Dealing with diving back into figuring out book marketing and social media, I found this medium article very helpful. Maybe you will, as well 🙂
How I Apply My Pacing Mindset as a Runner to the Rest of My Life
“No surge” revolutionized how I run. Then it revolutionized how I live my life.
By: Ryan Fan
Without trying to be productive, I became more productive. Without trying to maximize my life, I started maximizing my life. Something changed and I didn’t feel prone to procrastination.
What changed? I had started applying something I learned from competitive running to how I lived my life: a pacing mindset.
As an accomplished long-distance runner, “no surge” is a mantra that runs through my mind when I run. It’s the mantra that I have carried with me in my most successful races. I used the mantra when I ran a 15:36 5K. I used the mantra when I ran a 2:40 marathon and qualified for the Boston Marathon. And I used the mantra when I ran a 33:03 10K.
It’s a mantra used to stop myself from erratic, sudden surges that sap me of my energy. It’s how I pace myself. My Achilles heel as a runner, historically, has been very poor pacing. Whenever someone passes me, I feel the need to overtake them again. When a big crowd is roaring in applause and motivational cheers, I have to impress the crowd and speed up.
It looks good in the moment. It’s terrible in a race. For a long-distance race, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. And short, sudden bursts of energy sap you of your finish later in the race. They lead you to burn out and die at the end of the race.
I know this because it has happened to me many times. When I make sudden surges to respond to my competition, my finish is weak. Several times, I have been passed by over 40 to 50 people 50 meters from the finish line. I thought I had to give my all in every race, all the time.
It took my high school cross country coach to make me realize how wrong I was. He told me, the week before my junior year cross country championship meet, that he noticed I made six or seven sudden surges in the middle of the race. He said these made my race worse, and I didn’t perform to the best of my potential because I was nervous, antsy, and needed to try to win the beginning and the middle of the race. By the end, I had absolutely nothing. And that was because of all those surges.
And so, at my championship cross country meet, I started a lot slower than I normally would have. My whole team started in front of me, and I didn’t panic. Midway through the race, a lot of guys I normally would have beaten were ahead of me, and I didn’t panic. I didn’t surge. Going up a hill known as “Cardiac Hill,” I didn’t surge. I didn’t go as fast or as hard as most people did at the end of the hill, but I kept my composure. I maintained my energy.
And then in the third half of the race, I started picking people off piece by piece. I started seeing guys I never had beaten before and passed them. Not only that, but it felt absolutely effortless. I felt like I was on a jog, running the easiest race of my life.
“Well, this race is going to just be OK,” I thought. But it was much more than just OK. In the end, I finished ferociously, maintaining the same effort, but naturally speeding up and going faster. Because I judged my whole race on the effort I exerted, the whole effort was consistent. I out-finished a lot of people who normally would have destroyed me and ran a personal best of almost 30 seconds — the top performance on my team.
“No surge” revolutionized the way I ran. I stopped training so hard and burning myself out. I started training smart. I stopped getting injured as much because I wasn’t burdening my body so much. I didn’t get mentally phased whenever someone passed me or a race wasn’t going my way. And above all, I ran the best races I possibly could have.
But during my senior year of college, I started to apply “no surge” and that pacing mindset to other things rather than just running. I applied it to my writing. I didn’t need to be super productive all the time, but write slowly and whatever came naturally to me. I applied it to my academics, and whenever I didn’t feel like studying or doing an assignment, I would start super slowly, super steadily. Usually, I would build significant momentum later on. If I couldn’t it was my body and mind’s way of telling me I needed rest.
Not everything became perfect. But I stopped forcing everything. I went to sleep every day genuinely knowing I did the best I could. And the approach was sustainable too — I didn’t feel like I was forcing anything. I felt like I was just flowing downstream, doing what God intended me to do. And I stopped burning out whenever I used the mindset and applied the “no surge” mantra.
According to Elizabeth Scott atVery Well Mind, burnout is accompanied by a deterioration of mental and physical health, leaving people feeling utterly exhausted and unable to cope. It makes it difficult to function in daily life and leads to a loss of motivation where you start to become disillusioned with everything.
Scott notes burnout signs include alienation from work-related activities, headaches and stomachaches, lack of energy, and generally reduced performance and difficulty concentrating.
As a teacher, burnout is very, very real. It’s normal to feel like you worked so hard in September and October, and feel fatigued and constantly overwhelmed later in the year. I’m much better at pacing myself in my second year rather than my first year.
This is how I applied my “no surge” across my life:
- Prioritize rest.
