Solid Effort

I’m so close. I can feel it. I just need to find the final piece of the puzzle and it will all come together.

I’m talking about running, of course.

distance runner

Saturday was my first indoor attempt at a 5K. I didn’t run a time that I’m necessarily happy with, but it’s a starting point.


Not terrible, but not great. Last year my first meet out (not until April, mind you) I also ran a 21:12 two months out of surgery. This is frustrating because two years ago at my first outdoor meet, I ran a 19:56. A few weeks later I turned around and ran a 19:45.

What I’ve been struggling with is where that gap is coming from. Why can I not run my freshman year times when I’m stronger than I’ve ever been.


My head.

That’s it. I just need to get out of my own head. My knee is 100% healed, I run further than I’ve ever run before, and I am at a completely healthy weight (I was still very much disordered freshman year) but I’m still not getting faster.

On Saturday, I knew what my 200 splits had to be. 47-48. If I could hit that, I’d run a 20:30 or better, which is where my coach had me starting out. The first 10 laps I felt confident, maybe even great. We went out a bit slow at first because of the pack, but once everyone began to disperse, I found my groove. I even thought to myself “Oh, I can totally keep this up for the whole race”. I was within 5-10 seconds of my set pace during the speed workout Tuesday, and everything is finally coming together.

But then something happened around lap 10. I ran a 50 instead of a 48. Then a 51. That’s when my head started playing games with me. I wasn’t ridiculously tired at all. Sure, I was uncomfortable, but I could have pushed it. I don’t know what it was but I couldn’t get myself to do it. Once my coach started yelling “surge now, surge now”, I lost it. My laps got progressively slower, bottoming out at 54. It doesn’t take a genius to know that that is not a good split.


I tried to get back on pace but I grew increasingly frustrated. I could feel it on my face every time I came around to hear my next split. I forgot how to have fun and relax. That’s the key to my race.

If I can just relax, I can get to where I need to be. Where I want to be. Which is a very low 19 minute 5K. I know it’s doable, I just need to figure out how to get from point A to point B. That’s the difficult part.

Hopefully today’s track workout will make me believe that, although I won’t be thinking it while I’m suffering through running it today…

What do you do to get out of your own head?

About pickyrunner

I'm Sarah, a (mostly) health-crazed 20-year old New Englander living in Baltimore. Taste buds of a 4-year old, joints of a 90 year old, brain of a chemist, appetite of a teenage boy, legs of a runner. Mindset of a Champion. Follow @pickyrunner
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70 Responses to Solid Effort

  1. Chelsie S says:

    There’s a million things that your coach can say or that we can say, but in the end you know it’s all on you. So why did you choose to give up on yourself? Physically you’re there, you just lost your will to fight. Where did it go? Did you hold yourself back from the victory, and if so, why?
    There are two sides to everything, letting it hit you, and hitting back. I know that when I’m struggling through a tough run, there are two words that go through my mind “relax” and “push”. My face droops (the energy you expend by carrying intensity in your face is astronomical, I learned that while rowing), and I focus on my technique for a few steps, exhale and go.
    Find your freedom, connect, and let yourself go.

    • pickyrunner says:

      I think relax is going to be a big one for me. You’re right- it’s all mental, it’s all me. I just need to figure out where I can go with it. How far I can push myself and what I need to say to myself for making those goals happen.

  2. i have very little knowledge about the technicalities of racing so i don’t know how to help or offer any advice except i agree with chelsie! just relax and kick ass like you know you can!

  3. I’m going to have to echo Molly – I can’t really offer any advice in terms of racing, but just get out of your own head, relax, and know that you can kick ass!

  4. Good question! I think for me, it is all about thinking positively & encouraging myself. It can be so hard to do at times! But you’re an amazing runner, just remember that!🙂

  5. What’s worked for me is just accepting the fact that I’m going to have a ton of thoughts. The more I try to change them the more they come! When I’m in less resistance to them everything is more manageable!

  6. It is soo hard to leave behind that mental block. I am the same way. Unfortunately, I don’t have any super wise advice about how to get past it. I feel like for me, it eventually just clicks and I think I’m so silly for ever struggling to get past it. The same WILL happen for you and you’ll get the time you want and deserve!

    • pickyrunner says:

      I can remember certain races where it has clicked and I just need to figure out where to dig that out again. I know if I can be confident I’ll get back to that place I was!

  7. carlyjg says:

    I’m not a runner so I have no idea what a good split is or isn’t, but I do know that our minds are ridiculously powerful! You’re an incredible runner and you LOVE it! Just try to remind yourself of those things the next time you’re racing🙂.

