Knowing your limits

I had planned on making Sunday an easy long run day, but when I realized some running buddies were meeting for a morning workout, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. Running with friends >>>> Running Alone ! I started with an easy 2-mile warm-up and then eased into a tempo run on Central Park’s inner 4 mile loop.

  • Mile 1 – 6:58, finding my rythym, felt okay.
  • Mile 2 – 6:50, mostly downhill, good.
  • Mile 3 – 7:00, up Cat Hill, legs felt really heavy.
  • Mile 4 – 6:43, legs were tired, but still relatively strong.
  • Last .1 – 0:50, to the finish!
  • Total: 4.1 miles in 28:21 (6:54 average)

I finished up with a 2 mile cool-down and called it a day. I had planned on doing more than 8 miles (would have liked to run 10+), but considering the tempo miles, I was pleased with the effort.

I like running and racing. A lot. But by no means is it always easy. It’s a constant battle both phsyically and mentally. It does get easier after time, but even after 11 years of running, I still stuggle. Around mile 2.5/3 of yesterday’s tempo run,  I started to wuss out. I’m sure you know that feeling – the effort is difficult, your legs are heavy, your breathing is labored. Running feels HARD. Wouldn’t it be better to just slow down or stop all together? I was definitely tempted, but I also know what my limits are and I was by no means approaching them.

If you’re in danger of keeling over, well then, of course you need to stop. But I think many times our brains start mulling over negative thoughts (this is too fast! it hurts!) and it doesn’t take long for our legs to get the message. So yesterday I just told myself to suck it up and get it done. I knew deep down that I was more than capable of doing a 4 mile tempo run at sub-7:00 pace, I just needed to get my brain to believe it. Sometimes I find it helpful to repeat “positive mantras” while I’m running. For example, yesterday’s was – “You know your limit and this is not it”. It sounds kind of lame to put it in writing, but I swear it works.

After my run, I quickly cleaned up and headed to Brooklyn to meet a friend for brunch. We chose a cozy, local place called The V-Spot. Everything on the menu was vegan! After all that running, I was looking for something hearty to fill me up. The tofu-veggie scramble, roasted rosemary potatoes, tempeh bacon, and whole wheat toast did the trick! Mmm, carbohydrates. This was a really cute place – many of the menu items were latin-themed (yummy!) and the prices were very reasonable by New York standards.

Served with plenty of cholula hot sauce, yay.

 How do you know when you’re approaching your limit (running or otherwise)? Some days I feel better than others, but I generally know what I’m capable of in terms or workouts and race paces. If I ever start to feel dizzy – I know that’s a major red flag!

  • Running-wise, I know once I feel the slightest hint of a side stitch that I’m pushing myself too hard and need to slow down. I’ve only gotten the dizzy feeling a few times, and it’s only come up right after a race when I’ve really given it 200%.

    Non-running-wise, I know I’ve reached my limit when my skin starts breaking out and/or I start talking in my sleep. That means it’s time to knock some items off the to-do list permanently! 🙂

  • Great post 🙂 V spot sounds GREAT might have to take a trip out to bk!!

  • So true! I was battling negative thoughts during my speed work this morning.

  • great job on the tempo work. i always feel like bailing on tempo runs. they just suck. hard. i know i’m approaching my limits when i feel really emotional and stressed over really little things. then it’s like “whoa. time to back off”

  • So this is interesting. I tend to think that my mind self-imposes far more limits on me than my body. Only a select few times (read: two or three) in my running career have I actually run TOO hard. All the other times, it’s hard, but I never feel like I’m at my limit. In fact, my goal is to continuously see how far my limits can go. Dizzy? Bring it.

  • My problem: I am lazy/ a wuss. With running and other sports I give up because I tell myself I don’t want to get injured, but a part of me has just given up and doesn’t want to push anymore. I agree with you that feeling dizzy is a BAD thing, but do want to learn how to push it more. Like a less intense version of sarah’s mindset. Now how do I do that? 🙂

  • @sarah – if i get dizzy and puke on you at the armory, shall we consider it a successful workout? 🙂

  • I’m with Sarah. I know that I’m limited by my own stupid head. That dumb little voice that tells me it’s too hard. That tells me it’s okay to slow down. I hate that voice.

    Back in the day, I used to run to the point of absolute physical exhaustion – lightheaded, puking (or near-puking), pissing myself a little (yes). I can’t seem to push myself like that these days. I want to re-learn how.

    You, my friend, continue to impress me with your ability to test yourself and get stronger, faster, smarter. I can’t wait to see what 2011 brings you!

  • CaitlinRose


    I’m a devoted reader of yours(non-blogger…)and nearly fell of the elliptical after spotting you in a running magazine — an article with you, Alma, and another running friend, and a recipe tip. Why have you not mentioned this in your blog yet, you nut!!???!

