As a teacher I am fascinated by the challenge of helping people to push past their perceived limits. I truly believe that we are all far more capable than we think. Indeed, thinking too much can sometimes be counterproductive.
Here’s a recent personal example:
When ran my first Bolton parkrun on Saturday 18 February 2012 my time was 25:46. By 16 November 2013 I had managed to reduce this to 20:38 before my times plateaued. I justified this by thinking:
- I was a returning runner and I was constantly stopping and starting training through niggles and injury.
- I was training for other things: marathons, and in 2015 IronmanUK – events that are much more about endurance rather than speed.
This rationalisation of the plateau remained until the day my Garmin battery ran out on 7 May 2016.
I found myself on the start line of the Bolton parkrun with many of my Burnden Road Runners friends wearing the club vest; we’d been asked to wear them as a way of promoting the club to the 300+ runners that were about to take part. I looked down to my wrist and was met with a blank screen: the battery had died. Without my watch I was forced to run on feel and I made the choice to run as hard as I could. Luckily I had a faster club mate in front of me for most of the run and we took it in turns to push the pace along. Without the feedback from my watch all I had go off was feel; and this is very different from running on feel at a known pace. It was really hurting…but without the knowledge of the pace that was causing the pain it was just that: hurt and pain.
So I pushed on, crossed the line, jogged home. I avoided any post-run discussion about the possible time that I had run, instead preferring to wait for the email to arrive later on in the day. I thought that it would give me time to reflect on my run and try and come to a prediction about what my time would be. In the end I couldn’t do it. While waiting for my email I simply couldn’t work out what my time had been. I knew that it hurt me a lot, but without that pain being anchored by the clock and given meaning through digits it was quickly forgotten.
It was then with some surprise that to find out that I’d taken 14 seconds off my previous best for the course. It was a pleasing reminder to stop over-thinking things and just run.
Of course, there’s wealth of psychological theory to account for this. But, I’ll save that for another post. I don’t want to over-think the benefits of under-thinking!