  8. Molly says:

    You sound an awful lot like me in terms of being a perfectionist. Sometimes that’s not a bad thing, but we tend to be our own worst enemy😦 We get in our heads and totally psyche ourselves out, which is sounds like exactly what you were doing. I’m sorry – I seriously know how TOUGH that is. All I can say is, from personal experience, that is when I had to take a step back, take a little break, breathe, take a break from thinking about it, and just go at it again. You’ll get there girl🙂

    • pickyrunner says:

      I’m for sure my own worst enemy. I think I need to reevaluate what it means to have fun while running and then the racing piece will fall right into place. It’s just figuring that part out that’s been tough for me lately!

  9. Racing is tough, it is so mental for me and I get that. I struggled so much in track because mentally I would check out in races if something went wrong.. like I didn’t start fast enough or I started too fast or maybe a girl was riding me too close. those little things would send me a tailspin however i think what got me to break those records of mine were to just run – not think – just freaking run. my dad always says you should end a race puking (I understand this is terrible advice but it is what I remember before a race, leave it all out there)

    • pickyrunner says:

      Those are exactly what my problems have been recently!! What i’m having trouble with is how to translate it into the race. I want that 10k record so badly this year. I know I can do it. I can hold a pace not that much slower than the one I’ve been running for 13 miles, there’s no reason I shouldn’t be able to move my tail a little faster. My dad used to say the same thing though. I was always kind of grossed out by the idea haha

  10. Amy Lauren says:

    Really sorry your race time wasn’t as good as you wanted it to be, but at least you have more of the season to improve, and hopefully the speedwork today will help, after a bad race I try to analyze what I did and how I can improve next time, then after about a day let it go because there’s always another race where you can redeem yourself. So much of it is mental though, if I can turn my brain off I always race so much better!

    • pickyrunner says:

      I don’t analyze it much later on either. It’s just one race and I can move on but I do get frustrated when my times aren’t where I want them. I know if I can just get in one good race the rest of them will continue to be awesome. I just need that good race to happen!

  11. Sorry to hear that your race didn’t go as well as you wanted it to. I know nothing about track so I’m not going to try to give you advice but maybe the extra distance you’ve added in has trained your muscles to run slower and longer as opposed to short and quick? I know a lot of marathoners have trouble beating old PRs at the shorter distance after training because their fast twitch muscles haven’t been heavily used or trained for awhile. I don’t know if this is the case for you (I’m not a short distance runner by any means) but it’s just a thought!

    • pickyrunner says:

      It definitely has. That’s why my coach had us base building for the winter so that my legs have the endurance, but now it’s time to learn how to run fast!! A tough lesson to learn. They’ll be ready by outdoor, though. Or at least that’s my hope🙂

  12. I know what you mean about wanting to get out of your head. I’m not training for anything but I have the same issue where I can’t stop obsessing over issues that come up in my life. Over thinking things is the worst. I’ve noticed that when I actively think about trying to fix my thoughts, it helps. So, as soon as you are in that place in your head, tell yourself you aren’t going to let it happen and instead think of a bunch of random things. Hope that helps a little!

  13. chasingchels says:

    I wish i had words of wisdom for this but i don’t ha. I’m not speedy and i don’t have any experience with speedwork. The only way that I have found to get out of my head is to just let go and stop worrying…ie don’t pay attention to time and just go at the pace my body feels comfortable with at the time…and for the record, i can’t imagine running a 5k in that time so i’m incredibly impressed

    • pickyrunner says:

      You’re getting speedy though! I can’t really do the pacing in a track meet but that’s what I do when I’m running on my own. During meets, my coach gives us our splits every lap to make sure we’re on track. Makes it easy to start worrying!

  14. I’ve run a couple 5ks on an indoor track. It’s an interesting experience. Nice race!

  15. While I want to believe that exercise helps me get out of my head, sometimes I actually get even more in my head when I work out because it’s ME TIME, time for me to think about everything. Granted, when I am stressed and working out, it actually gives me more energy to tackle a farther distance… And it does give me time to reflect on the wonderful things in my life too… BUT as I said before, I tend to think about stressful times too. What is great though, is when I am DONE working out, the stress in my life doesn’t seem all that bad anymore!😀

    • pickyrunner says:

      Oh god when I go for a run as my “me time” I get so into my own head. That’s really therapeutic for me but when I’m racing I need to figure out how to stay OUT of my head!

