Cultivating Certainty

Have you ever had a goal that just nags at you? A target that you try to reach, but it always seems to be just a hair out of your grasp?

I’ve had this goal that has been nagging at me for months. One that I have repeatedly attempted, with unsuccessful results. 

Now, as I have previously explained, I am not a “real” runner. I don’t have long running legs. I’m not lean or gazelle-like. I’m more like a densely packed, muscular mule. I run as slow as molasses. But if you know anything about me by now after reading my blog posts, you know I’m a goal-oriented person. Last April, when I completed my usual, hilly, 3.5 mile loop, my unexpected 10:17/mile pace astounded me. For me, this was a pretty swift time. This was pretty gazelle-like. I immediately felt the adrenaline rush of achievement. 

Holy shit! I thought, when I finished. So close to a 10-min mile. With all these hills, that’s fantastic.

See where I am going with this? Goal-setting time.  

Beat a 10-min mile pace on this route now Shannon. Get it done. I told myself.

And so, I tried. 

My next attempt clocked a 10:55/mile. Hmmm…not the direction I need to be going.

Try again. 

10:49

Ok – time for a different approach

I purchased a weighted vest. Only six pounds. I thought if I trained wearing weights, then ran without, my time would miraculously drop. 

My pace slowed to a sluggish 12:10 wearing the vest for the first time, ultimately settling in the high 11’s after some time adjusting to it.

Every once in a while, I would try the run without the vest. My pace was disappointingly in the low 11’s. What the heck? What am I not doing right?

Undeterred from my mission, I began sprinting drills and interval training. I wanted to increase my VO2 max, which would theoretically translate to improved speed on my loop. 

Something started to click and I got as close as 10:02. But despite repeated attempts over the next several months, I could not break the 10:00/mile mark. 

One morning, I went out of the gates with everything I had. I felt the fire in my legs pushing me up the hills. My heart rate was over 180 on the last ascent home. Bile rose in my throat as I sprinted the final corner to my house. I collapsed in my driveway with exhaustion, eager to see my pace, certain that I had finally done it. 

The ugly numbers 10:10 glared at me from my watch. 

I felt utterly defeated.  

There was nothing more I could do. 

Other than…keep trying. 

And so, I continued. 

I ran fasted, I ran full. I ran after eating protein, I ran after eating carbs. I ran with the vest, I ran without the vest. I continued my sprinting workouts. I ran endless hill repeats. I ran long runs. I completed a half marathon for goodness’ sakes. I worked out faithfully in the gym. I lost about 18 pounds in the process. Yet my times were all over the place. 

11:22 

10:04

10:28

10:33

10:44

10:46

Then it happened. 

The first time I broke the 10 min/mile pace was a brisk fall morning. I stretched briefly in my driveway to get the blood flowing in my muscles and felt energized despite the cold.

My intention was for an easy, no pressure run, as a warm-up to my gym workout. I started out loose and relaxed and enjoying the feel of autumn around me.

As I continued, I slowly gained confidence and pushed harder. I felt my legs boldly striking the ground beneath me. I knew every inch of the trail. I knew when to anticipate the intensity up the hills and when to relish the recovery in the declines. I kept telling myself not to panic. I breathed deeply in through my nose and out through my mouth. I was centered. I was focused. I was confident. I had a “knowing” that I carried with me the entire time.

My tennis coach speaks often about “cultivating confidence”. He repeats that I know how to hit a forehand or an overhead, I just have to move out of my own way, stop over thinking and shift from uncertainty to confidence. 

That’s what I had on my run. Confidence. 

I got out of my own way. I stopped thinking. I stopped panicking when it got hard. I started trusting in my body, my mind, my ability. I believed in myself. 

When I returned into my driveway, I just knew that I had done it. 

Sure enough, 9:56. 

Boom! 

After trying for almost 8 months, I finally beat my goal by 4 seconds. 

Elation! Excitement! Accomplishment! 

But there is more. Some would say the lesson of this story is “never give up”. To keep striving to reach your goals and by putting in the effort and work, eventually you will achieve them.  

True. 

But funny enough, the next time I ran the same exact route the following week, my time was 9:36. After months of fighting for just a few seconds, I decreased my time by almost 20 seconds in just 7 days. 

How is that possible? I didn’t magically increase my fitness ability in one week. I didn’t learn a new running technique. I didn’t become lighter, leaner, and faster overnight. 

What happened in one week?

There was only one thing that changed. One difference. And it had nothing to do with my physical abilities. 

Confidence.

I now possessed a “knowing” that I was capable and a complete trust in myself that I could do it again. 

There was no uncertainty. There was nothing holding me back. I was free. 

Every time I have run that route since, I have easily been under 10. Even when I’m not feeling well. Even when I’m tired. Even when I feel slow. 

The question I’ve been asking myself now is, how many times do I get in my own way?  How many times does my subconscious doubt handicap my abilities? How many times do I unintentionally let myself down by not believing in my very own potential? 

Whether it is on the tennis courts, the running trails, trying a new recipe, playing a new piece of music, doing an unassisted pull up, writing this blog, working through personal or interpersonal conflict, trying something new, making a new friend, starting a new volunteer opportunity, or eventually when I cross the finish line of my 50-mile race – whenever something is hard – I’m going to try to intentionally shift my perception – from doubt to trust. From disbelief to belief. From fear to conviction. 

I’m going to follow my coach’s advice: cultivate certainty. I already feel the excitement of possibility. 

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