- Work slowly.
- Don’t force everything.
- Recognize your limits.
Part of pacing myself to avoid burnout meant taking easy days very easy. I never started out running fast, but on easy days, I went even slower than I usually did. My coach told me I only had two hard days a week, and I didn’t want to expend my maximum or 90% effort any other day.
Running easy was my way of prioritizing rest. Some running coaches say runners can’t go too slow on easy days. And other coaches say the most successful runners have a huge chasm between their training pace and their workout pace. Many successful runners run very easily — sub-two-hour marathoner, Eliud Kipchoge, runs his easy runs at four minutes per kilometer pace, or around 6:30 mile pace, which is a very far cry from his race pace. Running coach Dennis Barker doesn’t send his athletes out on short runs on easy days but makes sure to rein in their pace.
“‘Pace is the most important thing to keep easy on an easy day… Many runners can still recover if they run a few more miles, as long as it’s still at an easy pace. But from my experience, they can’t recover if they run at a faster pace, even with fewer miles. So pace really needs to be governed on easy days.”
The rule, on easy days, is to achieve 65–70% of your max heart rate. That’s how you recover while running — but recovery also comes out of running. For me, that “no surge” mindset means rest. And rest does not have to come in the fancy form of high-tech foam rollers and compression sleeves.
Rest comes from the basic forms of recovery — sleep, nutrition, and hydration. Ashley Mateo at Runner’s World argues most of the fancy recovery bandwagon movement in infrared saunas and percussion guns are placebos. Instead, sleeping seven to nine hours a night aids our thinking and concentration, memory, mood, and immunity. If you are an athlete, you need even more sleep to avoid injury and have better overall performance.
Ryan Skidmore at Simplifaster notes that sleeping like an Olympian involves a wind-down routine. That might include reading a book, stretching, or yoga. To me, the wind-down routine has changed the way I sleep. I used to hit the bed like a rock, and then get really disappointed in myself and think a good night’s sleep was over if I didn’t fall asleep in ten minutes. I still take many afternoon naps.
However, the “no surge” pacing mindset allows me to realize going to sleep is not something that needs to be done immediately, and it’s difficult to go straight from work to sleep. It’s a gradual process where your body and mind wind down from 100 to 0, not a sudden process. That ritual particularly helps for days before big, anxiety-inducing events, like races or exams.
Prioritizing rest is one way to apply my pacing mindset as a distance runner, but it’s not all about what I do while resting. What I do during the day matters too.
I used to try to speed read. In high school, I was very insecure about my reading speed and how I couldn’t read 1,000 words per minute like John F. Kennedy. I tried and forced myself to read very fast, which I did. But I didn’t comprehend or understand any of what I read. I kept overthinking it, and reading became a task I had to force myself to complete.
When I try to do more, like be more productive or get more tasks done, I try to work faster. I try to bulldoze my way like a wrecking ball to conquering the world, and it works for a little bit. But then two hours later, I’ll be tired, burned out, and disillusioned.
Recently, I’ve seized on the benefits of working slowly. I don’t need to type like a speed typer when I write, and I don’t need to be at an all-out sprint every time I run. Instead, I’m much more intentional about taking my time and working slower than I need to. Now, I get the most out of what I read, in terms of learning and enjoyment, when I read slowly and take my time.
According to Faisal Hoque at Fast Company, working slower actually makes you more productive. Feeling constantly rushed and like you’re short on time is natural when you have a lot on your plate, but constantly being in a frenzy leads to more mistakes and more burnout.
Slowing down is a solution not only to stop burnout but to be more creative and productive. In a long-distance race, you don’t put pressure on yourself to sprint at any point — only at the end.
“Jumping rapidly from one unfinished task to another isn’t just exhausting — and can take a serious psychological toll over time — it’s also inefficient,” Hoque says.
Working slower also leads to more rational thinking and activation of our parasympathetic nervous system over our sympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system is slower and more logical while the sympathetic nervous system is fast and automatic. Hoque notes it gives us more time to think and takes our minds off of autopilot.
And lastly, when the brain slows down, we start to conserve mental and physical energy, which leads to the next point.
Don’t Force Anything
You may think that sprinters function differently from long-distance runners. Sprinters are more associated with force, with explosiveness, to win. But even 100-meter sprinters don’t exert 100% effort all the time during their races. You can watch sprinters like Usain Bolt to see how tired they look at the end of a race — Bolt is usually cheering, celebrating, sometimes even sticking his tongue at his opponent, all while running 100 meters in less than ten seconds.
