Breaking Down Barriers

January 7, 2009

Barriers are a part of everyone’s daily life.  In life and work, mental and physical.

Last night I had a fun epiphany, recognizing that what what I thought was holding me back physically, was really just a mental barrier that I had put up myself.  Enter, the treadmill.

Speedy Sasquatch (Josh) has a good post on his hatred of treadmills, and I agree with him on every single point. The things just suck donkey balls. Period.

But the fact of the matter is that when I’m doing half marathon training in the winter in Boston, they are pretty hard to avoid. When an ice storm is rolling in and it is already dark by 4:30, there just isn’t any way I’m going to haul my butt out onto the sideways and battle traffic for an hour. Just not worth the risk, time and added stress. That is where the treadmill comes in.

Over the last few yeas, I’ve done a pretty amazing job at avoiding these things as if my feed would explode if I touched them for too long. Besides a few 20-30 minute runs after spin class on a few rare occasions, I hadn’t been on one in years and had no interest in changing that until this season forced my hand (or foot?).

Either way, I had built up this mental block where I convinced myself that I could only handle about 30 minutes on the treadmill. After that point I would go brain dead and either fall off or painfully count down each second until I gave in and stepped off to make some excuse on why I didn’t finish my workout. I’m at the point where I can comfortably run +2 hours at an easy pace outside (and enjoy it), but the thought of doing 3 miles on the treadmill made me a little anxious.

Last night I had a 1 hour/6 mile run on the training plan and didn’t want to bother with the nasty weather looming outside and decided to test my (mental) limits and go for it on the treadmill at my gym. Minutes 0-20 were fine. I didn’t zone out or get fully relaxed like I do when I’m outside, but it was good enough. Having metal bars surround me on three sides while I run in place just isn’t a comfortable place to be.

Once I got towards that 30:00 mark, I could tell that my head, and ultimately my body, were ready to be done. I was getting pretty bored, feeling a little tired (even though I knew at that pace there was no reason why I should be at that pace and HR), anxiously skipping fast though songs on my iPod and checking on the clock every 30 seconds or so, thinking that somehow time must have slowed down.

The funny thing is that once I broke past that 30:00 mark that I had put up myself, it wasn’t bad at all. I was actually way more relaxed and comfortable from 40-60 minutes than I was in the first half of the run. I was able to let my mind just wander, not focusing on the time, like I normally do when running and just kept on going.

Even though 6 miles at a very easy pace is hardly a physical breakthrough, I was really pumped after the workout. It reminded me about the importance of recognizing the difference between physical limitations that our bodies put on us and the metal limitations that we (subconsciously) put on our bodies.

So if there is anything holding you back this off season, or if you are postponing starting that New Year’s resolution, take a good look at what is in your way. Are they real barriers, or artificial ones that you put there with no basis in reality?

Chalenging yourself in training doesn’t always have to be associated with sweat, pain, huge hills and big gears. If your mind isn’t right on race day, you won’t find that finish line. Challenging your perceptions on what you are capable of is just as important sometimes.



  1. Great post. Wind and cold water are what I fear but will learn to love them 🙂 Thanks for the reminder!

  2. I also live in a snowy place and in January/February, I simply have to do almost all my quality workouts on the treadmill. Because those workouts are pretty busy and intense, with all the buttons pushing, they don’t feel as long as the steady runs.

    One trick I use on the steady runs is to look at the distance, never the time. At 10 minutes/mile, 0.25 miles goes by way faster than 15 minutes for some reason.

  3. What a fantastic post!!! Funny I have been thinking the same things lately and have a similar post percolating – not dreadmill specific, but i totally know what you mean about the dreadmill (maybe calling it the dreadmill doesn’t help?)

    thanks for sharing! I’m going to remember this one!

  4. i will NEVER get on a treadmill. hear me? NEVER! im running 1:25 outside tonight!!!!

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