Learning to Accept Failed Workouts

April 13, 2016

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.


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.


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.

    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.

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

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: