Developing your willpower muscle


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.


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.


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!

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Pattie Reaves

About Pattie Reaves

By day, I'm the User Experience and Audience Manager for the Bangor Daily News. By night, I'm a new mom and renegade fitness blogger at After the Couch. I live in Brewer with my husband, Tony, our daughter Felicity, and our two pugs, Georgia and Scoop.