I should have known it was going to be one of those runs.  I was about 2 miles into my run on Saturday when a water bottle jumped out of my hydration pack and dropped to the ground.  The lid popped off and about 3/4 of the water was emptied out before I could scoop it back up.  A while back this could have really messed up my run, but I now take extra water with me so it only ended up costing me an extra trip back to my car.  While my early miles were (relatively) fast and easy, this incident foreshadowed what would end up being one of my hardest training runs this year.

I’ve now walked in 2 of my key long run workouts this training cycle.  I had 6 hours of Cheslen Hills scheduled for yesterday morning.  I managed to complete the 6 hours (OK, I was 7.5 minutes short in all honesty, but it rounds up).  I was not able to finish the workout without walking all of the last hour, most of the hour before that and a decent amount of hour 4.  Two weeks ago I cranked out 5.5 hours at a 12:12 pace on the same course, however I was 2 minutes/mile slower.  So I ended up 2+ miles short of that mileage despite logging an extra 30 minutes of trail time.

There are several likely reasons why this run ended up so far short of my prior outing, however I’m going to lay the vast majority of the blame on the fact that it was 85 degrees out.  It was over 10 degrees hotter than before, which really seemed to sap my strength and motivation.  I made 2 pit stops back at my car and I considered heading home early both times.  The first time the thought was just a fleeting one through my head, but the second time I seriously considered it.  My pace was so much slower than the last time that I was wondering if I was even getting any benefit out of the workout.  Luckily, it didn’t take me too long to come up with 3 reasons to continue on till I reached 6 hours.

  1. The first was that it was good mental training.  You hear people talk about mental training, but you don’t really get a good appreciation for what they mean until you do one of these tough workouts.  What they mean is learning how to deal with the Suck.  And if you’re not using a capital “S”, then you’re not doing it right.  Now the entire run doesn’t have to suck to qualify.  Once I accepted that I was going to mostly walk it, I was able to change gears (see #3 below) and somewhat enjoy the rest of the outing.  But before I got to that point, I had to pull myself out of a couple low points
  2. Excellent heat training for Eastern States.  My next race is in central PA in mid-August.  It’s going to be about 80 degrees, hot, and humid.  Since most of my runs are early in the morning, I need all the 80+ degree runs I can get.  My Cheslen Hills route is almost entirely in the sun so is a little tougher than my race, which should be mostly shaded.  Training in tougher conditions now should help me out once race day rolls around.  I also have a better appreciation for running in the heat.  I still have some work to do in order to come up with strategies on how to manage the heat, however I should be better prepared than I was before Saturday.
  3. Managing expectations and going with the flow.  So much of running ultras is adjusting to the physical realities that are randomly presented to you.  I was expecting another mid-12s pace, however between the heat and less than optimal fueling/hydration the day before it just wasn’t possible.  From a fitness standpoint, am I 50 minutes slower than I was 2 weeks ago?  No.  Were there various conditions (external and internal) that caused me to run 50 minutes slower yesterday?  Yup.  It happens.  I didn’t lose any sleep over it last night (9+hours, thankyouverymuch) and I don’t think this means my breakthrough is now unbroken.

At the end of the day, this is what I believe – that a bad [insert distance here] run is better than no run at all.  There are a ridiculous amount of factors that go into performance and sometimes most or all of them will go against you.  The important thing is to consistently get out there and get the miles in.  I got my 6 hours in, so I’m happy.  I have one more really long run (I should probably start calling these outings considering how much walking I do – haha), next weekend.  Then my taper begins.

Do you get discouraged from sub-optimal training runs?