I wrote a blog 2.5 years ago called Finding Yourself in a Failed Workout yet it's one of those experiences that I think cycles through most training segments. It was April of 2016. I was 7 months post partum with Hudson. I had one of the worst workouts I’ve experienced in probably the last 4 years of my career. By worst I mean, how I felt, how I failed the paces, and how I was so far off of what I expected to be able to accomplish on the day. Coach Ben had written the workout as 3 x 3 mile with 1 mile jog rest at 5:35 pace. Coach Ben is never wrong. I mean he nails our prescribed paces to the T. I was stretched from the first mile to hit the pace. Hands on my knees I told him the effort felt like I was reaching and not comfortable or relaxed. He said, “today’s a day to grind”. I dug down the next 3 mile and just got in an effort and forgot about the pace. I thought I was done, gassed, nothing left in me.
“Well you’ll find something out about yourself on this last one.” Try to run 5:45s. Clearly my target pace of 5:35s was out, I was nowhere near this. Then I pictured myself out on the race course, in the middle of a bad patch in the marathon and remembered one bad mile can’t define your race, but fighting through to find one good mile can make it. Everything hurt. I was tired and thirsty. I closed the workout with a 5:45 mile and a revelation about bad days.
Bad days will happen in training cycles. They are inevitable. Bad days also become less of a measure of success vs. failure, and rather what did you find out about yourself. You test yourself on the days that feel like a grind. Last week I had an NAZ Elite staple session. 20 x 400m with 1 min rest or 200m jog. The backdrop was a road loop at 7300ft called Mt. Shadows. I was solo, with Coach Ben alongside on the bike.
It was the first morning the temperature had dropped, and I felt the early whisperings of fall. 42 degrees and I needed more layers. I warmed up, thinking my legs were so heavy but it's been a fantastic week of training behind me. I was on track to hit around 105 miles this week. My body is slow to get going. 8:50 1st mile, "what am I going to have post workout? 7:58 2nd mile, "I'll text the ladies, Local Juicery would hit the spot". 7:35, "it's getting quite warm already." I see Ben and Jen putting down the cones along the loop and I get the gulp in my stomach. The pace isn't terribly intimidating, 76s, but 20 of them is.
I feel springy doing my drills and strides, and coach Ben mutters "what a perfect morning." His usual chipper attitude tries with all it's might to evade any negative thoughts you might have creeping in before the workout. Every morning to him is perfect when this is your job. I feel that way too, but I also know the pain of the workout is coming and so I work on ways to break it apart mentally. The loop is marked so as to go out 400m, jog easy 200m, go out another 400m, jog 100m and flip and repeat the other direction. One direction is slightly uphill, the other down. It's subtle but when you're amidst a tough session at 7000ft you'll welcome any ounce of downhill.
I set off, trying to forget the volume of the workout and check in on things like my breathe, my form. I run the first one in 76, and think "oh man this is going to be a long day." The rest is long enough to gather my thoughts, and short enough to not allow me to fully recovery. I wonder if Ben hears me gasping for air, on every jog rest. I try to hide and stay composed but I'm laboring. I start comparing my last 20 x 400 in June where I averaged 75s on the track and they just came to me. Why can't I feel like that now? Because that's running Steph, and that's foolish to think you will feel the same at every workout. It's also stubborn to try to mimic a previous workout. Today it's about effort, and it's about grinding.
"Now you're breathing heavy" he says. "Now?" I say on my 16th 400. "I've been breathing heavy since about 6 in, so I guess I had him fooled. I've come to know the 60-70 % of a workout and race are always the most challenging for me. I doubt myself, the hurt starts to creep in, and I wonder if I can make it with anything left. Every time I get through that patch and choose to forge ahead, I come out stronger and braver on the other end. So yes there will be a moment of "this is too great for me to handle" but if I choose yes, that moment fades.
Somehow, 19 400s have been run and I have 1 more. It's a friendly stretch the last 400 and he says "nothing crazy." It's always tempting to let it rip when you know you can smell home. But there are times and places for that and today was not one. My breathing is controlled, my legs are heavy, and I finish the last one in 74. The workout never flowed necessarily and I had to talk myself through almost everyone one after about 6. The paces were right for me, I simply was fatigued going in, and would have to keep the pressure on each interval. I've had days where it felt I could go on forever. And days where I wished I was done after the first one. But you get to decide what day today is. For me, today was a good day to grind.