‘Some days you get the bear, and some days, the bear gets you’ – I learned that expression back in the days of final exams, and it applies just as well to running. There are days the conditioning and commitment pays off and days it just doesn’t seem to make a whit of difference. A recent run gave me reason to wonder how to get back on the right end of that bear.
I’d planned this event for months, trained and tapered and travelled hundreds of miles, thoroughly checked-out the course and carbo-loaded, even laid out my clothes the night before. Early-morning wake-up, shuttle bus ride and standing in a crowd of thousands to hear the national anthem, all went great, as did that joyous adrenaline rush of starting out in the crowd. At the halfway point I was dead-on goal time, but within a couple of miles after that could feel things going solidly the wrong way, pace slowing, fatigue like weights on my ankles, thoughts of futility and dropping out…
For an elite that might mean the day is lost – some other dog is going to finish first and nothing else matters – but for a Mid-Pack Runner the real issue is how to make the best of it – to salvage something out of all that effort and anticipation. A few suggestions:
Replenish – unless you’re sure you’ve overhydrated, or your gastro-system is obviously screwed-up, it’s probably worth taking a few good hits of water and/or calories. Being short on one or the other is at least part of most distance bonks, especially if you’ve properly prepared for the effort, so try a thorough replenishing and see if you feel better in ten minutes.
Take a break – when what you’ve planned is just not working, maybe back-off and walk thru an aid station, or slow to a jogging or walking pace to listen to your body’s signals and see if there is something specific to address. Are you dehydrated? Need to fuel ( gel or electrolyte)? Is there something wrong with shoes or gear that’s taking extra effort (are you overdressed and overheated, carrying too much gear, or hobbled by an ill-fitting belt, pack or that hoodie you tied around your waist that’s now dropped halfway to your knees?). Important point: set a limit on the break before you relax (to that phone pole, to the trash can, one minutes..), and then start back up on that schedule, building gradually back to pace. Even if you haven’t figured out a specific cause to fix, that little pause can sometimes refresh enough for other reserves to kick in.
Or the opposite – make a break for it. If you can summon up a temporary commitment, you might try speeding up for a short burst – 15 seconds, the next traffic cone, that kid with the sign up there… then letting your pace fall back. If you’ve ever run Fartlks, you’ve probably observed that you can maintain a faster pace for the same perceived level of effort after a burst, than you could before the burst – though this is probably only going to work if you’re not really all-that bonked, or in the last push to the end of a run.
Set a new goal on the fly – if it’s clear you’re not going to get back to your intended pace, do not despair! Think up a new goal that will keep your effort focused and give you something to anticipate. On my recent run I had a goal of making a new distance PR, with a secondary goal of matching the old one. When it became clear neither of those was going to happen, I figured out (after the requisite Kubler-Ross period of denial, despair, etc…) that I’d be lucky to hit a certain significant number (X:55 mins.) and that became my new goal. Boom – instant incentive to keep the walk breaks short, and to keep watching and pressing the pace in-between. When I ended up beating that new goal by a couple of minutes, it actually felt like a small victory, instead of a total loss, enflaming my desire to get out and do better the next time.
So change it up: take a break or make a break; listen to your body, replenish, and if necessary re-calibrate your goal: for us MPRs, even a bad day is a chance to learn and excel.
Go for it – all the way!