Experiencing vs. Remembering Selves

Hi Everyone!


What I’ve been thinking about this week is our “experiencing selves” vs our “remembering selves”. I’m sure I’ve written about this before, but I find it endlessly fascinating.


Basically, we’re story tellers. Our brains interpret our realities and then narrate them back to us. And the story is sometimes quite different from the reality.


I was reading about miler Jim Ryun who was running in heats and finals in a big race. In the heats he ran 4:07 – well off his 3:55 high school record time, and he recorded in his log “was hard”. He made it through though. The next day he ran the finals and won in a world record time of 3:51 – running the last lap in 53 seconds. He wrote in his log “felt very easy”.


Interesting right? Same body. Same race. How could running slower feel harder than running a world record?


I was listening to renowned psychologist Danny Khaneman recount an experiment which he found fascinating. They took subjects and held their hands in freezing cold water for 60 seconds. Then they later took the same subjects and repeated the 60 seconds of freezing water, but then left them in for an additional 30 seconds where they slightly warmed up the water. When asked which experiment they would prefer to repeat, the subjects all said the second one. Their “experiencing” selves had had the exact same amount of freezing water discomfort, but their “remembering selves” which had finished with warmer water, remembered the entire experience as having been more comfortable. So they preferred the irrational choice of keeping their hands in cold water for longer.


Back to Jim Ryun. When he was recording each effort in his log, his mind narrated an experience as it remembered it. One didn’t go well, so “felt hard” and another did, so “felt easy”. Had you been able to freeze him at any point during either race and ask the experiencing athlete how hard it was, I’m sure he would report they both felt similarly hard. But like the freezing water, one ended with a better experience, so was recorded differently in his mind.


When Khaneman was asked whether he’d rather have a more positive experiencing self or remembering self, he said remembering self. In the end, our memories are who we are – our experiences are fleeting. How interesting. So just remember, whenever you’re in the middle of something hard or “intense” or painful, try not to let that be your story. I’m no expert here, but it seems like, if you want to make things “feel easier”, you have to encode them to memory with a positive story. And I am 100% sure that’s why runs with friends feel so much easier!


Onto workouts for this week:

(Boston marathoners, please really take this month easy – you will have three full months of escalating training starting in June – don’t start depleted!)


  1. 4 x 800 with 1:45 rest a bit slower than 5K pace, 4 min, 5 x 400 w 1:30 rest @ 3K pace
  2. If doing fartlek style: 4 x 3:30 Hard, 1:45 Easy, 4 min easy, 5 x 1:30 Hard, 1:30 Easy
  3. Tempo: 2 x 12 min, 1 x 8 min all w 3 min


Have fun!