When you are training for an endurance event, your days and weeks are filled with hours and hours of workouts. Many times they feel mundane, routine, and are in the end, often as forgettable as they are frequent. How many of those recovery runs from the past 8 weeks stand out in your mind? They’re all blending together? Nothing stands out? I know the feeling.
In truth, however, every workout presents an opportunity. An opportunity to find your focus, to improve, and to transform the mundane into meaningful improvement. That is a blog for another time, because what I want to talk about in this blog are those workouts that instantly jump off the page as “key” workouts, and how to respond when one of those key workouts goes horribly wrong.
In the course of my training for the Chicago Marathon, one of these key sets of workouts involves adding a large portion of race pace mileage to the end of my weekly long run. I’d do these every 3-4 weeks, and these workouts built over time in mileage, up to my last one on Labor Day weekend, which was scheduled at 18 miles with 14 at race pace.
Now, it is not the length of the workout that presents a challenge…my training has included 5 runs of 18-20 miles in length. And the 14 miles at race pace shouldn’t be that hard, right? I mean, if I’m going to run 26 miles at that pace, doing 14 should be no problem. But if you combine the length, with the amount at race pace, with the fact that it comes at the end of an already hard training week…it presents a challenge. But with that challenge comes an opportunity…and that opportunity is the chance to really test where I am with my fitness and with my training, and validate and confirm that my form is improving and that all the hard work I’ve put in so far this summer is going to pay off for me when I toe the starting line in October.
My previous key workouts of this flavor had gone pretty well, so as the Labor Day weekend arrived was pretty psyched and confident to get out there and go. That weekend we happened to be over in Des Moines for the Hy-Vee Triathlon, so prior to our arrival I scoped out an ideal route that followed a river-side path that headed north from our hotel. A simple out and back. I headed out at 7:30am on that Saturday. I did the first 4 miles easy, and as prescribed, ramped it up for the 14 mile fast finish. Within a mile or 2, I could tell things were not going well. 1-2 miles later it was confirmed…I was struggling.
The weather was in the 70’s and a bit humid, but I was sweating like a pig. My HR was high, as in “half-marathon pace” high. My legs felt like cinder blocks: heavy, sore, crampy. Overall I felt sluggish. I struggled to maintain pace, and stopped a number of times to walk and re-gather myself. Physically, I was wrecked, and mentally, I was defeated. A workout that was meant to be an affirmation – a confidence booster – was crumbling all around me.
What was happening to me? And why? As I stood hunched over on the trail at mile 14 I started pouring over those questions in my mind. Well, the 6 hours in the car the day before probably didn’t help. I had been feeling a little under the weather. Etc. The truth was, there probably was really no answer, or at least no answer that was going to make itself completely obvious and apparent to me. It was probably just one of those things, just one of those days…a bad day.
What was most important to me was the realization that I had a choice: either let the bad day bring me down…or turn the page. And boy did I ever turn that page. I chucked that goal pace right out the window…and set a new goal for that last 4 miles – no walking, no whining – only laughing. I had to laugh. This epic struggle was so uncharacteristic as to be comical. I smiled, I jogged, I enjoyed the scenery and I finished that darn run.
By the time I got back to the hotel, I had not only turned that page, I had closed the book and returned it to the library. In the scheme of things I knew I had to make that run mean nothing…and keep in perspective that a bad training day in August/September was in no way a definitive harbinger for doom in October. There would be other workouts, other days, and up to that point, I needed to remember that there had been plenty of accomplished training days in the months prior. Success will never be determined by the outcome of any one training day, no matter how bad that day turns out to be. Rather, success in my marathon will be determined by the accumulation of dozens and dozens of training days played out carefully and consistently since May.
Always keep in mind that bigger picture, and never let a bad day overwhelm your mind or body.