A college coach of mine, Michelle Blessing, once told me “you only have three chances each week to get better” (two speed workouts and the long run).
That comment has stuck with me a lot longer than most of what I learned in college. (Sorry professors … I really did enjoy your classes!)
Now this idea sounds obvious, but I think we lose track of it in the thick of training.
The opportunities to improve in each training cycle are finite. To be your best on race day, you need to make the most of each of them.
So, how do you do that?
I think there are two questions you need to ask about each run:
#1 — What is the purpose of this run?
At the most basic level, you’re asking “is this a hard day or an easy day?” If it’s an easy day, the purpose is recovery. So listen to your body and take it easy!
Simple in concept, hard in practice.
The age-old advice of running at “conversational” pace is great. And I would add that your easy pace will vary from run to run — because of fatigue, stress, darling children who kept you up all night, the margaritas you had the night before, etc.
Try not to get into the mindset of having a “set” easy run pace.
If it’s a hard day (speed workouts, long runs, medium-long runs), the purpose is obviously to improve your fitness. But how? Is it building your endurance? Improving your lactate threshold? Helping you practice goal pace?
Knowing that will tell you what you what to focus on in the workout and how to appropriately modify the workout if you’re not feeling good so that you can still benefit from it.
This ties in directly to the second question:
#2 — How can I get the most out of the run?
This reminds me of another quote that has stuck with me, this one from my former boss at Emory, John Curtin.
He often said “running is too hard to be average at.” In other words, the run is most of the hard work … why not do the rest to be great?
This question applies to:
Before the workout
(reduce stress as much as possible, mentally prepare for the workout, warm up properly, fuel correctly)
During the workout
(focus on the purpose of the workout, stay in the moment and stay focused)
After the workout
(proper recovery nutrition, sleep)
The hard days on your schedule provide the opportunity to improve. But to get the most benefit takes more than just doing the run. Why settle for average?
The last thing I’ll say on this topic is that you’re probably never going to get through a training cycle where you do everything right, hit every mark, and nail every workout. It’s not realistic.
So don’t beat yourself up for falling short of perfection. If you can get 90% of the work in your training plan done and done correctly, that’s fantastic! You will be well prepared for your next race — and after a year of missed racing opportunities, that sounds pretty great!
About Coach Carl
Coach Carl is a USA Track & Field Level 2 endurance coach who works with runners of all ability levels to reach their goals. He has been featured in Runner’s World, Women’s Health, Men’s Fitness, and Competitor. For information on his coaching services, click here.