Learning to Accept Failed Workouts

I am a perfectionist. I want things to go as planned 100% of the time. But obviously this is not the reality of life. I am learning to accept the times when things don’t go as planned, especially in my running. Take, for example, a couple of recent tempo workouts I did.

This morning I did a tempo workout, and while it went okay, I still struggle to hit the paces set by my coach. Tempo workouts have been the staple for much of my marathon training. Last summer my tempo pace was 6:30, and this winter my coach dropped me down to a 6:20 pace. Hitting these paces does not always come very easy for me. Most of the time I don’t hit the pace for the entire the workout, as in this morning’s workout.

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Before I went to bed the night before, I reviewed the workout:

10 miles total

3 miles warm-up –> 2 x 15 minutes @ 6:20 pace, 5 minutes rest –> 10 minutes @ 6:20 pace –> cool-down to 10 miles

My alarm was set for 5:30 a.m. this morning, but as with almost every morning these days, I woke up before it went off. When I woke up, I immediately went downstairs to get my Generation UCAN from the fridge to drink. Ideally I would drink this 45 minutes beforehand, but I don’t want to get up any early than I am already. I change into my running clothes, brush my teeth, and go to the bathroom. I say good-bye to Craig and tell him I’m not looking forward to the workout (because I know it is going to be hard, and it is going to hurt). He said it is only going to be 2 hours of uncomfortable-ness I am going to have to endure, so suck I should suck it up. (He’s a great assistant coach, huh? And I love that he guessed it was going to take me 2 hours; in reality it took me about 75 minutes.) I then head out the door a few minutes before 6:00 a.m.

I feel good on my warm-up as I had the day off yesterday, but I’m still nervous about the workout. I decide to start the tempo portions after 2.5 miles because A.) I am tired of dealing with the nervous energy and B.) If I am only to do 10 miles, I think a 3 mile warm-up is going to be too long (which is would have been).

After 2.5 miles, I take a deep breath and push the split button on my watch. I pick up the pace to what I think feels like a 6:20 pace, I glance down at my watch: 6:0x. But I feel good, so I maintain this pace. The first mile clicks over – 6:12. Oops, a little fast, but I am still feeling good. The second mile I start running into the wind more, but it is nothing compared to the winds of the Midwest–mile 2 – 6:17. “Just a couple more minutes at this pace and then you get a break,” I tell myself. Split #3 – 6:19. Awesome! I nailed it.

I slowly jog for a few minutes and catch my breath before starting the second 15 minute interval. Once again I take a deep breath and hit the split button on my watch, “It’s ‘go time.'” As soon as I start this segment, I knew it was going to be more difficult; I could already feel it in my legs. I hang on and still manage a 6:18 for the first mile. The second mile is when things start to get tough. I am now running up a slight hill and then turn into the wind. I play mental games with myself to try and will myself to keep going. I imagine how much more the marathon is going to hurt and ask myself how badly do you want it? Mile #2 clicks on my watch – 6:25. Bummer. I do my best to push the pace for the remaining couple minutes until I hit 15 total minutes, but the most I can do is a 6:27 split.

Now I start to get nervous about the last interval because I can tell my legs are tired. I stop and walk to catch my breath because I am really winded. After 45 seconds or so I turn the walk into a slow shuffle and do my best to bring my heart rate back down. The third and final 10 minute interval comes far too quickly, but I remind myself it is the last interval. As I start this this interval, I am once again running into the wind and with the added tired legs, I can tell I’m not hitting the 6:20 pace anymore. I glance down at my watch a few times and see 6:2x and 6:3x. I knew this segment was going to be tough, and as much as I tried, I knew I probably wouldn’t hit the 6:20 target pace. I willed my legs to work as hard as they could. Mile #1 – 6:25. Okay, just a few more minutes – split #2 – 6:25.

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Overall, I’m still happy with how the workout went. I think if you averaged all of the tempo segments, my pace would have been right around 6:20.; I just started out a little too fast.

I also have to remind myself that I don’t know if there was a single workout last summer where I hit my targeted 6:30 pace, yet I still had a successful marathon race. Plus, this is an improvement from a workout I did three Saturdays ago. That workout went like this:

3 miles warm-up –> 4 x 5 minutes @ 6:20 –> 7.5 miles easy –> 15 minutes @ 6:20 –> cool down to 19 miles

I ended up running to coach training group, so I did the first 20 minutes of tempo on my way there. I then ran the easy 7.5 miles with the training group. I was planning on running home right away, but I ended up having to fit people for new running shoes for an hour. When I went to run home, my legs were completely dead. (It seemed like the lactic acid started to set in.) I tried so hard to hit the 6:20 pace on the way back home, but it was not happening. The first mile was okay – 6:24. But after that, things got much worse: 6:42, and 6:53 for the last 0.3 mile. After that I wanted to cry.

With that, these workouts remind me that there is still work to be done (there always will be), and sometimes things go well and other times I am reminded how humbling running is. I can work my butt off and do a lot of things right, but sometimes things still don’t go the way I want them to. I try to accept this and remember it is all part of the journey. And if anything, it makes me that much more motivated to work harder the next time.

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  1. The nice thing about tempo runs is that they’re also about feel: “Comfortably hard” is one way I’ve heard them described. I usually feel like the pace on these should feel just hard enough–if I’m really struggling whatever pace I’m trying to hit is probably too hard for that day.

    • That’s what I always thought, but this is definitely harder than ‘comfortably hard.’ :/ Oh well, if it makes me faster. 🙂