In training and racing there are many ways you can find disappointment. You can run a race and not do well or complete a training run and perform poorly in comparison to previous sessions. You can try to complete a difficult movement or lift a heavy weight and be unsuccessful.
Yesterday I ran a 5km time trial to see how my training has progressed over the previous 4 months. My previous 5km best time was 21:27. Today I completed it in 21:10. That’s still a 17 second improvement but it isn’t what I was hoping for. In 4 months, I had hoped to see a much larger improvement.
Here are some things to consider when I look at a disappointing result in a constructive way:
- Did I train as much as I could?
- Did I train as smart as I could?
- Did I under-recover?
- Did I go hard enough?
The first thing I do is wipe out all the excuses that might come to mind in the short term. I may not have eaten well enough, been rested enough or had enough sleep in the last few days. That can certainly impact performance but I’m not using that as a gauge when I decide how to approach my training over the next four months. Everything leading up to the run this morning (this weeks training plan, lack of calories yesterday, a late night) I’ll consider moot. It’s fairly consistent week to week.
Now I look at the previous four months and decide if I trained as much as I could have. I had one break from running for three weeks when my left knee acted up. During that time, I used the rowing machine for aerobic base training and lactate threshold training. It’s not quite the same as running but it’s all I had and I believe it still works well. I had two weeks off for vacation and ran lightly in one week and not at all in the other. I completed four races in that time and tapered a little for most of them (sometimes because I had to not because I wanted to). That would total eight or nine weeks of training time where I didn’t hit my training as hard as I could have. When I consider periodization for one week in every month, I’m down by about a month of training.
I also considered the amount of time spent on easy runs, long runs and tempo runs. I focused a lot on hills, speed work and intervals and haven’t run a lot of tempos. I think that might have been an error I can correct by a few sessions moving forward. I additionally didn’t get enough runs in during the week at an easy pace. Part of the problem is the time I spend on my feet moving around and teaching boot camps. Quite often I considered boot camp a light training run when it really wasn’t long enough or fast enough to be a long slow run for me (I classify long slow runs as hitting my 145 – 155 heart rate average zone). I’ll have to add that to my list of things to improve (run more 30 – 40-minute easy runs between hard efforts). When injured I missed four good distance runs to build aerobic base and that may also have hurt me over the four months.
Next, I considered if I trained smart enough. Part of this work is already done when I consider the easy runs and long runs I missed. If I take into consideration the number of weight training sessions I didn’t miss, I conclude that my time may have been better spent. From a race perspective, I’m losing races because I can’t run fast enough not because any of the obstacles slow me down. Therefore, on days when I’m busy I need to train my running over my strength training because the weight training might help reduce the risk of injury but it’s not the best way to improve my running speed. On the fairness side of things, I’m also working on longer distance runs at slower paces so a 5km run test may not be the best gauge where as running a 10km or half marathon time trial might have been more accurate.
Don’t get me wrong, I won’t go out and start running more tempos in addition to the regular plan. Beating my body up more than I am will get me injured, not make me stronger. What I’m going to do is add more tempos into the plan week to week in lieu of speed or intervals or sometimes hills. I’m also going to make sure I get in more easy runs.
Thirdly I consider if I under-recovered. This is a fancy way of saying did I get enough sleep and did my muscles recuperate between workouts. Using my heart rate variability tracker, I think I’ve done well. My body has never felt overly beat up and when it did, I took the day off. I’ve remained mostly injury free except for one stupid overtraining mistake that I learned from. But one highlight is the actual time sleeping. I need to fix my hours so I am getting more hours of actual sleep. Five to six hours a night isn’t going to cut it at my age and my training volume. To be elite I must train like I’m elite and that means more sleep.
I include nutrition in my recovery assessment and although I’ve had some ups and downs (I gained 4 lbs at one point and haven’t lost it) I’ve done well and felt pretty good about it. I’ve made some small adjustments and I think they’ve helped me along the way (increasing fat intake between hard efforts, increasing carb intake leading up to hard efforts, etc.). At no point do I think it got bad enough (I’m never hungry and eat all the right things) to affect my training so that’s out as a necessary adjustment.
Finally, I consider if I went out hard enough. The answer is yes. Looking over my results I had some good splits going hard enough to maintain pace and only lost it by a few seconds in the end. My heart rate maxed out at 183 at the end of the run and I damn near crapped my pants. Most people capable of running below a 25 min 5km pace don’t have a big problem with going too easy.
If you see where this is going, there’s no reason to beat myself up. I suppose it doesn’t hurt that I did improve my run time a little, but I have a long way to go to crush some of the better runners in the area and 17 seconds every 4 months isn’t going to be enough. And I would attack disappointment in this way no matter how disappointing. It makes me feel renewed with energy, purpose and focus. I’m not going to quit. I’m not going to give up. I’m not going to let it get to me. I’m feeling good about my training and I know I’m headed in the right direction. My grip strength is better than it ever has been. And even though I had an injury that sidelined me for a few weeks, I battled past it, kept up the mobility and fascia release and kept pushing the limits.
When you have a passion for something you know the long term will always outweigh the short term. That’s where people fail. They try something and it’s hard so they quit. Or they try something and get injured and decide it’s not for them. A lot of the time the problem comes from not training smart. You can’t run six days a week and never stretch and mobilize. You can’t avoid water, not sleep and keep performing well. If you want to be a superstar, crush workouts and run fast, you need to train like the people who do. One of my favorite quotes is, “Everyone wants to be a beast until it’s time to do what beasts do.”
Never give up. Don’t let any obstacles stop you from reaching for your goals. Battle your disappointments through constructive breakdown and then attack them renewed with energy and focus.