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March 30, 2006

Determination

Physical training only carries you so far in preparation for a race. Successful marathoning also requires the ability to overcome psychological obstacles at various stages of the race.

And while most of us have a pretty good idea of what our bodies are capable of, sometimes the psychological element looms like the great unknown. During the training process, it’s hard to be absolutely certain how you will respond to various types of adversity on race day.

This notion causes a great deal of anxiety among marathoners. From first-time marathoners just trying to finish the race, to runners looking to reach an ambitious goal time, we all have the same concerns about how we will react when the going gets tough.

That’s why workouts like this morning’s track session are so valuable.

I arrived at the track a few minutes early to start my warm up, and didn’t think anything of the fact that I was the only one there. Then the designated start time came and went, and I was still the only runner on the oval.

Finally I remembered that most of my training partners are racing a half-marathon this weekend, and realized they probably wouldn’t be coming out this morning.

My feelings about track workouts are best described as a love/hate relationship. I love the improvements they produce, and the satisfaction of finishing a tough session. But I hate – capital H, Hate – doing these workouts by myself.

And that was the very prospect I faced this morning. I had hoped to repeat the 8x1600m workout that I did last week, but that workout was greatly facilitated by my drafting off of others at times, and having the encouragement of the rest of the group working through the same challenge. That wouldn’t happen this morning.

At other times of the year, this is the point when I would modify the workout to do fewer repetitions, or shorter intervals, or a short tempo run. But this is the end of March, and the Big Sur Marathon is less than 5 weeks away.

So I put my game face on, took a deep breath, and ran the whole dang workout.

Needless to say, it seemed more difficult today than last week. My breathing was more labored, and I had to work much harder to stay on my target pace.

In the end, the intervals were all slower than last week – but not by a lot. They were only 5-10 seconds per mile off of last week's pace, and the times for all of them were within 4 seconds of each other.

It wasn’t the fastest workout I’ve done, but it may become one of the most important as race day approaches. Today’s session was more about the psychological challenge than the physical. It gave me a glimpse of what I’m capable of when I encounter unexpected difficulty.

The marathon is coming soon. And I know how I’ll respond.

7 comments:

Anne 3/30/06, 4:50 PM  

I know exactly what you mean about months of training being undermined by a moment of doubt or just letting the mind run away with things. Kudos for doing the workout on your own, and so quickly.

robtherunner 3/30/06, 6:08 PM  

I am of the belief that Hate is a four letter word that should not be said. I always yell at my kids when I hear them say it and tell them to pick a better word. In the case of track workouts though I think this 4 letter word is quite appropriate to the way I feel as well. Way to tough it out.

backofpack 3/30/06, 6:18 PM  

Way to go Donald! We already knew you were mentally tough from hearing the story of Napa. You'll be great on race day!

matt 3/31/06, 12:44 AM  

the topic you are touching here is really starting to sink in with me. i can't begin to imagine what it will be like to struggle through the low points of my first ultra attempt...but, if i can't make it through a difficult workout session, then what is the point. it can't come close to the difficulties we will face in a race. however, toughing it out when you are desperately wanting to stop can help you develop some confidence in your fortitude.

i agree with you...this will probably be your most important workout as you race approaches. i look forward to reading about the race in 5 weeks. good luck with the training! :)

olga 3/31/06, 9:03 AM  

Awesome job! The word should be universal for the track workout:) especially when alone...

Downhillnut 4/2/06, 11:40 AM  

I think a good part of winning the psychological battle is recognizing there IS one, why it's a battle for you in particular, and then setting your mind to blast your way through it anyway.

Of course, it's easy for me to say, as I've never run for longer than 3 hours. Guess I'll get to test out that theory on myself over the next 14 weeks!

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