Monday, January 7, 2013

The Trough of Despair

One day a couple of years ago, out on a trial run, my friend/co-worker/running buddy Rob were discussing our recent races.

We'd both had reasonable races, nothing earth shattering, but decent. We also realized that each of us had a experienced a really rough patch around the middle of our races.

With more discussion we decided that there's a moment in every endurance race, and most long training runs, when you're pretty sure your body is failing, that you can't possibly keep going, that you never should have gotten out of bed, and that you will almost certainly die face down on the course before the next mile marker, let alone the finish line.

Rob called it "The trough of despair." It's easy to slide into, and may be tough to get out of, but if you keep going, you will emerge.

The problem with the trough of despair is that a caveman lives there.

You see, our minds don't like the idea of us pushing our bodies to extremes. Deep in our brains lives the instincts of a twitchy caveman worried that at any moment he'll need to outrun a lion. The caveman wants us to hold back, to keep a little something in reserve.

The trough of despair is an illusion our mind creates to protect its body when it thinks we're too deep into our reserves.

The illusion starts with the caveman's voice telling you things like "You don't feel that great, that it's time to slow down, or even quit." or "In the grand scheme of the universe, who cares if you finish."

The self-doubt can be overwhelming, especially in the middle of a long race. Luckily, the caveman has a short attention span. If you keep going, his voice will fade, and you will emerge from the trough.

In the trough, focus on your running, your breath, your cadence, the road or trail. Try to block out the doubt and think only about the task of moving forward. It might take a minute, maybe ten minutes, but eventually, the caveman will step back into the shadows and you'll feel strong and confident again.

The trough of despair, and the caveman, don't limit themselves to trying to screw up your running. They can pop up during a long project at work, or a trying personal time. You don't find yourself in the trough of despair when you're doing something easy, only in the middle of hard, worthwhile things.

Don't fear the trough. Still, you need to recognize when you're in it, acknowledge it, and get through it, because on the other side is the you that you are trying to find.

Good running,