A terrible workout

My speed session was ugly today. This came as a surprise, as I went into it feeling ready mentally and physically. The day called for 11 miles with 5 x 1K at 6:34 pace (that’s 4:05 for each 1K repeat) and jog rests of 2:45.

I did my little two mile warmup and things seemed to be going well. My HR was impressively low and I didn’t feel bad when I picked it up to 85% in the last little bit before launching into 6:30 pace on the treadmill. Since my treadmill doesn’t have a 6:35 pace, I went for 6:30 with a plan to slow to 6:40 if I needed to. Quite honestly, I have no idea what pace that thing is really going at. I swear it feels more like 6:15 or 6:20 than 6:30. Maybe it is.

I handled the first 1K repeat okay. The second one was harder, but still alright. The third one felt like an entirely different pace. I felt in control for the first minute and then things rapidly went downhill. It was just hard. Too hard. Way too hard.

I have stupid things I say to myself when this is happening. Things like:

“It’s supposed to be very uncomfortable.”

“You’ll never have to run this hard in a race.”

“This is how you get faster.”

I wasn’t buying it today. I bumped the pace to 6:40 about three quarters of the way through that third try, but even that didn’t help. I finally couldn’t take it anymore and bailed 30 seconds early.

Then I spent the next five minutes berating myself. I can globalize a bad workout — even just a bad interval — so everything I’m doing is called into question. I wonder if I’ll ever get faster or if my best days, however modestly successful those were, are behind me. I wonder if I’ll always be carrying an extra 10 pounds around. I wonder why I’m pouring so much energy into something that is, on the face of it, completely meaningless. Something that will only get harder as I get older.

Then I went into the next room to talk to Jonathan. He suggested I either slow down the remaining intervals or just call it day. I went for the second option, since I knew I’d end up just feeling worse if I kept trying to bludgeon my way through what was obviously a workout gone bad. I ended up running 5.5 miles easy to bring the total up to 10. That at least gives me some permission to have a beer this evening.

While it’s possible to overanalyze why something like this happens, it can’t hurt to look at the big picture.  First, the physical: This is my second big mileage week, still fairly early on in my buildup. I ran three days of doubles this week (including nine miles last night, after which I was tired) plus a fairly hard 12 mile aerobic run on Tuesday. Next, the mental: I haven’t run outside in nine days. Because my flat path and track are covered in snow, if I want to run outside then I have to run hills in the street. This isn’t exactly conducive to recovery between harder runs — because all of the runs end up being hard.

So all of my runs have been inside on the treadmill. By last night, I was beginning to feel the mental effects of doing two runs a day in that tiny room, like two oppressive bookends to — another mental stress — work days that were not exactly carefree. Get up and run. Work for 8-9 hours. Run again. Eat. Sleep. Repeat. Day after day. A mental fatigue, or even dread, sets in eventually.

I was reminded of Jaymee’s post this week, in which she related some obvious reasons for why she underperformed in her most recent race. That woman works harder than I ever will at this ridiculous hobby. You’d think that with her Calvinist training regimen, combined with having a real job and a life, the reasons behind a bad race wouldn’t be gleaned only in hindsight. But I suppose we all get used to being able to “handle” the work, perhaps not seeing how close to the edge we are at times. For many of us, that edge only reveals itself suddenly, in the form of a bad race, or an injury, or a crappy workout.

So maybe all those mental and physical apples were legitimate reasons for the upsetting of the apple cart this evening. Or maybe I was just having an off day. Either way, I’ll write it off and move on. What else can I do?

I need to get out of that room this weekend. Tomorrow I’ll drive north and do my recovery miles on a flat street in Scarsdale. It’s just four stupid miles, but I think I’ll go insane if I have to run inside again. Sunday I’ll also run in the street and do my two fast miles on Pipeline again. Fuck it. I’m running a five mile race tomorrow. Why not?

12 Responses

  1. maybe you should calibrate the treadmill? i’ve not calibrated mine mostly because i’m too lazy, but also because i feel like sometimes bumping it up a “notch” does not feel consistently more difficulty (e.g. — it feels like a bigger bump from 7.2-7.3 than it does from 7.1-7.1 or 7.3-7.4, if that makes sense…).

    i think i read something recently about shortening the intervals but preserving the pace if it’s not going well. that’s a tough workout in any case, though! eeek 5k pace!

    • The problem with calibrating by eye is that at some point the belt is moving too fast to count rotations accurately. And you have to measure all speeds, since the machine may be reading too fast at some speeds and too slow at others.

      One of my pet projects this year is to work with a contact I have, an engineer who can build a device that would properly measure treadmill belt rotations at higher speeds, which I could then plug into a spreadsheet that would calculate the true paces.

      I just need to find time to think through the specs and some money to pay the guy. But I’m at the point where I’m relying so heavily on the treadmill for training that I may get motivated to get moving on this project.

