When I learned about Zone 2 training I thought it was something only professional ultra-marathoners needed to do. Running while keeping my heart rate low? Impossible, I thought. But its touted benefits–endurance, fewer injuries, weight loss–made me want to try it.
And truth be told, I’m a hyper-achiever: if others could do it, I needed to prove I could too!
My first day was painful: it took me 16 minutes to run a mile while keeping my heart rate below threshold. How embarrassing to run a 16-minute mile!
The nasty voice in my head kept telling me, “Are you sure you’re a runner?” “Look at you! You’re barely shuffling your feet and you think you can run a marathon?” Each time a faster runner passed me was another stab at my ego–ouch! Even some walkers were faster.
But I kept at it, fueled by my hyper-achiever.
Today, after five months of consistent dedication, ups and downs, failures and successes, I see big changes. My endurance is greater today, my legs and feet don’t hurt after long runs, and I no longer need the whole day to recover.
But more important are the lessons my mind has learned.
Every running coach will tell you to run the mile you’re running, and not the miles ahead. If that’s true for all types of running, it’s become critical for me training in Zone 2.
My racing mind wanted to speed off and get my workout over with as fast as I could. But keeping my heart rate low and hence, slowing down my pace, required me to be fully present with every step. This made my mind slow down so I could turn my five senses to just one thing: my running.
The payoff has been big: I now enjoy more what I’m doing, and I do it better, because I’m doing it with my whole being.
And my capacity to be present benefits other parts of my life. When I need to walk through conflict with a client, for example, when I listen to someone on my team who’s telling me something important to them, or when my son shares his concern about his lack of interest in school matters.
When I’m fully present, people feel seen and heard. I show I care because I’m there for them. And this, for me, is the foundation of trust and deep connection.
To focus means to free your mind from intrusions while doing an activity that needs intense attention.
When I run in Zone 2, I direct my mind to the factors that support my goal of keeping my heart rate below 125 beats per minute. And the rest is noise. I focus on my breath, my cadence, my posture. I tune out the heat, the miles ahead, the minutes left, the other runners.
My ego gets checked out and I no longer care what other people (or my internal judge) think of me and the way I run.
This ability to laser-focus on what I’m doing helps me also be more productive at my desk. I take action instead of allowing my mind to be dragged by intruding thoughts.
I set up a plan and follow it: I write when it’s time to write, make calls when it’s time to make calls.
Mindset: from fixed to growth
What am I able to achieve? How far can I go? Who will I be when I finish this run, and tomorrow’s run, and next week’s runs? What will become available to me when I’m someone who runs ultra-marathons?
What else will be possible?
Curiosity about myself is the opposite of the judgement mindset I was in when I started this quest. I no longer judge my running, my level of proficiency, my performance.
Instead, I get curious about my body and my mind: where are my limits today? Where will my limits be tomorrow, next week, next year?
I now know I’m able to do anything I set my mind to. I know that the skill I have today doesn’t predict my future ability because I can learn. I know that who I am today doesn’t constrain my future self because I can transform–if I want to.
Who are you today? Who do you want to be tomorrow? What’s limiting you today? What do you want for tomorrow?