  16. Erin Runs says:

    I really don’t know much about racing short distances, so I don’t have any advice to give about the specifics of your training or race. But here is my advice: Try to reflect on why it happened, then plan steps to prevent it from happening ago, then shake it off and don’t dwell on it. Focus on the game plan of your next key track workout and race.
    Good luck!!!!

  17. I think that just realizing that it’s all in your head is already a step in the right direction. If you’re aware that your thoughts are what’s holding you back, you’re in a better place to fight them when they pop up. I think it’s also important to realize that not every run/race is going to be perfect and not beat yourself up about it too much.

    • pickyrunner says:

      I need to use my yoga- acknowledge those thoughts and then let them go. But you’re right- I shouldn’t be beating myself up over every bad race. They’re bound to happen and I need to get used to it so I am not so stressed out going into the next one.

  18. Brittany says:

    Ohhh giirrrlllll I can relate to this sooo much. I get into my head almost every single run! It affects my mood and then it affects my run. I am a slooowww runner, that is something I can accept, but the times I get a burst of speed (speed for me ha) I want that to always be there. Then when I run slower again, I get frustrated. I constantly loose sight of why I run. I know for you that this is part of a sports team and you want to do your best, you have to turn that brain off OR switch the thoughts to positive ones like “I can do this faster than that snatch on the other team.” Easier said than done! GOOD luck!

  19. I’ve always wondered this. Do people feel pain in races like I feel pain? Do others have these thoughts in their heads too? I can tell you every race I’ve ever had, I’ve hurt. Why hurting more then others? What is my head telling me. I don’t know, it’s an awesome baseline and I know you are going to get where you want.

    • pickyrunner says:

      Thanks for that insight! Your running is pretty inspiring so just knowing that I need to accept the hurt is something that might help. I’m sure that others around me are in just as much pain; it becomes a question of who is willing to own it the most. Usually, I end up letting myself give in but if i can change that mindset, I can change my race.

  20. Caitlin says:

    omg, well first thing is first i know you have diff standards for yourself but that 5k time ROCKS woman! you are incredible!
    but i know how it feels to have your own set of standards and all i can say is no one ever got faster by telling herself she couldn’t do it so try to focus on positives only, and truly internalizing the belief that you are capable. try meditating on it!

    • pickyrunner says:

      Hah thanks! I would be pretty ecstatic about this time if I was doing road races on my own for fun but because it’s on a track and I’ve run a minute and a half faster before, that’s where it becomes frustrating. I think the yoga really does help so I need to start doing that more to work on the mental piece🙂 Great advice!

  21. I think the mental aspect of running and racing is something that often gets left out of the picture, so I’m glad you were able to pick up on that. I’m actually of the believe that a lot of life (or at least my life) is mental, and I’ve noticed for me at least I’m very good at allowing negative thoughts to become a self-fulfilling prophesy: “Oh man, I think I feel a little tired. This is going to be a crappy run,” or “Does my stomach feel off? I think my stomach feels off. Oh yeah, my stomach definitely hurts. I’m totally sick. Possibly dying. Most likely dying.” You know? My mind just spins out of control and the worst case scenario I jumped to becomes the real life scenario because my mind took me there. Like I said, I think being able to pick up on the fact that you’re getting stuck in your head is a really critical first step in the right direction. I don’t know if there’s something you know of right off the bat that might help that problem–not paying attention to your splits for one race, maybe? I don’t know if your coach would go for this, but maybe even asking to not have your splits told to you while you’re running and instead just running your race based on feel for one race to see how it goes?–but I think if you can find a strategy for turning your mind off while running it could be a big help to you, at the very least from an emotional standpoint if not from a time standpoint. I hope things start improving for you!

    • pickyrunner says:

      You’re right- Finding that strategy is so important. I don’t see the no-splits thing happening just because he uses them for everything and it’s important to know where we’re at but I could definitely benefit from figuring out how to tune them out when my splits fall off. I need to find out how to channel my coach’s constructive criticism while running into a way that actually helps me rather than making me feel defeated.

  22. oh gosh, I wish I could help. I got in my head so much during swimming. To distract myself I usually sang songs or said inspirational quotes, but my mind always wandered to negative talk. I hope you figure it out. BTW killer 5k time lady!

  23. During swimming, my coach would always tell us “Stay in your own lane.” I apply that thought to track as well. I think getting out of your own head means not worrying about everyone else – not letting those nervous or anxious thoughts creep into your lane and your head. Take each race like a practice, and focus on how you feel rather than the place your in or the time you’re running.

