Developing your willpower muscle

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I had a totally great week last week. I saw that I was really close yesterday morning to having travelled 100 miles in the week (between running and cycling). Sunday on the marathon plan I am following is usually an easy/x-training day. And I was feeling good.

Earlier in the day I was spending time with Tony and I thought, “Ugh, I don’t want to fit a workout into this nice afternoon.” But then I felt the warm breeze and the sunny skies and road calling out to me. So I got on the bike for a spin around Lake Auburn.

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Google maps told me that River Road in Auburn connects back to Route 4 on Center Street. I went out that way. I assure you, it does not.

I chose this loop because the Lake Auburn Half Marathon is coming up in only two weeks! Gosh, the summer goes by quickly. I ran around the lake a few times last summer but I only did one run, back and forth on the Spring Road, this year. I forgot how much distance there is between where the Spring Road comes out and where you meet Route 4 again. The lovely quiet parts along the back of the lake are, unfortunately, quite short.

I needed a bit more than 24 miles to make 100 miles this week, but when I got back to the house, I was about 2 and a half miles short. Still a good week, and my best week in 2012, for sure.

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I’m taking a rest day today, the first conscientious rest day in awhile. Here are my goals in this week, only four weeks before my next marathon …

  • Monday — walk to and from work, and walk the dogs (~1 hour)
  • Tuesday — 5 mile run in the AM + walking
  • Wednesday — 8 mile run in the AM, 20 mile bike ride in the PM
  • Thursday — 5 mile run in the PM, weights afterwards, and maybe walk depending on where I run.
  • Friday — walking, weights in the PM
  • Saturday — 12 mile run (location TBD)

I’m on the chapter now in The Power of Habit on willpower. The author cites a few studies and examples that demonstrate that willpower is like a muscle — it’s a skill that can be learned and developed, but you have a finite amount of it. The best way to build willpower is to have a plan on how you will attack problems when they arise so they don’t throw you off base and make you lose your cool.

I can relate to that. It reminded me of the Chi Running principle of issuing and gathering — there are times when you need to collect energy (gathering) and there are times when you expend energy (issuing). Before my long runs I try to meditate on these principles. I think about what I am going to do. I envision myself being successful finishing the run. I plan out what I am going to wear and what I am going to eat and what I am going to bring. I avoid doing anything that is emotionally or physically taxing because I know I need my Chi/energy/willpower to accomplish this big training day.

The times I have not been successful completing a long run are the times when I wasn’t able to do this. Usually because I had to start in the afternoon, and I couldn’t follow my usual formula for success while training (two Pop Tarts at least a half hour before the run, Gu chomps and gatorade, start before 8 am, reliably good audiobook queued up on the iPod, route I feel comfortable and excited about). I think I can suffer less-than-ideal running conditions for less than 90 minutes, but beyond that … I throw off my running belt, grab a beer and write an angry blog post about how I’m a loser for failing to accomplish my training goals.

But when I have a plan, and everything step through my training day is a little victory where I anticipated a point of inflection and got over that … that just feels like awesome sauce.

So that’s my plan for the week. It should be easy, compared to last week!

Pattie Reaves

About Pattie Reaves

I'm the User Experience and Audience Manager for the Bangor Daily News. I live in Bangor with my husband, Tony, and our two pugs, Georgia and Scoop.