The morning dawned crisp and cool, with that thin layer of grey-blue cloud way up there that I just knew would burn off as the sun got higher in the sky. I took off the thin sweater that had kept me warm until now, and hung it on the rail at the side of the road, happy that someone would come by later and collect it for donation. It was September 2010, and I was at the starting line of my first half marathon here in Toronto.
I was lucky. I had a good race, finishing in about two and a half hours. When I calculated my pace I was running about 7 minutes per kilometer (km).
Afterwards, I worked to increase my pace so I could decrease my time in future races. (After all, isn’t that what you’re supposed to do? Not settle for good enough but push for extraordinary?) My strategy was to run 5 km without stopping and to try to run a bit faster each time. Unfortunately, this made little difference to the end result: my average pace remained the same.
Then I received one of those fancy triathlon watches, so I decided to experiment. I set the interval timer for 10 minutes of running, followed by 1 minute of walking. I berated myself for “wimping out” with the walking breaks, but fortunately my curiosity to see how the watch and I would get along outweighed my tendency to push myself really hard.

Imagine my surprise at the results. Think about it: if I insert a pause of 1 minute of walking after every 10 minutes of running, my pace should get slower, right?

Wrong! My pace was about 10 seconds per km faster. “Must have been a fluke,” I said to myself. So I tried it again, and added 1km to my run to see how it would play out as an average. 6:50 per km. One more time with an additional 1km, same improved performance.  “Wow,” I thought, “I love how this works…totally the opposite of what I thought, and so much more humane.”

Yesterday, 7 years later, I was pushing for extraordinary again here at work. We’re revamping the website and I really wanted to get the new copy written before moving on to the training we’re hosting here next week. At around 2:30pm, my colleague reminded me that we hadn’t really had a break since the morning.

          “So what? This is good work and I’m on a roll. You take a break if you like, I’ll keep going here.”

          “I think we should get outside and walk a bit – maybe go get an ice cream or something,” he said.

I’d love to tell you that my first instinct was to recall that pausing is a better way to extraordinary than pushing, but it wasn’t. I frowned, sighed and was about to reiterate my resistance when something happened. A wiser part of me came online. “OK, let’s go.”

We walked for about 30 minutes, got that ice cream, and enjoyed some fresh air and sunshine. We returned to work and got back into it, covering all the ground we had hoped to cover by the end of the day.

Where do you resist pausing in favour of pushing? What consequences have you felt as a result?