Why I Started Ignoring My Training Log

Adding some uncertainty to workouts gives your mind a chance to relax – and push harder.

As I write this at my desk, just more than an arms-length away hangs my Break-3:00 Marathon Plan designed by Coach Budd Coates. While it’s always right there, I’ve come upon the habit of rarely looking at it – at most once a week to get a general sense for off days and what my long run should be on the weekend.

I think ignoring the plan that’s always so close (I also have the PDF available on my computer when I’m home) has actually been a benefit. Let me explain.

Last Wednesday, which is always my standard for speedwork, I forgot to look at my plan until my Outlook reminder popped up on the screen 15 minutes before the workout.

“It’s probably an easy day,” I thought.

Sadly, it was not. On tap was three 800s mixed with three 1600m reps. The one positive to this scenario was that I had already mentally given myself a verbal that I was going to do a speed workout that day. Had I known about what was to come the night before or even that morning, I may have become more anxious or found an excuse to skip out, do the workout later or move it to the next morning (this rarely happens, by the way).

Instead, I went out and completed every set of my intervals, hitting the recommended splits for each one besides the last mile. Doing that session felt especially good because when I arrived back to my desk I saw that I missed my Boston Marathon cut-off time by about 30 seconds for 2017. With a good workout just completed, at least I could feel like I am putting myself in a good spot for my next try at securing a Boston bib.

Then this week came. Knowing my last long run is scheduled for this weekend at 35km, I once again ignored the finer details of the rest of my training week. The reminder popped up again on my desktop, and I assumed a nice breezy set of 400s was in order. It read:

Day 87: 16-19 KM with 1600m Repeats

Make that five to six 1600m repeats. I took a gulp because I ran a double the day before and tweeted that I had again made the mistake of not prepping for today’s workout.

Was Coach Budd trying to break me? After a warmup, I set out to do the first two-1600m repeats relatively easy. I’d focus on my breathing to find a steady rhythm, use the short downhills to pick up speed, and power over the slight uphills of our course. Coach Budd said I ran right on pace.

Intervals three and four were a slightly different story. I focused on the same things while adding some positive self-talk during the tougher stretches. Like a metronome, I hit my intended times again.

Going into my fifth repeat, I knew if my time slowed, Coach Budd would tell me to stop there and not do the sixth. Part of me didn’t want to make the decision easy for him, so I dedicated myself to run at a steady pace, thought about the training that I’ve put in, and hit my time. After taking 10 seconds to walk and filter fresh air into my lungs, I turned to Budd.

“It’s your call on how I’m doing.”

“You’ve made it this far,” he said. “I think you should get this last one.”

So after a short comedown period, I lined up for my last rep. Everything played out like the previous five – hit the first 400m in 89-90 seconds, my stomach gurgled on the one short uphill (thanks, coffee), and I stormed out of the wooded stretch of our course with about 40 seconds to finish.

I hit the last one just like the entire set. My “ignorance is bliss” approach worked for a second week.

After all of this I was reminded of an article about uncertainty workouts and their benefits. Reading it again, this stood out:

We can train to handle periods of anxiety in order to be better prepared for race situations. One way is to implement workouts with incomplete information to create a strategy that mimics race ambiguity.      

I don’t know if this approach of not following every detail of your training plan will work for all – I do have the benefit of Coach Budd right here, after all – but these two weeks have provided a new insight.

My lesson learned? All the preparation in the world can become feeble if you psych yourself out. But if you go into anything with an open mind, when something outstanding happens it makes the moment all the greater.



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