Ride the Highs

img_6399-editBest. Workout. Ever.

You know the feeling. You lifted more than ever before. Sweat out a terrible day. Ran a hard track workout strong. Conquered that 20-mile training run like a badass. Whatever the accomplishment, you know the feeling. I LOVE that feeling. It’s the feeling of progress. Of success. Of pay-off.

While that feeling doesn’t happen every day, or even every week, it’s one that we relish in when it happens. It’s what drives us to push through those tough or mediocre workouts. There’s always the chance that this could be the day for that great triumph.

When marathon training, these workouts are what keep us sane. Months of training not only wears on our bodies, but also on our minds and spirits. Injury and burnout are potentially knocking on the door. When a workout goes wrong, we question or abilities. When a workout goes right – we dream of progress, and what we are truly capable of.

The best thing, and what we all hope for: come race day, we have that awesome “workout.” That its the day we feel optimistic and focused in the eyes of fatigue and hitting the wall. That we push through, knowing it can get better. Our training, the combination of good days and bad days are what mentally prepare us for race day. We’ve learned when to push, and also learned when to settle and relax.

The marathon, just like most goals, are about the journey. We wouldn’t truly appreciate the highs without the lows.

So the next time you have a terrible workout, remember that you are just setting yourself up to really enjoy the thrill of a fantastic workout in the future.

When to take a day off

Runners and fitness enthusiasts, in general, are overachievers and type-A personalities. After all, these road and trail warriors sign up for races months in advance and stick religiously to a training schedule. Freezing cold? They’ll bundle up. Raining cats and dogs? They’ll embrace the soggy shoes and enjoy skipping through puddles. Gym crowded after work? They’ll come back and 10pm to get  that quality arm day in.

This dedication is what makes these overachiever type-A’s successful at achieving their goals – whatever they may be.

Medical Tent, after 68 miles of the Lone Ranger Ultra Marathon. Athletes push when they shouldn’t. Myself included.

Medical Tent, after 68 miles of the Lone Ranger Ultra Marathon. Athletes push when they shouldn’t. Myself included.

The downside to this driven, dedicated personality is that often that person doesn’t know when all signs point toward a rest day. Often the scheduled workout on the calendar trumps an achy knee, a head cold, or a sleepless night.

When should we suck it up and power through and when should we take some quality time off? The answer isn’t always simple. There are lots of factors, like how close are you to race day, a fitness competition, etc.

Things you can probably power through: sore muscles (not INJURED, but sore), lack of sleep, less than ideal weather. Being sore is part of the process while getting in shape, so you cannot take time off every time something hurts. Having a “easy” workout the day after a hard one is best. Lack of sleep makes motivation hard, but as soon as you get moving, your body and mind will wake up. Just budget some time to catch up on sleep. The weather on race day is completely unpredictable, so you need to get your body and mind used to the demands different climates offer. Unless there is thunder and lightning, lace up.

Things you should NOT power through: a nagging injury (unless you have seen a Doctor and been given the okay), serious illness (stomach flu, high fever, strep throat, etc.). Unless you have seen a doctor (a SPORTS DOCTOR), you do not know what is wrong with you. Yes, the internet has a ton of information out there, but how can you assume your self-diagnosis is accurate? Once you see a doctor, you will be told whether or not you can continue training or need to take time off. LISTEN to your doctor. If you are ill, you may want to push through. Most often, this is a TERRIBLE idea. Why would you power through a workout with a high fever or stomach flu? What benefit will come from this training? Another way to think of it, what damage could this workout do? You’ll recover best while resting, and powering through a workout today, while ill, may mean having to take off more days in the future.

The tricky area: when you feel a cold coming on, or are on the road to recovery from being sick, or have a strange pain that is new and not too bad, etc. If you choose to train on one of these days, don’t do a hard workout – even if your training plan says otherwise. Switch out that hard tempo run with an easy “recovery” pace run, or don’t move up the weights at the gym if you were planning on doing so. Go into the workout with the acceptance that you may need to bail out of the workout early, and that’s okay.

At the end of the day, you need to remember to be smart. Your training calendar is created assuming everyday you are in optimal health, and working under optimal conditions. Life isn’t always optimal.

Remember, by the time you toe the line for a race, or hit that goal beach vacation, missing a few workouts here or there are not going to hurt your potential on race day. Showing up to the race under the weather, injured, or simply burnt out certainly will.

Mental Meltdown

img_7084-editYou don’t have to be training for a marathon to have one of those days: you have some sort of fitness goal, perhaps even start it – and then everything falls apart. For me, it’s often a run (cause that’s what I do every day). There is something extremely defeating about this mental meltdown, and you can quickly go from feeling okay with calling the workout quits to questioning your entire training plan, goals, and potential. Are there ways to avoid this moment, or at least to cope with it?

Sometimes, we need to push through the rest of the junk from the day and give ourselves that time to sweat out stress. Getting out to run or to lift weights can completely fix a rotten day. Other times, it’s just best to let the run go and to treat yourself to a day off – as long as you don’t beat yourself up over taking said time off!

