The Bad Day

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.

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Hy-Vee 5150 US Championship+

Going into this race, my head really wasn’t in it.  In part because I had just raced 2 weeks ago and in part it just didn’t seem like I was going to race since our girls were in tow.  (This is very rare for road trips and this was a 5.5 hour drive).  Sarah, Court, and I attended the Iron Kids race the day before to cheer on the adorable Morgan girls and their Transition teammates so that took the edge off as well.  And, as a side note, the kids race was a blast to watch!  Sweet bikes and race-kits galore with their names on their derrieres as well!  Court and Sarah even said they may be racing there next year! Mark and Anne, you may have new team members next year!

Finally, a few hours before I hit the hay Saturday did I even start to get nervous.  That actually made me feel back to pre-race normal, whew!  I even woke up 15 minutes before my alarm clock was due to go off, normal too.

Transition set up went as smoothly as ever; I got my wheels pumped up within minutes, got my shoes on my pedals, filled my water bottle, went for a jog, hung out with my family, and still had plenty of time to spare.  I LOVE it when things work out this way, unfortunately, they normally don’t due to random, unforseen circumstances.  The only negative today was a legal wetsuit swim.  Grrrr!  The day prior would have been different.

Lauren J.( a former pro from Wisconsin) and awesome girl Seeley G. were standing with me prior to the beach swim start, little chatting though as we were all ready to go.  Nerves were flying at this point, which is a very good thing for me.  A big shout out to a camera man who told us that the depth dropped off quickly, which meant no running in the water as previously thought, just a shallow dive then swim.  Sweet!  The mens elite wave started 5 minutes before us so no chance catching/following them.  So off we went!  I sprinted the first 100 yards which I normally don’t do, but I really wanted to win the swim.  Whew, I was in the lead…until the 1st buoy.  Then I realized there were 2 woman who started several yards to the right of me and we all turned the buoy at the same time.  My lead soon ended, but I held on to their feet for dear life. I’ve never worked that hard on an open water swim!  Out of the hot water in 3rd, I hustled to my bike.  While doing so, I heard the announcer say the top 3 women came out of the water in 20 min and some change, yes!

I was hopeful on the bike even though all my rides have been slow this season, all of them.  We tweaked a few things on my bike in hopes it would help.  It did a little, but I was still slow. Oddly, I was pretty much solo most of the ride, but every time someone passed me, I gave it my all to stay close, to no avail. I can’t say that about the young mens wave behind me though.  On an out and back section, I saw at least 30 athletes all within 10 seconds of each other and one official was trying to tackle the plethora of possible penalties.  Not an easy task!   By the time I entered T2, I was probably in 12th or so.

Within 2 minutes on the run, I recall thinking, ‘wow, I feel really good!’  This, my friends, is quite rare!  Even more so because I was thinking that for 5.9 out of the 6.2 miles on the run!  Although I felt this way, I had no idea what my pace was as I typically don’t done a watch.  It just creates too many head games for me.  If I’m slower than I’d like, then I get mad and try to push it and if I’m faster, I get worried I can’t hold the pace.  So, I’ve found I just prefer going by feel.  I know when my exertion is too low or too high.  I trust my body there. On the flip side, I’ve had races where I’ve felt really good and have run slow and vice versa so you can never be 100% certain.  Fortunately for me, today was a good day  on the run.  I felt great and I ran well, better than I have all year.  The same for the swim. Woohoo!

Some may think a 25th place finish is not so stellar, but the competition was fierce.  I raced against some of the fastest 20, 30, & 40 year olds in the country.  In the end, I was thrilled with my swim and run!

Tidbits:

1) Sarah, Court, and Scott were amazing sherpas and cheerleaders!  Love it, love them!

2) I really dislike swims like this one; wetsuit legal and no chop.  It even got so shallow at one point, my hands were hitting the bottom. What a snore!  That’d be akin to all bike and run courses being flat.  Fast yes, but not at all challenging.

3) I typically have a similar race plan for most competitions, not this one. It was my last triathlon prior to the World Championships next month so I had nothing to lose.  I simply tried to push everything hard and if I bonked, so what.

4) We were grateful to be invited to the Transitions team dinner Friday night.  It was fun to hang out with all the Morgans and their athletes.  I even got to spend some time with their Coach Anne (a good friend of mine) the next day too. Thanks guys!

5) On the way home Sunday, we stopped by Luth’s house in Moline to see my dear friends Anne & John Stichnoth and their 6 month old twins.  (Anne and I swam together starting when I was about 10 and we’ve been great friends ever since).  Anne’s parents, the Luth’s, were having a meet and great at their home for Anne’s twins as Stichnoths reside in Kansas City.  So I was thrilled when I arrived and saw an old teammate Jenny Marhoeforer, my 7th grade English teacher Mr. Nordstrom, a friends mom Mrs. Knedler, good friends of my parents the Fox’s, and one of my favorite blasts from the pasts, my former neighbor Mrs. Widener!  I couldn’t believe it!  My eyes swelled with tears when I saw her as she was pretty much my 2nd mom growing up.  Anyway, I loved seeing everyone!!!

Below are a few pics too:

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