Running in perspective

Elite runners often feel inadequate as runners. It sounds silly, but I think it’s one of the characteristics that make us elite runners. We feel inadequate because we are never satisfied with where we are at, never satisfied with falling short of our goals. And it is having those lofty goals that create this situation. We reach far in front of us and although we are all aware of the long work and significant time it takes to reach those goals, until we actually get there, we feel inadequate. From time to time we may taste some satisfaction, maybe hitting a projected time in a race along the way or nailing a difficult workout, but until we reach that pie in the sky goal that often lies months and months away, we feel inadequate.

This is ok, it’s what drives us. We don’t WANT to feel this way so we put in more and more work when we fall short. When those marathon goal pace runs come up short, we don’t feel like throwing in the towel, but rather using it to wipe our sweat drenched faces and figure out how to hit it next time. The important thing is to always keep this in mind, to keep perspective, to remember it’s where we are going not where we are.

Today was our Tuesday night workout and with a break in the relentless humidity that has been sucking us dry, we had the opportunity to really put in an honest effort. And we were going to need it as coach had 10 x 800’s with 200 meter recovery jogs in between on our docket. This is never an easy workout. It’s fast and it’s repetitive. There isn’t much relaxing or coming back, but just trying to hold on repetition after repetition as the body breaks down further and further until the workout is over.

Often referred to as Yasso 800’s, the goal is to run your projected marathon goal time (so 2 minutes and 18 seconds for a 2:18 marathon), then recover and do it again and again and again. In the original version the recovery is the same time as your 800, but our coach says its much better to cut the recovery significantly and work to tax your system. A recovery like the original calls for is just too long and the benefits of the workout get lost in the downtime. Our recovery distance was 200 meters, which should have been 1 minute 30 seconds, but being the type of runners we are, we accidently found ourselves cutting the recovery down to a minute….which is not advisable.

So we started out deliberately slow, running through our first 800 at 2:29, which was slower than we were hoping, then following that up with a 2:22 and another. Then the effort started to take its toll as each 800 completion added another second or two onto my total time and I struggled to stay smooth and quick with each pass around the track. I went 2:23, 2:25, 2:26, 2:27, 2:29, 2:32, 2:33.

This is where perspective comes in. Well, actually perspective came in somewhere around the 7th repetition when I was dropping deeper and deeper into the upper 20’s and low 30’s. I began doubting myself and my goal of qualifying for the US Marathon Trials, but knew I had to block those thoughts out if I was going to keep pushing to the end of the workout. Even more, I needed to find a silver lining to keep me going hard. And that’s when the perspective hit me.

I’m not running the Chicago Marathon for approximately another 2 months.

What that means is that, although I would like to be consistently running 2:18’s for each of those 800’s, I shouldn’t have expected to. If I could nail that workout and run 2:18’s RIGHT NOW, then in theory I should be ready to run Chicago RIGHT NOW. But I’m not and Chicago is a number of difficult workouts away, as it should be. I’m not at Chicago right now and I needed to understand that I’m in training, which denotes a significant amount of time to build up to the big race. That’s what these workouts are for, not to necessarily show me that I can’t run 2:18, but to make me a better and better run to do so.

Just before we launched into the first 800 a teammate expressed his dread of doing this workout, knowing it was “going to hurt”. And he was right and I understand the sentiment, but like a tattoo, where you’re like, “This is going to kill…why in the hell am I doing this again?”, subconsciously you know there is a purpose to it and the reward is greater and more lasting than the pain will ever be. It’s a forgotten memory when all is said and done, but what you walk away with is a great reward, in this case a greater sense of fitness. And that’s the other necessary perspective to desperately hold onto, that these workouts should be looked at with enthusiasm, knowing these are the crucial runs that, no matter how much they hurt, are going to make you better, make you faster and pull that projected goal time closer and closer. These are the workouts that make those goals tangible and worthwhile. That shouldn’t be faced with dread.

Then during the workout I got one more dose of perspective. Although feeling a little concerned that I was only getting worse and worse during the effort and further and further away from not only my projected goal time, but also last year’s finishing marathon time, it was then brought up that we were doing those recovery jogs way too fast. Our coach even said that with such a shortened recovery time our 800’s were really good. Of course, I’d like mine to be better, but keeping the perspective that we made that workout even harder than it was originally supposed to be gave me a new perspective on the success of that effort.

Suddenly things didn’t seem like they went so poorly today. I’m one level faster than I was before, I did it with enthusiasm and I did it in a way more difficult than originally planned.

Running isn’t easy and setting goals for yourself makes not only the efforts seem desperate and crucial, but also lends to getting down on yourself as do or die time approaches and you’re not where you want to be. That’s ok, this is an uphill battle that will ultimately peak and start rolling unstoppably downhill to the finish line. Keep that in perspective and run with it.

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