I suffer from Rinky-Dink Syndrome. I know because my rinky-dink symptoms often result in rinky-dink results.
I first realized I had Rinky-Dink Syndrome during a scheduled twelve-mile tempo run with eight miles at 15K race pace. It wasn’t an unreasonable workout. In fact, it was very doable. Still, I was intimidated. My weekly mileage had maxed out, and over the past six weeks, I had maintained my highest weekly average… ever. My legs were tired. My body was tired. I seriously doubted my ability to do what the schedule demanded. Plus, it was hot.
My legs feel dead. What if I’m not as fit as I thought? This is going to hurt. I’m going to be devastated if this goes poorly…
I called Mr. Speedy Pants for some advice, informing him of my presumed fate.
“I’m tired. I’m just not feeling it. I just don’t think I can do it,” I lamented.
“Don’t think, kid,” he responded to my concerns. “Just run. Trust your body. Trust your ability. You’re always over-thinking these things. You take yourself out of the game before you even give yourself a chance.”
“I know, but I think maybe I bit off more than I can chew this time around…”
“So what? Maybe you did. Maybe you didn’t. You don’t know. You won’t know until you try, and you’re not going to be able to try to your full potential if you go into it defeated.”
By the time the tempo run arrived two hours later, I was convinced it was a hopeless case. Resignedly, I strapped on my Garmin and walked up to the paved running path stretching alongside a lone country highway. Two miles of warm-up. Eight miles at pace. Two miles of cool down. I looked up at the sun, which was blazing across the pavement, causing low clouds of steam to rise from the blacktop. It was late morning, and it was hot. The dog days of August hot.
“This is going to be awful,” I murmured. And with that, I began.
I ran at a slow, easy pace, trying to loosen up my muscles and willing my blood to flow through my body with some kind of purpose.
I’m exhausted, I thought. One mile at warm-up pace, and I’m exhausted. This can’t be good.
I entered the second mile, hopeful of a miraculous burst of energy. It didn’t happen. I still wasn’t ready for 15K race pace. I decided to delay the tempo by running a third warm-up mile and giving my body a few more minutes to perk up. It didn’t work.
Okay. Time to go. Ugh. I feel awful.
I felt like I was sprinting. In reality, I was too slow. I urged my legs to move faster and checked my time constantly, but the pace felt impossible. My legs were dead. My body hurt. And twice I nearly ran off the road while looking at my watch.
Oh, my gosh… What is wrong with me?
Finally, my watch beeped the completion of mile one at tempo pace. It was the longest mile I have ever run. There was no way I was going to be able to keep pace for another seven miles. I was already defeated.
Exactly two minutes into the second tempo mile, I slowed to a walk, hands on my hips, gasping for air.
“It’s not gonna happen,” I announced to the squirrel that scurried across the path in front of me.
And then, exhausted from the single mile of hard work, irritated by the sun and a burgeoning sense of failure, I sat down, right there on the asphalt path. It was over. I wasn’t going to tempo anything that day.
I watched as the squirrel ran back across the path, a small twig clasped in its mouth. He looked at me quizzically. I returned his gaze with a gloomy stare. It was the first time I had ever completely abandoned a pace run.
It was horrible.
Thirty minutes later, I pulled into my driveway, grabbing my cell phone as I threw my car into park. I was dejected and demoralized, convinced I had overstepped my ability as a runner and was now suffering the consequences.
“I sat down,” I complained to Mr. Speedy Pants over the phone. “Sat. Down. There was no way in the world I could have hit my time. I think I need to pick a different training program—I’m in over my head.”
Unlike me, Mr. Speedy Pants remained calm, unfazed by my jeremiad.
“Okay, well, relax, kid. Don’t throw in the towel just yet. What have your times been on your other runs?”
I relayed a series of numbers, numbers that had been my life for the past two months.
“Give it two more weeks. See how your body feels. If you have two weeks of bad runs, well, we can always change things up. But,” he said, “you’re running high mileage. You’re going to feel tired. You’re supposed to be tired. We just need to get that goofy head of yours in shape.”
I knew Mr. Speedy Pants was right. I was intimidated by hard running. Track workouts, pace runs, and races intimidated me because they required running hard. And running hard doesn’t come naturally to me. Running hard is, well, hard.
Sure, I want to be one of those runners who ooze elegance and efficiency with every stride. But I am not. If Nike ever made a “Run Ugly” campaign, I would be the poster child. My body was not built to run fast. I may be a strong runner, I may be a dedicated runner, and I may run for all I’m worth, but I am not elegant or efficient. I am rinky-dink.
The thing is, if you think like a rinky-dink runner, you’re gonna run like a rinky-dink runner.
There I was, doing everything I could to build up my body for race day. I ran long runs and track workouts. I stayed hydrated and fueled. I went to bed early and woke up even earlier. I stretched and iced and stretched some more.
And yet, for all of my efforts, I was neglecting my mental fitness. Worse than that, I was tearing it down. I thought I was being a realist. I thought I was simply acknowledging my “place” in the running world. I didn’t fear defeat in tough runs. I expected it. Doubt masqueraded as humility, and I bought it.
And in the process, I sabotaged my own training.
As Henry Ford famously said, “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.” It’s a simple as that. The phenomenon of “self-fulfilling prophecy” and the “placebo effect” has been proven in every area of life. Our assumptions and anticipations regarding an event affect the results of the event itself. Training is no different: Our expectations going into races and workouts can and will influence their outcome.
Running is no place for self-deprecating modesty. We can be honest about our ability. We can acknowledge those who are faster than we are and realize our limitations. But everyone has limitations. So what? We still have to be confident. We still have to be gutsy. Otherwise, we’re simply sealing our own fates, and who in her right mind would concede defeat before the race even begins?
Don’t let Rinky-Dink Syndrome ruin all the hard miles you’ve logged. All the physical training in the world won’t mean a thing if you don’t have the mental fortitude to back it up. You have to be confident to run well. Because no one ever worried himself to a PR.
Trust me. I’ve tried.
Amy L. Marxkors is the author of The Lola Papers: Marathons, Misadventures, and How I Became a Serious Runner. Her second book, Powered By Hope: The Teri Griege Story, will be released in 2014.