      But mostly, I want spring to come and get rid of all this fucking snow and ice.

  2. Aw, you’re doing great keeping on, your treadmill running would make me a lunatic and you’re only partway there, so you’re ahead of the game. It does sound like your treadmill isn’t that trustworthy (are any?).

    My fast work has been slower than last cycle though I do all my running outdoors. I’ve concluded that while I would love to hit those old numbers, the main thing is to put out quality effort since running will undoubtedly be easier when Spring arrives.

    So if you can, disassociate a tad from the paces and figure “great, I did xx minutes of hard work”. It’s too easy to berate ourselves when with only a tiny twist, you could be congratulating yourself for putting another genuine effort down in the books.

  3. I vote bad day. While I did something about consistency in racing, the same, alas, is not true for workouts. I’ve had my share of DNFs or cutting-shorts in speedwork.

    I find running on a treadmill so much harder than running outside, and I thought it must be miscalibrated, but when I used an HRM, it had the rate where it would be, so I figured it was OK. But if someone could write/build something for easy at-home calibration, I bet people would beat a path to her door. Seriously.

    Finally, get thee outside!

  4. Fundamental differences between you and I.

    You: are actually going to pay an engineer to calibrate your treadmill.

    I: stop running to watch baby bunnies chasing each other on the golf course.

  5. I’m thinking treadmill calibration too. Have you done any easy runs on it? Do those feel any different?

    Honestly, there have been times (including yesterday) when I’ve been running on a foreign treadmill and the run has just felt completely off — I’m struggling to complete runs that should be easy. I just write it off as the treadmill and move on.

    This is where the HR monitor comes in very handy — it confirms that it’s not just perception on your part — something’s actually off.

    • Darkwave, yes, I think you’re right on this. My HR was at 94% when I finally bailed, which is 1-2% higher than it “should” have been for that kind of workout.

      And, Joe, I am thinking beyond calibration just for myself, as I know there is a market of similarly obsessed people out there. I need to run some numbers and do some research though.

  6. I agree with Flo that you get extra points for dedication doing most of your workouts indoors. The few I do leave me stir crazy. I resort to naming and then courting my treadmill, imagining what our children would look like. Crazy.

    While it did become obvious that I had pushed my body too far resulting in my bad race, I think it is unreasonable to expect that we will run to our potential every single workout and race. We can up the probability of that happening, but odds are we’ll have a stinker here and there. I think you call it a stinker and move on. I also wouldn’t rule out ditching the workout and trying again the next day as an option.

    I would do the calibration because you spend so much time on that thing, but I wouldn’t ever use the pace results from a treadmill as comparable to pacing outdoors (not saying that you do). The lack of wind resistance indoors makes comparing paces outdoors versus indoors inherently inaccurate. Adding a fudge factor or raising the incline to 1% to compensate as Daniels suggests always leaves me unstatisfied. I think it would be more useful to compare your effort (speed + incline + HRM data) from workout to workout on the treadmill and assess your progress from that.

    • Good observations, as usual, Jaymee. I have never gone nuts enough to anthropomorphize my treadmill…but I got close to committing belticide last night.

      I do have certain workouts/paces that I run every 6-8 weeks or so on the treadmill. I don’t do this deliberately. It usually just works out that way and I end up having some point of comparison. I’ll get the thing calibrated eventually.

      What is fortunate is that so far I’ve been relegated to doing a lot of training on it during basebuilding (dead of winter or high summer) rather than actual marathon training. So I guess that’s helped. Not really knowing how I’m doing isn’t so critical at this point.

      I like the idea of trying again the next day. I’m doing a variation on that by racing tomorrow, where I previously had no plans to do so. Just for the hell of it.

      Finally, on wind resistance, etc. I have also read (can’t remember where) Daniels himself saying that the little heated microclimate you create around yourself when running on the treadmill for a significant amount of time becomes a burden in itself. I have a setup of fans, but after two hours, it still gets hot in there.

  7. Firstly, I hope the 5 mile race was fun, fast, interesting, illuminating…

    Sounds like something as simple as a ‘bad day’ workout like Joe said. One that might have benefited from Kara Goucherising — like switching to shorter reps with longer recoveries after the first ‘bad’ rep. Bad day long runs aren’t as immediately obvious as bad day interval sessions.

    There are many seemingly meaningless pursuits that are worth pouring energy into if they’re fun and you get a buzz from them. You could be a bobsledder or snowboarder…

    You might be able to get your engineer friend to adapt a Clain Jones counter to count belt revolutions. Take out a patent and when you make a fortune, move south!

  8. [...] a “real runner” vs. “not real runner” thing. I’m actually in awe of those serious folks who put SERIOUS miles on the damn things. Like, amazing amazing awe. Because I [...]

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