Recently, an athlete in one of our groups asked a great question, “When do I know that I’m ready to reach my race goal?” I got to thinking about it and I realized a couple things. The first is that, we don’t particularly talk about that much. Sure, you can consult your favorite search engine and find pages of blog posts regarding the workouts we should do. We can read countless paragraphs from our favorite coaches about the importance of choosing the right goal pace to train for. However, when it comes down to it, how do we know when we are really ready to hit that goal pace. That is what I want to discuss in this post.
A few things we are assuming:
- That you have been following the majority of whatever your training plan has laid out for you- say 90% + of the schedule
- That you are generally healthy, not nursing an injury that could easily become a source of unplanned time off.
- This is a planned race and not a situation where you were training for a half marathon and then switching over to a full marathon with 6 weeks to go (or something to that effect).
I put these caveats in here because if you are experiencing one of these scenarios then you really should work with a coach who knows you better than just some internet talking head (me). However, if you are generally healthy and have hit the majority of your training then I can give you an idea of when you, “just know.”
First thing first!
I’ve kinda given you part of the answer already. If you have struggled with training, mainly being consistent, then reaching your goal race pace may be a stretch. This I have learned the hard way. I have had nagging little things where I’ve scaled back on easy days just so I can hit workouts. Ultimately, what I did was simply make sure I was fresh for workouts all the time and I never came close to that feeling of cumulative fatigue. When it got hard in a race I just hadn’t put myself in a situation in training where I dealt with that feeling and it overwhelmed me.
That got me to thinking, I have had some complete disasters when I was crushing every workout and running all the mileage on my schedule.
When did I really have my breakthroughs?
So after thinking about all of my real breakthroughs, I put together a list of precursors leading up to breakthrough races.
Don’t force it
One, I didn’t force workouts. That’s not to say that all the workouts were easy. It’s also not saying that I didn’t have a complete “what the hell was that” workouts either. Basically, I stayed pretty even keeled. I didn’t let my high’s get too high and I didn’t dwell on the lows.
Second, I never got to the point where the race pace completely scared me. Was I still a little intimidated? Of course! However, I wasn’t like, I don’t even know how I am going to run 10 miles at this pace. For instance, I got to point where I thought, “Ok, I can run at least 20 miles at this pace. I’m 100% confident in that. Now, the last 6 are going to be tough, but we will deal with that when we get there.” Let’s use a 10 mile tempo run as an example. We all know that these are occurring at the toughest point in the schedule. The mileage is at the highest. The workouts are the biggest volume, and we’ve got a ton of fatigue in our legs.
If you go through that 10 mile tempo and are noticeably concentrating on what you are doing, but not forcing yourself into goal pace, then I would say that you are pretty darn close to where you want to be.
If you are really grinding and even trying to go faster than goal pace, then I am more concerned. That’s why I put less stock in long slow runs. We know you can run a long ways slowly. Can you do it fast and not miss training before and after that day?
Hard stuff = yes it is!
Third, much like the workouts, I approached the same way- this is going to be hard. It’s going to take my complete focus to accomplish this. Whenever I was over confident, I blew it. Whenever workouts were easy I got over confident and maybe didn’t put as much into the details as I should have. However, whenever I knew I was fit, but completely convinced myself that this was going to be the hardest thing I had ever done, I was much more successful. Maybe that was just mindset, but it made me focus on all the details because I felt if I made mistakes, I was going to have to make it up somewhere. Those were slim margins for error. That’s really not to scare you, but rather, recognize the task you are about to undertake. It deserves respect and most definitely, our full attention.
All about the routine
Lastly, I was not obsessed with the outcome. I never obsessed with running a certain time. I thought about it, for sure. However, I focused more on the process of training and learning to train at a new level much more than training for the certain pace. When I was all about the outcome, I put way too much pressure on myself. If I didn’t hit that pace I was a failure and all that work was for naught. In reality, the hard work we are doing will carry over if things don’t workout immediately. When I was truly proud of running a great race based on race plan execution, the times typically came with that. When I freaked out because I few splits were off in a workout, that carried over to the race and typically ended in extreme disappointment.
To wrap this up
So that’s really about it. I was able to keep a steady approach to training. I didn’t crush everything, but I didn’t have to force myself to hit a workout every single time out. I was able to have consistent training. I wasn’t skipping easy days just so I would be able to do a workout. My big workouts were tough (10 mile tempos, 2×3’s for example) but I found myself settling into the right paces- which is not the same thing as saying it was easy. They were tough, but not forced. I recognized that what I wanted to do would be very hard, but not impossible. All of those things combined really brought me a sense of quiet confidence. This actually helped me relax. It let me focus on the process of training at a level I hadn’t before. I was able to race with racing on my mind, not a set time. More times than not, when I was in this “zone,” the time I was looking for was usually there waiting for me at the finish line.