The Risks of Going to the Well
Why nailing a workout doesn’t always mean exceeding expectations
One of the intriguing parts about our sport is the ability to gain data from repeated workloads and compare past and current performance. However, this makes it easy to leave us wanting for more in workouts. Though this is a great attitude to have, it can sometimes lead to us mismanaging efforts in given sessions. A lot of runners tend to try to over-run workouts in hopes of always seeing the number on the watch get smaller. While we are big fans of setting goals and going for them, we are also big proponents of the long progression and success of our athletes. “Going to the well” or matching race effort has a time and a place, but that time and place is not every workout.
If you would color code your training calendar, chances are you’d mark races, long runs, workouts and easy runs all with a different color. Most of us know that these types of sessions have different purposes. However, it is really easy to blend our perspective of workouts and races. Simply put, we like to race ourselves (past performance) or whatever pace coach has assigned us. Often we walk away from these efforts as if we have just completed a race. Most of the time, this is not the intention of a workout. If that is the case, we are paying way too much for our local 5k. Every type of workout is part of a bigger picture. Coaches arrange key sessions based on the scheme of the season, not just a singular day. We also map out a season knowing that different races and workouts will take different recovery durations. In the midst of a training cycle full of racing, we may have 2-4 other really key heavy sessions, where we may no doubt feel like we have had a meeting with God by the end of the workout. However, if we are achieving this response on a weekly basis, chances are we are managing our hard efforts inappropriately and we are putting ourselves at risk for burnout and injury. It is much harder to recover from sessions run in this fashion. When a runner takes this approach, often they may have a few really spectacular looking workouts, but the majority of their training in between is lackluster. Most would rather see an athlete who has completed all the work at a B level rather than an athlete that had a few A+ performances surrounded by a weak workload or missed opportunities because they wanted to beat their 5k PR in the midst of a 5 mile tempo. The athlete that has completed all their work is likely not only more consistent (see why we preach consistency), but they likely have the ability to build a bigger base, handle more work and are happier and healthier for the long term.
Disclaimer, this does not mean we don’t want you to surpass your own or even your coach’s expectations in a workout, but we want you to be surpassing those expectations with the appropriate effort assigned on the given day. This may not sound like a super extravagant way of training but it is certainly the grittier long term perspective. As Coach Will would say during a workout, “Don’t be a Hero,” we’d rather see you moving like Flash through a finish line. Don’t just power through a single workout. Nail your training block. Your future races will thank you.