Despite all the work we put in and the hopes we bring to the starting line, not all races are perfect performances. We often talk about the tough races – you know the ones – the ones in which you miss your goal time, you get hurt, or even worse, you DNF (do not finish). But we don’t often talk about what happens when your entire season tanks.
Today we are going to tackle the subject because unfortunately it happens more than we’d like to think it does. And believe it or not, we can and do live through it.
I wish I wasn’t the one taking up this topic. Yes, I am currently struggling through my own training season DNF. They all take their own forms, but they are all, frankly very hard, as my story demonstrates. So here goes:
I am far from an elite runner, but after six years and 11 marathons attempting to break 3 hours and 25 minutes, I finally did it last fall. It was amazing and I was on top of the world. This fall, I was hoping to take it up a notch and go for my-own-personal-elite goal of sub-3:20. It would be my first big race as a masters runner too.
But the running gods conspired against me. While vacationing in Wyoming, I agreed to go mountain biking with my family. I am not a cyclist by any stretch, but when my boys begged and pleaded me to go, who am I to say no? Before long I was feeling comfortable on the bike (which I really shouldn’t have been whatsoever) and I started hot-dogging it a bit (okay a lot). Result: major crash. I didn’t break anything, but I was in severe pain for many weeks. It was quite obvious that my marathon goal had flown swiftly out the window by the time the dust settled.
Adjust Your Goals (Reasonably)
After a month or so, the bruising was gone, I could sort of bear weight on my left side, and I felt the glimmer of recovery. Like any dedicated (read: obsessed) marathoner, I made the natural choice and signed up for a half marathon a little later in the season. Take it down a notch. I started building my mileage back up, but I was struggling. I didn’t admit it at first, because we all know struggles in training pass. Right?
Wrong. My shoulders were hurting. When I ran, I felt completely out of alignment. If a friend passed and I raised my arm up to wave hello, it hurt like hell. I was slow, I couldn’t hit my uptempo paces, I struggled through every run, my heart rate was high, and I was wicked sore after every run. I was (and frankly still am) a total freakin’ mess.
Seek Professional Help
I finally went to my doctor, even though I knew there was nothing she could do. She told me the words I knew she would –> you need to dial it back, Mint. No speed work, tempos or long runs. My training season was over.
Cut Yourself Some Slack, Go With It, and Make Lemonade
When my half marathon approached, I considered ditching the whole thing. I had done no speed work and hadn’t run over an hour in a month. There was no way I could race it. But I decided to do it anyway. For fun. To cover the distance. Even if slow. (This is very, very unlike Type-A Mint, by the way.)
The strangest thing was that on race morning, I popped out of bed and was SO excited just to get out there and run. It’s race day!! I kept thinking of one of my favorite race signs: “Some Day You Will Not Be Able To Do This. Today Is Not That Day.” Indeed.
I put on a smile and drove to the race. The best part was my sister was there so we met up and started together. Neither of us had good training seasons, but we had each other and we were ready to do this thing. My goal was to run my regular training pace (8:45-9). I was a bit fast, but I had a blast while out there. I read every race sign and even had a dixie cup of local beer around mile 5 (cheers!). I ended up running a 1:50 (8:25ish pace). It wasn’t easy given I hadn’t run more than 6-7 miles at a time in the last month. I was also a good minute per mile off my ordinary goal pace for this distance. But I was SO glad I did it.
I learned a few important lessons this season too for how to deal when you have to give up on your training for a season:
- Go with it. Some things we cannot control.
- Seek help from a professional. Go to physical therapy. Get a massage. Go to a chiropractor. (Full disclosure: I am just going now after almost 5 months and regret it.)
- Adjust your goals. Adjust them more if need be.
- Run a race for fun. Time isn’t everything. The experience can be.
- If you can’t run at all, don’t. It’s okay.
- When you aren’t training, catch up on sleep and enjoy the time off.
- There is always another season. Take care of yourself and hopefully you’ll come back stronger than ever.
Some day you truly will not be able to do this. Hopefully that day is far away.
Have you ever been through a training season DNF? How did you adjust or cope with throwing in the towel?