Tough Love Running Inventory Part II: How To Do One

Where are you in your training?In my last post, I talked about why we all need a tough love running inventory from time to time. Today, let’s talk about how to actually do one!

Starting with the more objective questions first, the numbers are generally the easier things to assess. This is where keeping detailed logs, or at least some record of training and racing is helpful.

Do your race times match your training?

We’ve talked about race predictors and accuracy of running calculators; they aren’t the be-all-end-all but they do carry some weight in this topic. There are obviously things that affect race day performance and we don’t always live up to our training, however this is where I say your answer to the question “How did your race go?” shouldn’t include a lot of “buts:” I didn’t PR but the weather was bad. I had so many bad races but XYZ happened.

Of course race day has lots of variables. Still, it shouldn’t be the rule that you never live up to your training. If you aren’t hitting the mark for a few races in a row, it could be that there is a chink in the armor of your race day routine, habits, and tactics. That’s good news, because that’s all fixable! If you’re almost never meeting your marks though, it could be your goals are off or there might be flaws in your training. These larger scale problems are also fixable, but first require a very honest assessment of your ability that can be tough to face.

Are you training for where you are, where you want to be, or where you think you should be?

This is another semi-objective question. If you’re hitting your marks in workouts and races you’re probably training for where you are. If you are struggling to hit paces constantly, require more rest, or not recovering well from training then you are more likely training for where you want to be or think you should be. Just because you want to be a 3:00 marathoner doesn’t meant you can train like a 3:00 marathoner; you have to work towards those paces, mileage goals, and workouts.

If you are training at a certain level because you think that is where you should be or deserve to be, it’s time for a reality check. Be honest with yourself and banish that entitlement feeling. Runners don’t luck into times, runners don’t deserve qualifying standards or awards … they earn them. If you are training for where you think you should be you’re missing the point. There are no gimmes in the sport!

Did you do everything you could, or everything you’re willing to do?

How many times do we say we did everything and came up short even when we really didn’t do everything? There’s a difference between doing everything you can and everything you’re willing to do.

If you aren’t willing to give certain things or give up others, are you willing to accept that you might not see as much success as you potentially could otherwise? How many speed days did you replace with an easy run because you didn’t feel like going hard? How many long runs came after a weekend of staying out late? Or even, when race day comes and you fail to meet your goal, were you taking selfies, calling people, posting on Instagram, doing anything except focusing on the race? Can you really say you did everything you could? Nope, but you did everything you were willing to do. That’s okay! But we have to accept the results aren’t always in line with our goals.

There’s nothing wrong with admitting you didn’t meet your goal, and it’s a lot more honest than pretending you did everything and getting upset. Define the level of dedication that works for you. If you look at what you can and are willing to do and close the gap between that and your goals, those excuses and shortcomings will start to fall away. You may have to come to terms with some things being out of reach, but having a clear assessment will help you make a plan to improve.

Are you cheating your training?

Whether or not you’re cheating your training is tough to identify, because some habits you may not see as damaging to your training can have more of an effect than you think in the long run.

Are you stopping your watch in the middle of workouts in order to be able to complete it and hit paces? I’m not talking about stopping your watch for road crossings or sudden bathroom stops, I’m talking about the mid tempo block breathers that add up and the long runs that you have an added 20+ minutes from stopping. If you need to stop and start constantly to hit paces, you are trying to hit paces you are not ready for. I’ve been guilty of it, and know that training became much more enjoyable and more successful when I started training at the correct paces.

Are you constantly breaking up long runs and not getting in the time on feet all at once? Occasionally we have to do this for scheduling during the busy weeks, but when done frequently, it can limit the positive effect a true long run can have on your training.

Are you letting your emotions and desires dictate your training and paces? We all know running is wonderful therapy and stress relief. But those angry runs (and even the happy ones) take a toll, and letting your mood constantly dictate your pace means you may not be recovering slow enough, which means workouts are not as effective.

