If you are a human being (and if you’re reading this, I’m assuming you are), you have experienced a slump, a drag, a blah day/week/month. It happens in all aspects of life, and it definitely happens in fitness training. July 2018 saw that slump for me. In my case the slump wasn’t getting out and doing it – it was my running pace. After sitting around the same mile pace through winter and spring, I got to summer and lost 45 seconds per mile. Whoa, what happened here?? How do I get that back?
There were a million reasons/excuses for it – it was hot and humid (duh, July!), I was in the process of posting a PR for mileage in a month so fatigue was a factor, life was busy, etc. etc. I ran a half marathon in April; for part of my training I was focusing on hitting distance and endurance, so I didn’t worry as much about speed. In the end, I wrote it off to various factors – but regardless I was slower. When I tried to make myself run faster, I felt like I couldn’t sustain it and my endurance suffered.
Weather or Not
In talking with others and doing some research, there are a couple of factors at play here. First off, I have come to believe that dew point is a huge factor as far as running performance. Looking at this chart, most of the summer I’ve been running in dew points of 68-72. Not so great for performance!
In the end, I was churning miles, but I was just churning them – not really enjoying it or having much of a purpose. (Two years ago I NEVER would have thought “not really enjoying” running was a surprise!) So I decided to go for the slumpbuster. If you’re not familiar with the term, it’s not the most family-friendly thing – but for me it was about breaking the grind I was in, changing things up and doing something different. One Sunday morning, I went out and just ran – a completely new course, no goal, no actual plan, just took my phone and earbuds and went. Ten miles later, I was sweaty, tired – and grinning like an idiot. It was just what the doctor ordered; a run with no preconceived… anything. I ran, I thought about silly stuff, I sang along to the tunes (yep, I’m THAT guy). It was awesome.
Captain Obvious Strikes Again
After that I started trending up, better pace, better feeling at the end. Still, though, I wasn’t where I was in April. Which is fine, for the record – I mean, it pokes the crazy in my competitive bones, but it’s not going to keep me up at night. Along the way, I found this article about pace slumps. It’s a terrific set of ideas and I strongly recommend it to anyone in a rut. My favorite piece is this bit of Zen:
If you don’t ever run fast, you won’t ever run fast.
Obviously, right? I mean, that’s in line with “wherever you go, there you are” and my buddy telling me “you can’t run a marathon without running a half marathon!” There is a deeper wisdom to all of these, though. Think about it; you can build your base endurance, adjust your stride – but in the end you have to run fast to run fast. You have to do it. It’s true of anything else, too. Want to be a better coder? You have to write code and write code and write code. Practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect. That’s Vince Lombardi telling you, not me. If you’re in a rut, set a goal, make a plan, and go do it the best you can. Then do it again and again until it is ingrained. That’s how you break the rut. It doesn’t come easy! There’s a Thomas Edison quote, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and resembles work.” (He probably stole that from Nikolai Tesla, but that’s another story. 😉 )
The Brain Game
I realized a while ago, if I go out to run 4 miles my brain sets to 4 miles. If the plan changes – I have more time, it’s going well, I make an extra turn – my body hits that 4 mile mark and is ready to stop. That’s why my long Sunday run was a reset – I had no plan, so the body didn’t have a stop point to aim for. When you are looking to break a rut, you need to change the game and change your mental outlook. Your body can do so much more than you think; usually the stop sign is mental. To reset your brain, look at doing the opposite of what you normally do. Set a big hairy ass goal that scares you a little. Take an actual complete <gasp> rest day. Get a massage, get some retail therapy – change the game.
This post was written last week; then this weekend I went out and disproved some of my own theories, while proving some at the same time!
Sunday morning I ran a charity race. It was hot, steamy, humid, and the dew point was 73. I had been running faster, but not fast. My body was sore from an OCR workout. With those conditions, I resigned myself to a solid outing, but nothing special; regardless it was for charity and I was hanging with some friends, so what the heck!
Naturally, I disproved all of those factors, but proved the brain game part. With no expectations, I went out quickly running with a couple folks near the front. My pace was quick, but it’s a pretty easy course and I just kept going. At 2 miles, I had that momentary brain flash “you should walk!” and actually missed a stride. (Anyone else get that panic moment randomly?) I was fine, heart rate was in good shape, legs were strong – but my brain threw a flag just…because. I kept going, the competitive part of me taking over. Passed a couple runners down the stretch, and at the end I was winded but felt great – and I had beaten my PR by almost 30 seconds.
In the end, I think the most important thing you can learn about yourself and your training process is this:
listen to your body – but don’t always listen to your brain
Your brain can be a little liar; it’s remembering things that aren’t relevant anymore. It’s telling me that I can’t run that fast – but I know I can. It’s saying I can’t climb that wall – but I’ve done it and I’m going to do it again. Trust yourself, trust your training, and don’t let your brain deceive you.
Audience Participation – What do you do?
What’s your best rut-buster? How do you break the bad cycle and turn things around? Let me know in the comments! In the meantime, go out there and crush those goals!