Last Saturday I had one of the worst workouts I’ve experienced in probably the last 4 years of my career. By worst I mean, how I felt, how I failed the paces, and how I was so far off of what I expected to be able to accomplish on the day. Coach Ben had written the workout as 3 x 3 mile with 1 mile jog rest at 5:35 pace. We drove down to Camp Verde dropping from 7000ft to 3500 feet. A pleasant reprice from the oxygen deprivation we so encounter on a daily basis. However this fateful morning there was no reprieve for me.
As I warmed up with my teammate Scott, who by the way is in ridiculous shape, I felt nervous but excited for the challenge of the workout. We jogged the 3 mile loop that we would run for our workout to get a feel for the wind. We felt it.. big time. It was gusting upwards of 15-20mpw on some sections which meant we would have a headwind for half of each 3 miler. The temperature was also rising as is the case in the high desert of AZ in April.
I went through my set of drills and strides, slipped on my flats, took a few sips of water and headed into battle. At least that’s what it turned out to be. It’s a pretty amazing phenomenon how within a few minutes of certain workouts you know whether it’s going to be a good or bad day. Races can also go like this sometimes. 5:34 through the first mile and I knew it was going to be a bad day. I can’t exactly describe how I felt but I was just off, sluggish, and tired. I came through mile 2 in 5:42 and tried to keep squeezing down the pace. 5:37 for my last mile which had an incredible tailwind for the last 800, thank the lord. Ben handed me water, I choked it down breathing laboriously and wiping dryness from my mouth. I told him the effort felt like I was reaching and not comfortable or relaxed. He said, “today’s a day to grind”.
I set off for the 2nd set and tried to compose myself. 5:40 for the 1st mile, and then the doors fell off, 5:55 with Ben barely reading my split, clearly discouraged and yelled “tried to rally” last mile. I told my legs, get your crap together and go. I made the last left in which you have about 1200m of open road ahead. On days where you are hurting this long stretch of road felt so daunting I had to keep my eyes and head focused on the ground just to carry my feet from one step to another. 5:43, all was not lost.
I grabbed my water bottle from Ben, chugged as much as I could without filling up my belly, wiped the sweat from my eyes and coach Ben was relieved to see I brought the pace back down. He was close to cutting the workout but could tell I was fighting. He jogged with me for a minute and then said one of the best lines I’ve heard from a coach “well you’ll find something out about yourself on this last one.” Try to run 5:45s. Clearly my target pace of 5:35s was out, I was nowhere near this. I thought if I could go into it relaxed and with a slower pace I could hit it. It was hotter and windier as the minutes went on and there were excuses all over the place to throw in the towel. I came through the mile at 5:55, turned into the wind and here’s where the workout was defined. My legs and arms were swinging in tandem but my body wouldn’t give me anymore. 6:15 through mile 2, a time that I could run at the end of a long run up in Flagstaff. I felt embarrassed, frustrated all within a span of a mile stretch of road. My brain never gave up. I had 1 mile to go and my pain and suffering would be over. In that moment it would have been easy to run another 6 something mile and call the workout a wash. Then I pictured myself out on the race course, in the middle of a bad patch in the marathon and remembered one bad mile can’t define your race, but fighting through to find one good mile can make it. As I made the last right turn I knew I’d had that friendly tailwind behind me so if I could reach within myself I could run a respectable last mile. Everything hurt. I was tired and thirsty. I closed the workout with a 5:45 mile and a revelation about bad days.
Bad days will happen in training cycles. They are inevitable. I didn’t know at the time but this workout fell on the end of my first 90 mile week in 3 years. That’s huge, that’s a win. I was also probably a little dehydrated. My fault? Yes but some morning with the kids, getting out the door with just my watch on is a win. Days in which weather conditions are tough make for good excuses to throw in the towel on a bad workout. Letting go of your goal time and just getting through the workout is far greater practice than quitting. Although I came nowhere near hitting 5:35s, I didn’t question Ben prescribing that pace. He was testing my fitness to see where I’m at. He has the big picture of The Olympic Trials in July at the forefront and everything is geared towards that. I don’t think I’m not in shape because of that workout. I think I fought to train another day.