Saturday, September 1, 2012

On Hard Work . . .

Despite not being able to run, I've been doing a great deal of thinking about my approach and mindset.

I've always defined myself, in part, by my work ethic. I work very, very hard at things in which I care to succeed. "Working hard" is part of who I am at my core. But now I am realizing that there's more to hard work than what I thought.

I enjoy playing the piano by ear and composing.
People work hard at things they are good at. When I was 12 years old and taking piano lessons, I never wanted to practice the pieces my teacher gave me. I didn't have the patience to read the music and figure it out. Instead, I was really good at playing music by ear and even composing my own songs. It was easier for me to work with this natural gift than it was to learn the assigned pieces. I would practice the piano for about an hour a day-- but only a small percentage of that time was spent on what the teacher wanted me to do. Most of it was playing songs I was already good at, or playing songs by ear. Thus, piano lessons only lasted a few years and I didn't progress very far in my ability to play complex pieces. (This doesn't really bother me, because I would still prefer to play by ear!)

To be truly successful, you need to work hard at things you are not good at.

I consider myself "good" at marathon training because I'm very motivated to get out there and do the prescribed workouts. I'm good at making plans and following through. I enjoy structure and following the rules. These are all things that are very easy for me to do because I enjoy them and I've been doing them for a long time. And therefore, it's easy for me to work hard at simply doing the training.

Things that I'm good at, which I work hard at:
I'm good at pushing through tough runs!
  • Carefully planning runs in advance
  • Being disciplined about following the training plan and doing workouts as prescribed
  • Taking good care of my body- being aware of potential injuries, planning rest and recovery
  • Mental toughness, both in terms of pushing through hard workouts and not giving up on my goals
  • Solving problems, learning from mistakes
  • Being strategic about running races

But there are also a whole host of other things related to marathon training that I could really improve upon. Things that are not easy for me-- that may seem like they aren't even possible. So when I start training again, I plan to continue to work hard at the things I mentioned above, but I also have a list of other things I need to work hard at that aren't easy.

Things that I'm not good at, and need to work hard at:

  • Making comparisons only to myself, and not to other runners.
  • Learning effectively from setbacks/poor performances and quickly moving on.
  • Patience. 
  • Tempering emotions, and attaching them to "the process" rather than the outcome.
  • Expecting that I will make mistakes, and being okay with them.

Making comparisons-- I have a tendency to look at other people's race results and immediately compare them to my own. Or look at my results and immediately compare them to other people's results. This is not good for me! Although I am happy for others when they succeed, it's coupled with an "I should be able to do that." When hearing about other people's runs, I need to be happy for their successes and keep that completely, 100%, totally separate from my own running. When I run a race, I should be 100% focused on my performance, what I did well, and not letting other people's times come into the evaluation of myself.

Learning from setbacks and moving on-- I've gotten better at this over the years, but I am nowhere near where I want to be. It used to be that I just wouldn't learn anything from a poor performance. I'd be upset and it would last for awhile. Then I started learning from setbacks, so although I was upset, at least I had something to takeaway for next time. The problem has always been the moving on part. If I have a bad race, I tend to dwell on it all day, or sometimes even for multiple days. This is not good for me and it will only serve to diminish my confidence. Confidence is critical for good performance, so I can't get caught up in the negative emotions.

Patience-- I am not a patient person. I will work hard for a long time to get good results, but when I know it's time for those results, I can't bear to wait any longer. I have the patience to work through a 16-week training plan, but come race day, I'd better get those results! The thought of doing another 16-week cycle to get the results that I should have gotten this time just pains me beyond belief. After each of my "bad" marathons, my first order of business has been to pull out a calendar, find a marathon in 4-6 weeks and get my result! And during those 4-6 weeks my entire focus is on how I will redeem myself in that next race.

I absolutely hate not knowing when I will get results. In college, I couldn't stand having to wait to receive grades on my essays. The worst part was not knowing when the teacher would get the grades back. I would go to class, hoping that this would be the day we'd get our essays returned, but it wouldn't be. I was always the one asking "when will we get our papers back?"

And right now, I am trying to recover from mono and I have no idea when I will be able to start doing regular training again. Next week? Two weeks? Next month? I would be much better at coping if I had a date that I could count on. I have to work hard at being patient.

Tempering Emotions-- I consider myself to be a very passionate person. It's a part of my personality that I like, but it's not good when negative emotions just consume me. I have always attached emotions to results and outcomes, no matter how hard I worked. I realize that not getting a good result doesn't diminish the hard work, but the disappointment that comes from not getting the desired result always overshadows the pride from doing the work. I need to work hard at attaching pride and positive emotions to the process and the work. A sub-par marathon time doesn't change the fact that I spent the past 16 weeks waking up at 5:00am and running my butt of every day!

Expecting that I will make mistakes-- Whenever I make a mistake, I feel the need to fix it immediately. I am not okay with making mistakes. I apologize profusely at work or to other people if the mistake somehow affected them. And I try hard to make up for it. Where I used to work, mistakes weren't tolerated and I was there for so long that it felt normal to me. But at my new job, people don't make a big deal out of mistakes. It's expected. We're just human, we're working on a hundred things at once under tight deadlines, so mistakes happen. I'd love for my "internal culture" to shift along with the way my work environment culture has shifted. Work hard, expect great things out of yourself, but also expect to make mistakes and not make a huge deal out of them.

I am going to focus on these five things (maybe not all at once) and I think that once I do, I will be a happier person overall and I will find more success in anything I strive for-- not just running marathons.

Speaking of marathons, every single marathon I've run since March 2008 has been a huge struggle for me and has not ended well. And I've run a lot of them since then. I've constantly asked myself why this keeps happening and now I am honing in on the answer.

Even though I've been doing very well at the first list of bullets, which includes executing the physical training, I've not worked at all on the second list of bullets. I really need to start thinking more about that second list, using my discipline to work hard at each one, and accepting that I will be out of my comfort zone. I will have to correct a lot of bad habits and mentally train myself to have a different outlook. The byproduct of NOT working hard at this second list is a great deal of anxiety, which is ultimately which comes back to bite me come race day. Telling myself to simply relax won't cut it. I need to work hard at the things I'm uncomfortable with.


  1. "To be truly successful, you need to work hard at things you are not good at."

    Yup. And the paradox of trying to run faster is that it requires one to be patient and take it slow.

    Regarding your point about comparison, one of our teammates posted a quote some time ago that resonated with me - "comparison is the thief of joy"

  2. Absolutely great post.
    I was sitting here nodding my head at: "To be truly successful, you need to work hard at things you are not good at."
    It's soooo true! We tend to practice things we're good at because of the immediate gratification of feeling good!

  3. I am also really really bad at working at things I am not good at! I think that most people are; after all, we get positive reinforcement from things we're good at.

  4. Great post! I missed the quote that Cris was referring too, that's great!

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