A short memory is viewed as a sports virtue. Writers and critics praise elite athletes for their ability to rebound from a bad shooting game in basketball or swing through a baseball slump, forgetting the struggles and focusing on each moment. Articles are dedicated to the art of short memory. For runners slogging through a hot summer, however, I argue long-term memory is much more beneficial.
The heat adds blinders to each run. Workouts feel impossible, and depression can set in after just a few mental leaps, a spiral I’ve been fighting. “I’m not running well” quickly turns into “I’m never going to improve.
This is where long-term memory can kick in to save the day. For the past few weeks, the Louisiana sun and humidity have been cruel. Most runs have ended with frustration and a feeling that I’m regressing.
But those thoughts are lies. My running logs prove it.
In an attempt to find some historical perspective, I looked at every run from June 2015. I didn’t see what I expected.
For some reason, in my mind, I had run well last June. The training journal tells a different story.
Not only were my runs much slower on average last year at this time, but my notes echo exactly what I’ve been feeling for the past three weeks. I struggled to adapt to the heat. I felt off pace and slow. I doubted my ability to run goal paces in fall races.
While I’m still working through the same feelings a year later, my paces are significantly faster. Sunday’s long run put any from last June to shame. Only one workout from 2015, a four-mile effort, was faster than the pace I averaged for 13 miles two days ago. And no double-digit mileage run was within 30 seconds. I even found a matching long run — exactly 13 miles on the same route, at the same time of day with slightly cooler temperatures and cloud coverage (which I didn’t have Sunday). That run was more than a minute slower per mile.
Seeing those numbers gave me a surge of confidence.
Knowing where I was a year ago and the improvement I’ve made in the past 12 months reveals that I’m headed in the correct direction. Looking back farther shows even more.
The photo above is from my third marathon, which I ran in 2011 in Kansas City. I ran through pain and battled to finish in less than four hours — a goal I hit by a minute and 15 seconds. I was so proud of that race. I proved a lot to myself that day. And now my goals are more than an hour faster.
If you are struggling through June like I have been, try widening perspective. Stop viewing each run as a single snapshot and stretch your view into a panorama of your entire running journey.
It won’t stop the sun from beating down during your next workout (I wish that was a possibility). But it might give you faith to know the battle is worth the reward.