During my Saturday long run, I was contemplating the mind games runners tend to play on themselves. For example, when it comes to me and long runs, the best bet for success is to get far, far away from my house. If I listen to whichever inner voice recommends doing two 7-mile loops instead of an out-and-back 14, I’ll very likely find myself sitting on my front porch in an hour, wondering how in the world I managed not to start that second loop. I know that sometimes it’s safer if I just don’t have any choice in the matter. Would you like to get home? Oh, sure. Well, it’s 7 miles…thataway. Go!
Another fun game is playing with numbers. This is particularly helpful on the track. No, I’m not running 25 laps. I’m running 6 repetitions of 4 laps, with one extra just as icing on the cake. 1-2-3-4-1, 2-2-3-4, 3-2-3-4… This also helps keep my mind off the lap counter, which very cruelly shows how many laps TO GO instead of how many laps ARE DONE. Boy, am I tired. What? 17 to go? Ah, man!
A third game, closely related to the numbers game, is the seductive simplicity of JUST ONE MORE. Runners learn early on that they can always do the last of something. The last hill, the last interval, the last mile, the last lap…the finality of each makes them possible. The runner thinks, “this is it. Just one more, and I’ll be done.” And then, out of the depths, comes a reserve of energy the runner didn’t know was there. The real trick is staying strong in the middle—when the light at the end of the tunnel is nowhere to be seen. This is where just one more becomes a trick the mind can play on the legs.
I’m running 16x400m at 82-84 second pace. For the first set, I get one minute to rest between each 400m. After that, Coach drops the rest time down to 45 seconds. I’m starting to drag at the end of the second set, seriously struggling through the third when Coach says, “Just one more, and you can stop at 12.” Out comes an 83. “Ok, Megan, you have a little left. Just one more.” Another 83. “I bet this time it’s over 84. Give it a try.” Hanging on at 84. “It’d be a shame to quit now, wouldn’t it? Just two more, and you’ll have finished the whole workout.” At this point, I’m throwing Coach some serious death glares for messing with my head, but I finished it. And at a pace that would’ve been unthinkable the year before.
It’s cross country, and we’re running a ladder on a golf course. It’s October, and after battling a drenching cold rain all the way up the ladder, we’re now facing a freak thunderstorm on the way down. The lightning is frequent and the thunder is loud, and someone (probably me) recommends that we call it a day. “Just one more,” Coach says, in an attempt to subdue mutiny. Off we go for the 1200m. “Just one more,” as you can probably guess, extended to include the rest of the workout AND the (albeit shortened) cooldown. I wasn’t thrilled with the conditions, but the results of the workout were great and (better still) no one got struck by lightning.
It’s years ago, back near the beginning, and my brother and I are lining up for the Sunflower 5k. I’ve run the course before, and know it has a major hill at the beginning and several rolling hills leading up to the finish. I impart this information to little bro, and we take off. I spent the whole race chasing him, but as I round the corner into the last set of hills I pull up beside him. He’s laboring, and to be helpful I tell him “Just one more.” He strides out and we crest the top of the hill only to face…another hill. Oops! “Just one more,” I say again, and oxygen debt prevents me from saying more. Little bro and I struggle up to the top of the second hill, and upon reaching the top we see ANOTHER HILL instead of a forgiving downhill slope to the finish line. By now, I’m in no condition to offer any kind of advice, but I manage to charge up (what really was) the last hill and make it through the chute first. It was to be the last time I beat my brother in any race, and he’ll always claim that I tricked him into an early kick. I really wasn’t out to get him, but he’ll never believe me, and always has a sore spot for “just one more.”