This is a phrase I repeat to myself more and more frequently lately. It started off last year with trying to makes my runs “comfortably hard.” By making my runs “comfortably hard,” I was able to make a little bit, not a whole lot, but a little bit of progress in my average mile pace. Between mid-August when I started my marathon training and the Army marathon (March 1st), I cut almost 2 minutes off my average mile pace. TWO MINUTES!!! That’s crazy! Just think if I had gone with the next step up: “uncomfortably hard.” Can you imagine the progress I would have made if I had done that?!?!?!?!
Now, when you use the word “uncomfortable” in your training, don’t confuse it with pain or hurt. No, no, no. I mean, there is a certain level of pain (maybe discomfort is a more appropriate term for pain that is easily tolerated??) that is okay. But, if it’s PAIN pain, it’s not good and it is probably an injury and needs medical attention. Anyway, uncomfortable. What do I mean by that word? Well, plainly put, you’re not comfortable. Whatever it is you’re doing that makes you uncomfortable, you want to stop it. But in order to make improvements in your running, you HAVE to make yourself uncomfortable. You just have to. What is it they say? Without pain there is no progress? Yep. I 100% agree. But, like I said, this is more of a tolerable “discomfort” rather than full-fledged pain.
Let me offer up a situation to help explain what I’m trying to get at here. You’re out for a training run. Your comfortable cruising pace, let’s say, is 10:30 minutes per mile. A “comfortably hard” pace would be 10:10 per mile. An “uncomfortably hard” pace would be 9:45 per mile. How do you gauge this? There is that method where you try and talk while you run. If you’re running at your comfortable pace of 10:30, you can easily hold a conversation with someone. At your comfortably hard pace of 10:10 you can get out a few words at a time between heavy breaths. At your uncomfortably hard pace of 9:45, you can get out MAYBE one word to your running partner and that word would probably be “OMG!”
When you’re running at your uncomfortably hard pace, it is all about running. It is all about breathing in and out and getting the most out of the air you’re breathing. It’s all about pumping your arms efficiently and striding economically. At your uncomfortably hard pace, you are a running machine!
Now, as fun as the challenge of running uncomfortably hard is (yes, it can be fun…and once you’ve done it a couple times, you want more…trust me, I know), you do NOT want to do this every time you go for a run. You are most likely not a professional runner and even if you were, they don’t run all out every time they run either. That’s how you get hurt. Seriously hurt. You only want to run like this once a week.
Also, something I’d like to make a note of. We all have our “off” days…those days where we’re just not feeling it and everything is hard. Your comfortable pace on a day like this isn’t your usual 10:30. Now it’s closer to 11:30 or maybe even 12:00!!! GASP! Yes, I have these days. Thank goodness, for my sanity, they don’t happen often, but they do happen. I’ll have a great, awesome, amazing, fantastic run one day where my average pace that was completely comfortable to me was 9:45 and then the next day I go out and run and I can’t get any of my mile splits to go faster than 11:30. It’s so frustrating but it is just the product of fatigue. And fatigue training has its own benefits. But, again, you don’t want to run fatigued all the time. Again, once a week is the most you should do this. I like to sometimes run 3 or 4 days in a row to fatigue my legs and my body. It is very helpful in getting your body ready for the challenge of running a marathon where it will definitely be fatigued from running 26.2 miles all in one day! If you train fatigued during your training, then you’ll be able to push through the fatigue that happens in the last 10K of a marathon like a champ!
So, running uncomfortable. Don’t be afraid to do it. Stepping outside our comfort zone is the only way we can adapt, overcome and progress.