out of turn. SIT DOWN, SHUT UP AND HOLD ON. We’re gonna make it yet.