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VO2 Max Intervals, Fear, and Courage: Building Excellence from Frightening Places

February 21, 2011

“A thousand fearful images and dire suggestions glance along the mind when it is moody and discontented with itself. Command them to stand and show themselves, and you presently assert the power of reason over imagination.” Sir Walter Scott 


Courage is not the lack of fear but the ability to face it.” – Lt. John B. Putnam Jr. (1921-1944)


“When you’re going through hell keep going!” – Winston Churchill 


Intervals and Fear:

Blogging has made me more attuned to the thoughts I have as I challenge myself with my workouts. Often times these thoughts come to me as I am about to begin a workout. 

Last week I was about to embark upon a VO2 max interval workout. 6 repeats of 800 meters at approximately 2:45 each. This was to be a very challenging workout. As I began my workout, I suddenly felt a pang of uncomfortable anticipation. Striving to understand, the words came out in my head: “I am afraid”. This was very profound to me. I don’t usually express my fear of things, but the truth is in my life that I have been afraid of a lot of things. Experiencing this verbal, albeit in my head, admission of my fear warranted deeper exploration.


What is Fear?

What stops us? How is it that somehow in running, as in life, we are sometimes able to break through barriers, and yet other times we are stopped, and consequently frustrated that we weren’t able to achieve our goals?

The first thing to look at is to understand what fear is, and how it plays a role in stopping us:

In my posts about Distance and Effort Perception, I made mention that the limits that we place on ourselves are largely a result of the memories we have of a certain activity or effort level. To achieve something new, we don’t have an experience of it yet, so the only thing we have to draw upon is anything in our memories that we can use to somehow create a context of what this new experience is like.

Sometimes the memories we have are fearful. Some of you whom have read my blog may notice that my last entry was over a month and a half ago! Why is this? Well, quite frankly I was stopped by fear……more specifically, the fear that I wouldn’t write very well, I would use words that were nonsensical or not officially “correct”, or that my blog just wouldn’t stack up to other blogs. This is total honesty…..and this even after many of you mentioned that you enjoy my writing and my blog!!!!! 🙂 I see that this follows a pattern of mine sometimes…do something that’s good or great, then kind of back off due to ……….due to……..due to…..????????

Due to not knowing what is out there in the distance! For example, what if people enjoy my blog even more? Or, consequently, I don’t know how it will be taken by others = criticism I’m not ready for.

So, why am I writing this? The point is that fear can be tackled, beaten, and the experienced transformed, by using courage, into a new realm of excellence and achievement.

How to do this:

The first step, as in engaging in Distance and Effort Perception, is to take things in steps:

1.) Often times, visualization can help. For instance, there is a common take with fear that you should swallow it, forget that its there, and then keep going on. However, in my experience, if one does this, fear just keeps coming back! Its like a sneaky enemy that, if avoided and “forgotten about”, will just wait until its at its strongest to strike. So admit it! Its ok to do so.

2.) Admitting that your fearful, now brings that very frightening thing out into the forefront. Honesty is key here! Its like two armies of old engaging each other on a wide open battlefield, no where to run, no where to hide. This goes for you, but it also pertains to the Fear as well. Now it has been exposed!!

3.) Once it has been exposed, now you can take it apart piece by piece for what it really is. Your weapons here will be:

(1) honesty with yourself, and, very crucially,

(2) knowing the steps you can take to start breaking down the Frightful thing, ultimately to defeat it. The good news is that your main ally is the awareness that it is YOUR fear, so ultimately it can be controlled by YOU.


Going back to my original fearful act in the beginning of this post, I was faced with the daunting (at the time) prospect of 6 x 800 meters in 2:45. Using the steps above, I:

1.) Admitted my fear. 

2.) Was honest with myself…why was I afraid? I’ve done this before? Was it because I was tired? What else is going on in my head? Answering these questions now had taken away some of the power from the Fear.

3.) I broke the workout down into steps. Instead of thinking of 6 repeats, I would do two sets of 3 repeats. I would only think about each set when I was doing them, and not how overwhelming 6 of them would be to do, when I was in the middle of my 2nd repeat.

The Result:

I almost quit after the 4th one, due to slippery conditions, and the overall difficulty of the workout. But I told myself I would do “one more”. And then, after I finished that one (the 5th interval), guess what? I found myself on the starting line for my 6th and last interval, which I finished.

The Point of it All and a New Context:

The great lesson and result about this is that on the “battlefield” between me and my Fear of doing 6 repeats, I had vanquished the enemy, and all that was left on the field was me and a blank space. There was no fear, and I was free to create whatever I would like in that space. For me, I created a new context of Excellence for doing VO2 max interval repeats.

The Conclusion:

This method can also relate to other areas of life: relationships, work, and also other types of athletics pursuits. The key is to not run from Fear, but have courage, recognize that it is an imposed memory of something, onto what you are trying to accomplish. Then, be honest with yourself, and pick away at your Fear by using a series of steps, which you can create for yourself.

I hope this was found to be useful! I look forward to continuing to work in my new context of blogging and sharing my ideas with you :).




2 Comments leave one →
  1. Terri permalink
    February 21, 2011 9:00 pm

    This has got to be one of your best blog posts ever! I’m so glad for you to have conquered your fears like that. Really. And your speed is just sickening, little brother.

    • February 22, 2011 3:35 am

      Thanks! I totally appreciate it! You inspired me to write, so I have you to thank 🙂



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