Skimping on recovery is probably the biggest way you can cheat your training. Running too fast on easy days, not making an effort to sleep a bit more or get in a good meal after a hard workout and skipping active recovery are little things that add up to big dents in good training. If you’re sore or feeling a niggle somewhere, make the effort to stretch, roll or do some exercises to correct the problem. Don’t skip your strength training every week (figure out how to fit it in instead!). Find fixes if you’re having trouble sleeping.

Are you focused on the finish or the process?

Most runners are goal oriented, which can be both beneficial and damaging, particularly the latter when we focus so much on the goal and forget the many miles, days, and months it takes to get there. I hear people say “I suck at X distance,” but they don’t change their training and expect results anyway. Those with some raw talent inevitably reach a point where that doesn’t lead to more improvements. If that’s you, will you put in the work when that happens, or just blame outside factors for lack of progression?

You cannot just run six miles a day at the same pace and expect to be awesome and constantly PR at every distance. You can’t expect not to do any speed work and wonder why you’re not breaking 20 minutes in the 5k. You cannot expect to be “good” at something without practice, experience, time, and effort.

Learning to focus on the process and, more importantly, respect the process can bring more joy and satisfaction in training and lead to bigger and better results. Set a goal, but then make a plan of how you want to get there.

What, or who, are you doing it for?

Social media has a habit of making us think we want things other people have, or should be doing things others do. Are you doing what you want to do? It’s hard not to feel like you should run a marathon in the weeks leading up to a major race such as Boston. As someone who was part of that for Boston three years in a row and then watched “from the outside” this year, I really got to see this phenomenon firsthand. The social media hype is intoxicating, and may result in you signing up for a race on the spur of the moment.

A few weeks later, when the dust settles and the media hype dies down and you look at “Race Day!” written on the calendar, maybe you don’t feel it anymore. But do you then continue to push toward something even if you don’t want to? Are you letting your social interactions, online or in person, interfere with what you really are doing or could be doing? Are you inflating your training and times to keep up with the Joneses of the running world?

Think about why you started, and what makes you happy. I understand that for many runners with sponsorship deals, social media is a job. Would you lie to your boss about what you are doing, what project you are working on, or how it was really going? That job wouldn’t last long or end well if you did, just as it’s going to not end well if you try and do that for social media. Be honest with yourself and what you choose to put out there. It’s easy to get caught up, but don’t let others tell you what you want!

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At the end of the day your training is yours. It is your responsibility and only you can take an honest inventory of your training and your fitness. It’s not easy! We don’t like to admit when we are self-sabotaging, or doing things that we know we shouldn’t do. It’s not easy to admit that we didn’t do everything we could, and that missing a goal at a race is our own fault or a preventable failure. Yes, things happen that are out of our control but at the end of the day there is far more we are in control of than we often admit.

Next time you finish a race, no matter the result, are you going to be proud to say you did what you could? Are you going to have more regrets than not? Use both successes and failures as chances to learn and help you figure out where you are and what you need to do to get where you want to be.

Has taking a hard look at your training resulted in you changing any of your training habits?

A new mom and Upstate, NY resident who loves the marathon, a good beer, and all of the numbers/nerdy things. I write about my journey to a sub-3:00 marathon, training tweaks for improvement, and finding that "running/life balance" unicorn. On tap Next: Maneuvering through motherhood and postpartum running!

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4 comments

  1. This is a brilliant post and so needed for many runners! I know because I’ve been through every single point. And come out on the other end a little wiser now. Thank you for taking the time to put this together. Sharing!

  2. “A few weeks later, when the dust settles and the media hype dies down and you look at “Race Day!” written on the calendar, maybe you don’t feel it anymore. But do you then continue to push toward something even if you don’t want to?”

    It’s so funny – I just posted in my training log about this. Not so much the no longer wanting to do a marathon – I still do, because I enjoy testing my abilities with a race – but recognising that I still have to put in the hard work even when the novelty wears off, or when I have a string of bad training runs. I know I have to show up and grind, and as someone who has zero natural running ability, I’m fine with that! Perhaps it’s harder when success has come easy initially and people think they ‘should’ be making progress with the same effort and tactics as before.