Have you also been partly through a workout, and to suddenly feel like everything is going to shit? The worst feeling ever. It can be hydration, fatigue, mental focus, a wonky muscle. Whatever the reason, it seriously sucks. Learning to cope with these terrible moments helps prepare you for marathon day. If you aren’t training for a marathon, the benefit to pushing through is simply to give you the satisfaction that you can push through when the going gets tough. Is it worth it? Sometimes.

If you have a day where you cannot push through, learn from it. What were the contributing factors? When I tackle my own marathon training, I hope that all of my long runs go great. That isn’t to say that they always feel awesome or that I am laughing and smiling at mile 22, but that I succeed in my pace goal, not feeling injured, and feeling accomplished. However, experience has taught me to expect a few long training runs to go poorly. Why? Cause I am human. Yes, I have cut 20-milers short in the past. Yes, I have dropped my speed down so much that I question how in the world I can possibly hold my goal pace come race day. And you know what? I have also PRed in seasons where I have had those bonked long runs. I’m sure you have too.

So, if you just are not feeling it out there remember this: you are human, not a machine. There are things you can and should push through. There are other times where calling it quits is the right call. Learn how to determine the difference. Come race day, you will be prepared. Even if your training isn’t perfect. Sometimes a terrible dress rehearsal makes for a fantastic performance.

Bouncing Back

Liz Corkum 322Most runners and athletes will experience injury. Statistically, over 50% of runners deal with injuries every year. Injuries are hard to deal with, perhaps harder mentally than physically. Most runners don’t want to take time off, and will find pretty much any excuse to continue training. Coming back from time off is tough, but often time off is the answer.

Personally, I can relate to struggles with injuries. Taking time off mentally is hard. I find myself in fear of how much fitness I’ll lose, how hard it will be to come back, and often questioning whether I can be as strong as I was before the injury.

Once getting the green light to train again, the journey back is slow. What used to feel incredibly easy is suddenly extremely difficult. Have faith, it will get better. The key is to be patient with the process, and to remember that your body and mind need time to adapt after time off.

If you are like me, you will find the process of coming back extremely frustrating. However, when I feel angry, I remind myself that without the hard work, I can’t magically get back to peak performance. So, if you are also struggling to get back into peak performance, remind yourself to be patient, work hard, but also rebuild your training wisely.


img_6627-editsmallEvery person I know is reaching to be better. A better human being, better at their job, better at their hobbies, better at their sport. This desire to work to the next level and reach to a new achievement is something that drives us.

As someone reaching towards a fitness goal, the goals often change and grow as soon as the previous goal was achieved. Searching for excellence in ourselves makes us want to work harder, and test our personal best.

Whether your goal is to run a 2:30 marathon or to climb a flight of stairs without gasping for air, you need to be realistic about your goals (within reason), so that you don’t injure yourself. However, in order to achieve our best, we often need to push outside of our comfort zone.

Everyone’s goals will be different, and everyone has different naturally abilities and potential. Try to focus on you, and your potential, instead of comparing yourself to the girl at the office, the man at the starting line, or Olympians. You are competing and comparing yourself against yourself from the past. Don’t let anyone else intimidate you or talk you out of your potential and your dreams.

I encourage you to set big goals for yourself, and to find safe, exciting ways to potentially achieve those goals. Life is short, so why not start on that bucket list event or goal now? You are stronger than you think you are. Let’s get you there.

Staying Focused

©DARIO_ACOSTA_PHOTOGRAPHY-22It’s easy to get excited about new fitness goals. However, for most people that enthusiasm dies somewhere down the road. The gym after New Years is packed for 4-6 weeks, and then many resolution exercisers give up, get bored, lose focus, get injured, or face frustration.

Are you one of those people? If you are, you are not alone. Like we say in the marathon community, the marathon is mostly mental. Regardless of your physical goals, your mental focus is going to be trained along with your body.

What will work for you? Sadly, there is no one way we all tick. For me, signing up for races, and setting goals for those races keeps me on track. I know that if I want a chance at my goals in the future, I am going to have to put in the hard work. I also keep running photos of myself enjoying a race, fighting through fatigue, and other visual reminders around my apartment. Writing down my workouts as I complete them on a calendar I made with recent race photos also helps. I am reminded of how much I love my sport, even on those days when I’d rather not train.

Find positive things you can use to motivate yourself. Tell friends and family about your goals, and they can hold you accountable. Find a gym or training buddy. Rely on your coach – after all, part of your coach’s job is to keep you focused and on track.

When sitting on the sofa counts as training

img_6502-editLet’s face it, in order to achieve your race or fitness goals, you will have to put in the work. There is no magic way to cheat the system.

The good news is that when you have rest days, take them as rest days! Often, runners get into the routine of their training, and at some point it feels very strange to have days that are for rest. Force yourself to take them when scheduled. Remember, rest and recovery are part of training. That time off helps your body heal so that you are ready for the next workout.

When you have a rest day, sit on the couch guilt-free! Enjoy your day. If you find you must get some activity into your day, take a short and leisure walk.

Remember, the last thing you want to do is wind up mentally or physically burned out and overtrained. Take those schedules days off.