According to Jeff Haden at Inc. Magazine, sprinters aren’t often giving it their all during the race. Throughout a race, Usain Bolt is relaxed. His shoulders are loose, his hands are unclenched, and his face relaxes. Above all, watch any Usain Bolt race to see he almost always starts close to last place — in the 2008 Beijing Olympics when he won a gold medal and won a world record in the 100 meters, he starts behind the two guys next to him. He is not fast off the gun in the “drive phase” of a race due to his height.
Nine-time Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis was also a poor starter who trailed opponents at the 40-meter mark of the race. People thought he had to push harder to overcome his starts, but he actually relaxed. He didn’t give extra effort.
Hugh Jackman said the 85% rule was what he took away from Lewis’s performances. If I were the coach and Hugh Jackman was on my team, I wouldn’t put more pressure on him, push him more. I wouldn’t yell at him, scream,” Jackman says.
While I’m a long-distance runner, I’ve always lived my life as a wannabe sprinter. I tried to put all-out, 110% effort all the time. Any time I don’t meet my goals, I assume I have to work harder and push harder. I assume I’m not working hard enough.
However, in a long-distance race, that’s a very misguided goal. You will have a terrible race if your mindset is all intensity all the time. And that’s true for me after lunch every day when I think I just have to push harder to be productive and stay awake.
So when I started applying “no surge” to my personal life, I stopped the whole task of pushing harder as a solution to all my problems. Yes, you need to work hard. But working too hard is counterproductive. By applying “no surge,” or my version of the 85% rule, I can take a step back and slow down. I don’t need to suddenly fix everything not going well in my relationship with a band-aid. I don’t need to bulldoze my way through a checklist.
I can just be, and actually enjoy a bit of what I’m going through, when I recognize my own limitations.
Recognizing My Limits
A big part of pacing yourself to avoid burnout is knowing when to stop. Ever since I started using “no surge” as a mantra, recognizing my limits means recognizing I’m doing enough and the best I can in the moment, and going easy on myself. It means recognizing there’s nothing wrong with me and that I’m exactly where God intends me to be.
Susanne Dillman at GoodTherapy says recognizing your limits leads to greater self-compassion. We all have personal limits, such as the amount we can sleep, the time we can go without food, and the patience we have for slow drivers. And it takes recognizing your limits to be able to know whether you’ve pushed beyond them. One of our limits is usually a need for a break every three or four hours, and another one is a day off from work.
While running, recognizing your limits means listening to your body. It means cutting a run short if you feel like that’s all you have for the day. It means not pushing through that knee pain that’s been bothering you for a while. It means not running on an injured hip because you’ve worked too hard not to run (which I’ve done before). It means asking a friend to slow down if the pace is too much for you.
As much pride as we all may have, our bodies and minds are much more important. As my girlfriend always likes to remind me, there’s nothing sexy with failing to take care of yourself. Suffering is a natural part of the human condition, but it shouldn’t be romanticized.
Everything you feel is valid and legitimate. That’s what pacing myself as a runner taught me. If I’m hurting way too much and I’m only one mile into a marathon, then that’s a sign to slow down — a lot. Again, a huge burst of energy and being on overdrive mode is simply not sustainable.
I have a limit for how much I can work, for example. I make sure after 6 p.m. every day, I’m done with doing anything teaching-related. I stop answering phone calls from parents. I stop lesson planning. I stop grading. I stop IEP writing. The worst that can happen is I do what needs to be done later.
“Self-compassion is grounded in the ability to recognize that you are in pain or distress and that this pain or distress deserves and requires attention,” Dillmann says.
So when we’re in pain and suffering, recognizing our limits means validating that pain and attending to ourselves. It means slowing down. I learned that as a runner before anything else.
My pacing mindset as a long-distance runner has aided me not only as a runner but through life. I tell myself “no surge” throughout the day to not panic, to take everything one task at a time, and to slow down. Pacing yourself means avoiding burnout and treating every day like a long-distance race where the race is meant to be taken gradually, the whole day, rather than with one big surge.
To follow through on using the “no surge” mindset for the rest of your life, make sure to prioritize rest, work slowly, not force everything, and recognize your limits. What works for me might not work for you, so it’s important to not over-generalize the way I live. But if you’re an obsessive perfectionist like I am, avoiding burnout might be a difficult task. At the end of the day, I take away these Hugh Jackman words:
“If you tell most, sort of, A-type athletes to run at their 85% capacity, they will run faster than if you tell them to run 100 because it’s more about relaxation and form and optimizing the muscles in the right way.”