I firmly believe that most of the time during training your body should feel good. You do not have to be smashing it all of the time to make progress. Space and time to recover is just as important as the sessions themselves and, a lot of the time, you want to be going into those sessions fresh and healthy enough to execute them with smartly prescribed effort.
Sometimes though, you have to hurt.
After a successful 5 mile race a couple of weeks back I decided to extend my summer season a little and plotted one final 10km race before resting, resetting, and setting out on a half marathon and cross country training block for the autumn/winter months. The 5 miler gave me the confidence that my body was strong, that I was fit. For this last 10km race though, I wanted to be fitter. With only a couple of weeks to the race I decided that it was the time to push things a little, to go a little deeper, a little darker – to find some pain. It was a calculated risk. Throughout the season I have been operating off one guaranteed rest day a week, with other rest/cross training days sprinkled throughout based on feel. With a few exceptions this has resulted in me remaining fresh throughout summer training/racing.
As of writing, and as of my plan, I am now about to finish 17 days on the bounce. I am still doing a majority of easy effort training to stay healthy but this mix-up, this turning of the dial, has had some obvious effects. Although I am running quickly and well, the time in between my training is where I see the difference. Getting out of bed is harder, going up stairs is harder, getting out of my chair is harder. These are the sort of signs which, if experienced constantly, should be read as signals for you to back off a bit, but these are the feelings that I have been chasing, and are the signs that I am ready to taper, tighten the screws, and put in a strong end-of-season effort.
The problem with going to the Well is knowing when to stop and come back. Post double vaccination I headed to the trails for an easy hour. This was after a hard week, and the day after a hill session which had flooded my legs with lactic acid and turned them to jelly. But the run felt as easy as I had wanted, easier even, so easy that I kept going for 12 miles. My plan was to follow this run up with one final session, then take an off day and start a week-long taper but after that amazing feeling trail run could I not push things a little longer? A little further? Could I find a couple extra drops of water at the bottom of the well?
Yeah, maybe. But what would be the point? One week out from a race how much fitness do you really think you can gain? I like to compare it to the night, or even the morning before an exam – you aren’t going to learn anything new by cramming in revision at that time, all you’re going to do is increase the amount of stress you’re under and put your performance at risk. Better to back off, chill out, find some freshness and trust what you’ve done in training. I know I’ve pushed things. I’ve felt it getting out of bed in the morning, my entire body below my waist aching and sore, and I can’t let one jolly easy run confuse things. The work is done, the well has been visited and I’ve got my pail of water.
Now all I’ve got to do is get to the start line without spilling it.