This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.
You don’t win these in workouts
I believe it was my junior year in college when our coach was having a terrible time keeping guys from running too hard on our tempo runs. Sure, we were young invincibles but we were racing almost every weekend. We couldn’t afford to be racing our Tuesday workouts also. I remember Coach saying something along the line of you don’t get awarded All-American honors on Tuesday, you do at the end of the season. He started calling guys who overran their tempo runs Threshold All-Americans, illustrating the point that they were racing their workouts, which would harm their races. Even this didn’t seem to be doing much good.
After a couple workouts with guys trying to be Threshold All-Americans, he came up with a way to put it to an end. He said anyone who doesn’t go through the 3 mile mark ahead of their target pace but finishes on pace gets a t-shirt and gets announced as a Threshold All-American the next day at practice. Almost everyone accomplished this, even the guys who had been running too hard. I’m not quite sure why but all it took was that one time and everyone did a better job staying on pace on future workouts.
These days, I understand the importance of what Coach was doing for us and I see many people, sometimes myself, making the same mistake many of the guys on the team, myself included at times, were making back then.
It’s easy to get pulled into running harder than you should in your workouts. You’re feeling good, you’re gaining fitness rapidly, you feel like you’re on top of the world. Your workouts are feeling easier every week and you feel like you need to keep pushing, to keep challenging yourself, every week in order to keep getting better. The problem is this perception of the workouts getting easier isn’t what’s really going on in your body.
The problem is you begin to get ahead of yourself, especially as your confidence grows. You feel like you’re gaining fitness and you should see those results in your workouts. So you think, if I ran my mile repeats at 6:30 this past week, I should be able to do 6:25 this week. Next week, you’re thinking 6:20 or maybe 6:23 if you’re being "conservative". Even though you feel like it is, your fitness isn’t improving enough to be doing your workouts measurably faster every week.
This continues until you’re racing your workouts and you’re not building yourself up. You’re breaking yourself down and not recovering adequately enough between workouts, usually exacerbated by the fact that you don’t want to slow down on your easy runs. Eventually, your body gives in and you fall off the cliff.
Don’t fall off the cliff. Know that some workouts, I would argue even most workouts, shouldn’t leave you feeling like death at the end. Sometimes, even hard days should feel relatively refreshing. Don’t be a Workout All-American. Save your race efforts for race day and do your workouts at efforts that allow you to continue moving forward for months to come.