Tough Love Running Inventory Part I: Why You Need One

Where are you in your training?I’m a statistics nerd – I love analyzing my past races, workout splits, turning points and so on. It allows me to take a real look at where my strengths and weaknesses are and to make informed decisions about how to achieve my goals, something I wasn’t always able to do.

Right now, with my daughter just a couple months old and having had a C-section I’m preparing for issues associated with being both postpartum and post-surgery, as well as having taken a nice long break from running. The good news is that taking a real look at where I am with running will be easy! Coming back from baby, burnout, injury, or any other break is an obvious time to take a running inventory, and it’s a much more objective task to assess your running performance when you haven’t been running. It’s easier to admit if you’re not in great shape or not where you want to be. It’s easier to admit that a workout felt harder when you know you haven’t been building your fitness up. It’s easier to face reality in a time when we have a great excuse!

What isn’t as easy is the far more subjective process of assessing your running ability when you aren’t starting from scratch. And it’s not even just about the numbers! There are things you can’t tell from analyzing stats and splits and there are things a coach can’t assess. But the worst part is that a really good running inventory will require an honesty with yourself that can be downright brutal.

There was a time when I really wasn’t honest with myself about my running ability, which led to a lot of disappointment, frustration and lack of success. When I first started running road 5k’s I was convinced after my first that I should be a sub-20 minute runner. I didn’t do any specific work to get there, I just thought it would happen naturally and told everyone I knew it would happen. I went into races expecting sub-20 times instead of taking responsibility for my goal and doing what I could to make it happen. When I’d inevitably fail, I got mad at everything but myself.

The day came when I realized my strategy wasn’t working. In fact, I had to admit I had no strategy before I could make one. Once I took a serious, honest look at where I was, I was able to make a plan to reach my goal. My plan helped me get faster and ultimately run that sub-20.

Even once I got my head on straight with running and became smarter and more consistent, there have been plenty of other ways I held myself back. I’ve found it’s really helpful to repeat the process fairly regularly to make sure I keep myself honest. For example, when I started running marathons I did it again! I didn’t train consistently and cheated myself out of the quality training I did do by not sticking with it. Once again, I thought I SHOULD have a time that I wasn’t ready for and it took a harsh wake-up call to see the light.

The trick is you have to set aside your pride and let yourself feel all the tough feelings. Think about what it feels like to bomb a race or have a terrible workout: embarrassment, shame, frustration and even anger are really common when you have to face the possibility that you aren’t where you thought you were. It’s tough, but tough love helps us eliminate our mistakes and learn from them, whether it’s high expectations without quality workouts, not doing ancillary training, or pushing too hard too fast.

By confronting my own deficiencies I’ve learned this regular tough love assessment is a necessary part of making sure any runner stays on track for success. I haven’t reached all my goals, and I’m willing to bet you haven’t either. While it might be tough to admit we will slip up many more times, keep in mind that it’s natural to slip up. It’s hard to be vulnerable and admit you’re not perfect, but nobody’s perfect! When you get off track, admitting it is the first step toward getting back on.

The difference between the runner I am now and the runner I was before is that now I’m willing to take responsibility for my successes and my struggles and to learn from them. Most importantly I am not afraid to set aside my pride and to be honest with myself about where I am with my running, even if I don’t like what that reveals. It’s not easy to ask and answer the hard questions but it certainly is worth it!

Has it ever been hard for you to be honest about where you are with running?

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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  1. Last year, my running really suffered after our miscarriage and when we couldn’t get pregnant again. I really felt torn between lowering my mileage in order to get pregnant, and seeing my races suffer because of it. I had a couple of races where I would still go into it thinking I could run such and such time, but in the back of my head, I knew I hadn’t put in the training for it. It was really tough! I remember the last half I ran before we got pregnant… I had good intentions, and a goal in mind, but totally blew it. Mile one felt hard. I ran the whole race feeling so guilty and stupid for even attempting my goal, and vocalizing it to anyone. In the end, I am so happy to be pregnant now and I’m not sure if lowering my miles/speed resulted in this pregnancy, but I am not regretful at all!

  2. Great advice. I’ve struggled with this after setting a lot of PRs last year — it was so easy to fall into thinking that progression would continually linearly this year … even though I knew logically that was not the case. Nevertheless, I found myself focusing on wanting to run times I thought I *should* be able to run instead of focusing on where I actually was. A lesson re-learned! This piece comes as a timely reminder for my fall marathon training! Really trying to focus on the process and not the outcome, which is what I did all last year when things were going amazing.

    1. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of thinking things will continue (good or bad) if we don’t make any changes. Assessing where you’re at is really helpful though because even the smallest little changes or life things can affect where you are at. No 2 training cycles can be exactly the same. You age, life changes, work changes, kids change, so many things can change that will affect how you can train, and how your body and mind will respond to that training and if it will be as effective as before, or more effective.