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Agony and ecstasy

Date

The Long Run

Pip Coates was a swimmer until life got busy and she discovered the addictive simplicity of running. She's never looked back.

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"It's supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it." - Tom Hanks in A League Of Their Own

It’s one of the great and enduring mysteries that will be familiar to pretty much anyone who has ever laced up a running shoe. (At least, I’m assuming so. Maybe it’s just me? In which case, er, just forget I ever said anything).

How is it that you can go out one day and feel brilliant and the next day you can almost sense you’re going to have a shocker the minute you put one foot in front of the other? 

I had this experience just last week on a favourite 10km training run that I must have done 200 times over the past couple of years. The first morning I went out was golden. Everything felt right and the world was spinning under my feet. I scooted up the hills like I was on an escalator, couldn’t put a foot wrong on the downhills and arrived home feeling elated and barely fatigued.

It was one of those days all runners cherish.

Then, the following day, it all turned to custard. On the exact same route I felt about as lithe as a pregnant water buffalo. It was as if I was running through a swimming pool full of treacle. Everything hurt, from my breathing to my knees, and mentally I was in bits, with the darkest of negative thoughts assailing me at every step. It was horrible.

I asked Paul Penna, a sports psychologist who, among others, advises the Australian swimming team and Wests Tigers, what's happening when we feel like this.

“You’ve got to listen to your body and read what’s going on,” he says. “Maybe it’s the start of a cold or flu. But you also have to realise that your body adapts to training so some days it is working really hard to recover and other days it is fully adapted and fresh and ready to go.

“We have an expectation for ourselves and whenever we don’t meet it we get frustrated and that affects our mood, which becomes flatter and we enjoy the training less. The next day you might go out and force yourself to run harder because you weren’t happy with yesterday and then you get more fatigued and stressed. And that’s how burnout can start.”

Penna says a problem for a lot of amateurs is not understanding the cyclical nature of training, or at least not being able to manage training sensibly because of other commitments.

“We get fitter and stronger by producing stress on our body,” says Penna. “You can’t continue to increase stress. It needs to go in a cycle. Typically it can be three weeks in stress production and then one week in recovery. If you don’t give your body the chance to recover it doesn’t adapt and get stronger, instead it continues to get stressed until it breaks down.

“We make all these assumptions that more equals better and a lot of amateurs don’t train properly – they don’t give themselves adequate rest.”

I'll certainly put my hand up to that one. My training is pretty haphazard because, with the best will in the world carefully planned schedules of speed work, long runs and rest days tend to go out the window the minute real life intervenes. I'm more likely to overtrain for six or seven days straight, then have to take a couple of days off for family or work reasons, then go hard again because I feel bad for not running.

Hardly ideal. But then I suspect that this is the case for most amateurs. Most of us just have to take the rough with the smooth, muddle along as best we can and grab those golden days when they come along.

Do you manage to stick to a strict training regime, or do you inevitably end up over- or under-training. And what are your secrets to setting up an efficient routine and fitting everything else in? 

 

 

15 comments so far

  • Probably help if you didn't wear red plastic running shorts! lol

    Commenter
    Alex
    Date and time
    August 02, 2012, 11:57PM
    • CONSUME SPINACH THE DAY BEFORE YOU RUN OR TAKE SPEED AN HOUR OR SO BEFORE YOU RUN. DURING THE WINTER RUN IN THE SUN - IN THE SUMMER IN THE SHADE. GET A GOOD NITES SLEEP BEFORE YOU RUN. FIND A PARTNER - FALL IN LOVE - GET THE INFORPHINES BUBBLING. TAKE AN ANTI-DEPRESSANT OR DISCOVER GOD. GOOGLE ANTHONY ROBBINS OR AL PACHINO'S INSPIRATIONAL SPEECH. WIN LOTTO OR SCRATCH A BIG PRIZE. KEEP PLODDING AWAY UNTIL YOU GET RUNNER'S HIGH.

      Commenter
      DIET LIVET
      Location
      SYDNEY
      Date and time
      August 03, 2012, 3:20AM
      • Ive found one that coffee at any time during the day gives me that heavy boot feeling on an arvo run - when training for marathons etc I move to a strict tea/water only regime on running days, and reserve a coffee for rest days. Now I know that tea is supposed to have a similar amount of caffeine as coffee, however perhaps the caffeine hit in a decent coffee does more damage to me? Who knows? But without a shadow of doubt for me coffee = blow up.

        Commenter
        dehydration
        Location
        nation
        Date and time
        August 03, 2012, 6:32AM
        • I run every morning Mon-Fri (except really hard rain), then rest up on the weekend. I find by Monday I'm looking forward to going out again.

          Bad days running are like bad days anywhere else: accept they're going to happen and hope tomorrow will be better.

          Commenter
          Running Cat
          Location
          Around the next bend
          Date and time
          August 03, 2012, 7:31AM
          • Totally!!
            There are days when I am top of the world, one day running 13km. The joy , the elation is amazing.
            But there comes days where I cant even run a smooth 5km even. The feeling is devastating. I getangry at myself, contemplating, was it even worth running that day.

            But I keep telling myself in the end, there are good days, and bad days..

            Commenter
            cm
            Location
            syd
            Date and time
            August 03, 2012, 7:56AM
            • I never get disappointed.

              I strive for mediocrity, and I am winning.

              Commenter
              The Oracle
              Location
              Oberon
              Date and time
              August 03, 2012, 8:58AM
              • I've found running really takes it out of me especially compared to other workouts, so I try to make them count. Fewer runs, higher intensity. Rest up in between runs with another kind of exercise. It's worked well for me so far.

                Commenter
                Spex
                Location
                Sydney
                Date and time
                August 03, 2012, 5:15PM
                • This sounds very familiar! Some days 12km is a breeze, while other days 4km is a struggle. Has anyone got any thoughts one what one should eat if peckish before a run, and how far ahead of the run said food should be consumed?

                  Commenter
                  Rob
                  Location
                  Melbourne
                  Date and time
                  August 03, 2012, 5:56PM
                  • I used to run 5 times a week, but felt that it was too hard on me. I just didn't feel like I was improving as much as I'd like to from all the effort I was putting in.
                    So, in February last year I decided to change my training routine. I now run only 2 to 3 times a week (sometimes only once a week), but my runs are longer than they used to be (10.9km/15.5km vs. 7.5km/11.8km) with a bit of interval/hill training thrown in the last few weeks as well. I'm getting a lot more rest and my times have improved, and kept improving. I knocked almost 6 minutes off my C2S PB last year and am running my 15.5km route almost 5.5 minutes faster than this time last year.
                    I still occasionally feel flat when I'm out running, but that tends to be when I'm feeling a bit off otherwise and doesn't happen as often as it used to.
                    Rest is just as important as training.

                    Commenter
                    SamR
                    Location
                    Sydney
                    Date and time
                    August 03, 2012, 11:52PM
                    • Am training for my first marathon in Sept, so trying to do a run after work most evenings plus a long run each weekend. Some weeks it goes all ok, but this morning I planned to run 30-35km and reluctantly threw in the towel after 16km. Bad stomach, really churned up. Ate a pasta meal last night, though I was all good but maybe it was the delicious beef pie and a few macarons at Zumbo yesterday arvo that did me in! Sigh not happy Jan.

                      Commenter
                      misscurly
                      Location
                      Sydney
                      Date and time
                      August 05, 2012, 6:11PM

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