  • Running is half mental and most of the time, you’re right – you can pull through a tough workout. But yeah, if it’s 90 degrees out with 100% humidity and you feel dizzy, and your brain is telling you to stop, listen to it! (not that I know from personal experience or anything…haha!)

  • you know why i love your blog? i mean, one of the many reasons. because you remind me to push myself. i go through phases where i want to get really sweaty and exercise hard, and then i go through others (more often) where i want to be relaxed and just move comfortably. reading things like this reminds me that i am capable of pushing hard – and that reaching our limits is an amazing thing, even if it doesn’t feel like it right in the moment. of course, it’s easier to talk about this than to actually do it.

    i like your positive thinking mantra. you know i’m always into that inspirational stuff. 😉

  • I definitely don’t think I push to my limits enough – I tend to wimp out or worry about not finishing a race/workout if it starts to feel too hard. A big goal for this year is to actually find my limits and push them.

    Nice workout!! Hope we can run together soon!!

  • @CaitlinRose – If I find a link to the Women’s Running article, I promise to post it. 🙂

  • nice tempo!!!!!! you are def lucky to have so many other running buddies to run with !! how did you first get involved in the track club? can anyone join?

  • Way to run through it. I’m not all that great at knowing my limits. I usually get really set on a specific distance or time and will push extremely hard to get there. In the past, I think it’s caused some injuries. I think over the past year I’ve gotten a little better though. I’ll take more rest days if needed or slow the pace. It’s an ever-present struggle for me.

  • I know I’m reaching my limit when my vision starts to get blurry or I start seeing stars. I let this go for a few seconds and if it continues, I know to stop (it’s only happened 2 times).

  • @lacey – a teammate of mine from college joined CPTC (my running club) a few years before I did and that’s how I originally heard about it. the club has an application process, but as long as you’re serious about training and racing most applicants are accepted 🙂

  • Eileen

    I really struggle with this. I am near the best shape of my life, but I seem to be missing some mental toughness that I think would let me set some new PRs. I am trying to coach myself to push harder.

    That said, I did quarter-mile repeats yesterday for speedwork, and I am just *occasionally* beginning to dip below 7:00/min/mile pace. I am in awe of runners who can do long, sustained runs as fast as you can. I’ll never get there, but I truly appreciate the inspiration!

  • My mind is definitely the biggest limiting factor. I don’t know that I have ever approached my “limits” in running yet. I used to be good at it in rowing/erg workouts; we had one workout we did where my lips would become colorless and I’d feel “buzzing” in my teeth. I know that sounds so weird, but whenever I got that tell-tale sensation in my mouth I’d be having my biggest breakthrough workouts, split-wise. The teeth buzz meant I was pretty much maxing out my effort. It was also sort of scary though, and landed me in the ER once after fainting in the middle of an erg test. Fainting after workouts or races is badass but not something you should do to your body on a regular basis.

    98% of the time my mentality with running is to get to a point where I’m FIT enough that I don’t have to be maxing out like that in order to meet my goals. Maybe the other 2% can be reserved for all-out fainting efforts…?

  • You’re so right that running is a totally mental sport, I think because it’s so repetitive and rhythmic. I can tell I’m hitting my limit mostly from gauging how hard I’m breathing- I don’t know if that’s the best barometer, but it works!

  • Nice speedy run! Way to combat the negative thoughts. I think any runner who says they never have those kind of days is lying. When I am running and just not feeling it, I also rely on mantras and push through, and mostly importantly I remind myself that one workout doesn’t define me, and it’s normal for motivation to ebb and flow.

  • My limit? I have issues pushing to that limit. My dad was a big runner back in his day and always tells me I don’t push hard enough. However, on t he days that I have, I felt dizzy/lightheaded and felt like I was going to puke. So I suppose I do know some threshold.

    Hoping to find that limit and break it this year:)

  • Great workout! You are totally right, I couldn’t pass up running w/ others also. It’s awesome! I know my limits by burn out feeling.

  • I think tuning into my body and knowing when to say when is one of the hardest parts about being a runner. In the past year or two I’ve definitely gotten a lot better about knowing when to cut a run short or take a rest day.

  • marci

    I will admit that I play some crazy “mind games” with myself during every single run. The mental routine changes almost every work out but lately it has been a silent dialogue where my brain argues with my legs/lungs, claiming utter superiority and control over my physical pain. It goes something like this:

    Brain (in a superior British accent for some reason): You know that I control everything you are doing right now, Legs. I am much more powerful than you in so many ways. Just keep it going. You’ll do exactly what I tell you to do.

    Legs (in a dopey cartoon voice): I am so tired right now Brain, but I know you speak the truth because you are smart and right now I’m just gelatinous goo.

    I know, I am crazy.

  • I know I am reaching my limits when I start to get dizzy. If I am just tired, I press on 😉

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