    • pickyrunner says:

      Hmmm that’s a great idea! I always did better with swimming when I wasn’t paying attention to who was catching up to me and I definitely had no idea what my pace was.

  24. Megan says:

    This is the story of my life whenever I am on a treadmill / a track. I would suggest you use a slower lap as a fire under your ass. You know you can go faster so do it. Tell the voice to shut up (easier said than done) and crush a lap. Also realize if you kill yourself to win and end up falling over at the end people will high five you even more!

    • pickyrunner says:

      Yea, you’re right. I tend to do better when I’m plain and simple PISSED OFF. If I can translate that into my not-so-good splits, I’ll be flying around the track like a superhero!

  25. Congrats on running a great race, even if the results aren’t what you ha wanted or hoped for! A friend once told me run each mile separately. Telling myself I only have “one more mile” helps me live in the moment as opposed to thinking “SHIT I have 20 miles left.”

    • pickyrunner says:

      That’s another great idea! I definitely have trouble thinking “oh god, I have another 20 laps to go still. I can’t maintain this” but if I didn’t think about it, I probably could!

  26. deangump says:

    I know what you mean! I’ve been having some struggles with my training lately. The best advice I can give is try not to stress- probably won’t help. But I have to remind myself sometimes to just relax, especially with my training.

  27. You can totally do it, girl! Sometimes not thinking about it and just doing it is best! Have fun! You’re still an impressive runner regardless of time, in my opinion!

  28. Abby says:

    You’ve got this, Sarah. Just remember to be kind to yourself and listen to your body. Everything else will fall into place when it may. Hope you have a good day, girl. You’re doing awesome!

  29. One thing that I struggle with, but know I need to improve upon is being more forgiving of myself. When I waste time instead of doing homework, eat too much or skip a workout for no real reason, I have a tendency to beat myself up. My counsellor and I have been talking about how I now to be able to say “it’s okay” and move on. You are an amazing athlete, so just remember that, even when your time isn’t what you hoped it would be❤

  30. lifeasliv says:

    SO GLAD TO BE BACK ON MY BLOG READING TRACK!!! I’ve missed your lovely words. I hope break through this little barrier in the road. You’re so incredible, I’m sure you will🙂

  31. Alicia says:

    Man, I understand the challenges of being stuck in your head, especially when it comes to disorders and running. For the running part, I tell myself to focus on the lyrics to the song I’m listening to, or to think about something with processes to it (like next blog posts, or how I’m going to achieve a goal that not running related). Doing anything to shift thoughts away to non-running is what has worked best for me, even if its not fool proof.

    • pickyrunner says:

      When I’m doing training runs I definitely think about blogs or classes or friends etc. Maybe I need to focus those thoughts during races too. It might help! I’m afraid it would slow me down but it actually might speed me up!

  32. Realizing your thoughts already in your head is definitely the first step in the right direction. Just take a minute to breath & remind yourself that YOU will improve. It’s just the matter of time my love❤

  33. Kate says:

    Running is such a mental sport, isn’t it!
    My 5k times were never even close to that good, so I don’t feel like I have any words of wisdom to impart (haha), but, from reading your blog, I think you have such a strong determination and that you will succeed in meeting your goal! You have a whole season left to PR.
    Good luck, girly! x

  34. Kate says:

    TOTALLY know what you mean – you’re clearly in 19:xx shape but I’m pretty sure racing is 80% mental. I kinda went through something similar my first year of track – my first 5k ever was a 19:51 and it blew everyone’s expectations out of the water. I kept going and got it down to a 19:18 by the end of indoor, but then life and school started stressing me out, and I was SO unhappy at that college but hadn’t heard from any of the places I wanted to transfer to…so i just couldn’t get my head in the game and all my outdoor meets were CRAP. I never broke 19:40 the whole season. Then I transferred and once I was in a happy state of mind, my times for all distances just drastically dropped – it was all in my head and I was expending all my energy on stress! No good. I think if you can find a way to relax and trust your coach, your body and your training (easier said than done I know, and it doesn’t happen overnight), then you’ll start PRing like crazy.

    • pickyrunner says:

      Wait that is basically exactly what happened to me!! I ran a 19:51 without even THINKING about it and everyone was so shocked, and now that I’m actually training for it, I can’t get there. Once I learn to have fun with it again I think I’ll be able to do it. Thanks for the advice🙂

  35. mental struggles are the worst. I think this because they linger after the injury is over. I used to sike myself out of dance a lot. Like I could do 5 turns and then when it mattered I got so wrapped up in it I couldn’t. The best advice I can give is right before you race let go and give it to God.

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