Squashing Anxiety the Scott Jurek Way


I’ve decided that I run to win. I’ve recently connected some of my childhood memories together with watching a movie about Steve Prefontaine called Without Limits and the book by Scott Jurek that I am reading now called Eat and Run. I am definitely more like Pre than Jurek, but I don’t have nearly the same natural talent they have. I really don’t want to run unless I can be good at it. Fortunately I live in a small city and so I can usually medal with the typical race field sizes. I have worked my way up in to the top group of runners in my age group, but if they all showed up on the same day for a race, I’d be way out of the medals.

Since I run to win and I know I am not the best in my age group around these parts, I have some anxiety about the sport. It’s frustrating to work hard and do what you think are all the right things, improve, but not achieve your goals. I read something in Eat and Run that I’ve started using and it settles me down, eliminates some of the irrational anxiety. Sort of like how the trainer in the movie Warrior used classical music to settle his fighters down.

Scott uses these steps to deal with anxiety during ultra-marathon races. Controlling your mind and impulses is hard to do when you are tired and hurting. Having some practiced steps to follow is essential. Here’s the steps he has used with great success with some careful editing on my part.Image

1. First, I let myself worry.
2. Take stock. What is really required? Estimate likely outcomes.
3. Ask yourself what you can do to remedy the situation.
4. Separate negative feelings from the issue at hand. Realizing that negative feelings have nothing to do with the situation makes taking the next positive step easy.

I tried this out on today’s run. I ran pretty hard yesterday, but was not expecting the soreness I felt today. I had planned on running 6 to 8 miles and while I usually would run at a recovery pace, I felt like pushing myself harder. It was a warm, sunny 73 degrees when I started and I knew it would be getting hotter quick, but becoming a better hot weather distance runner is one of my goals so the conditions were perfect.

While running an 8:00 minute pace around the neighborhood I felt a draw to go to the track, which is about 1.5 miles from my house, so I did. Got there, ran a lap and then just stopped a the shady end of the track, worried that I was only putting in a little effort and I felt weak and tired. It was then that I decided to use the steps Jurek used above.
1. I gave myself permission to worry which felt like taking a deep breath and exhaling.
2. I took stock. It was warm and I didn’t feel great, but I was not hurt and not dehydrated. I was fine.
3. What could I do? I decided to use my heart rate monitor to set a goal heart rate and run a mile on the track at that heart rate. I chose 170 to 175. I knew that would be a challenge.
4. I focused on the new short term heart rate goal instead of how I felt, and ran.

It worked! When I analyzed the data I had run that mile at a 6:45 pace, basically 10k race pace and I was laboring, but under control. Actually slowed down intentionally the third lap to keep my heart rate at 175. It felt like I was running slower than the 6:45 pace, so I was happy with the outcome.

This battle with anxiety and inferiority is going to continue. Next step is to use this mental trick in a race. I have a feeling I am going to need this at the Hotter Than Hades Half-Marathon coming up on June 22nd.