I have been working really, really hard on retraining my brain.

You see, I believe it is my brain holding me back more than my legs, lungs, or heart. Right before the Instant Classic, I wrote about how I was practicing smiling while running. It works! I know that sounds stupid, but if you make yourself smile, you think about why you are smiling. When I smile when I run, even if I am forcing it at first, all of these great thoughts start moving through my brain.

“Man, this is actually FUN!”

“Bet that lady who sees me grinning thinks I am an absolute nutter. Cool.”

“I could be sitting at my desk looking like I am ‘chewing glass’ right now. Glad I am out here smiling instead.”

When you are smiling, you can’t think “God, why do I choose to do this to myself?” It helps banish the thoughts like the one I had yesterday: “How in the HELL is Broad Street uphill both ways on Church Hill? It simply isn’t possible!”

It’s working and I can empirically prove it. My pace is coming down. I can see that on my Daily Mile training charts. The major improvement I have been looking for, which is getting faster, is finally happening. More and more of my runs are averaging mid 10 minute miles rather than mid 11s. I am even getting some averages in the low 10s, and on the treadmill I am starting to see some upper 9 minute mile averages.

I started running 3 years ago this month, in April of 2010, 3 months post gastric bypass surgery. Back then, I didn’t know a thing about pace or distance or anything. I was just running laps in the bottom of my parking deck, trying not to die after a single minute of running, and hoping to God that no one actually saw me.

Once I became conscious of things like pace, I knew more that I wanted more than anything to run a sub-12 minute mile. That was my first real goal once I had more or less succeeded at the Couch to 5K training program (which took more like 6 months, not 6 weeks for me).

I did eventually succeed at that goal, but I have since languished in the 11-12 minute mile range. Looking back, I realize I was doing just enough work to call a workout a run, but not really putting in the work to make real gains.

Now, all I want in the world is to get under 10 minute mile averages on a regular basis. My legs, lungs, and heart can do it; it’s my head that gets too heavy to carry. It is more than just smiling, of course, but the act of smiling does help ground my brain and shift from a negative headspace to a positive one.

Yesterday, a coworker saw me running down Church Hill and he said I looked like I was having a good time. At that point in my run, I was. After climbing Libbie Hill and then going up to Chimborazo Park, I had suffered a bit, and so that steep downhill of Broad Street heading west back towards the Downtown area felt kind of like an easy treat, and I definitely running a sub-10 minute mile pace. But I was also smiling and focusing on how glad I was to be out and about and running.

It’s Tuesday and Tuesdays are for speed, which is why I am particularly miffed that I left my gym bag at home today. It’ll have to be an evening run in the Chester YMCA, and the combination of the Chester Y and evening runs are especially hard on my brain, so tonight, I will practice smiling, and keep working on retraining my brain.


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