flickr photo by origamidon
Last night’s training run was a disaster. Since any substantive discussion of what happened veers too closely into TMI territory, I’m only going to say a 20+ mile training run got cut short. It was too bad as my running itself felt great. I had warmed up nicely, my mechanics were good, and the biggest hills I’d face were already behind me. But what befell me was one of the myriad problems we spend so much time training to avoid knowing we may yet encounter it on race day. My whole week of running, in fact, has been one long teachable moment reinforcing both the importance of training as well as the value of listening to the training advice of others.
I use training runs not just to accumulate mileage, but also to practice for race day. I have experimented with fueling and fluid strategies to find out what works best for me. I’ve developed a routine of what I like to wear and carry with me, worked on how I want to approach different terrain, and, as race day approaches, I re-acquaint myself with how my watch works so using it properly comes automatically to me even as I trudge along at mile 23. Unfortunately one thing you can’t practice is taking a cup of water out of a volunteer’s hand while running through an aid station. A trivial detail to be sure, but I’ve heard many stories of folks sustaining injuries while slipping and sliding through water stops, and that’s not where I want my race day to end.
Training is also where you’re going to encounter situations you might not have considered and encourages you to take steps to deal with them. For example, I long resisted carrying a cel phone since I wanted to leave distractions like that behind as I ran. Now I carry a phone on runs of any distance after seeing a fellow have a nasty bicycle accident. It was a vivid reminder that something like this could happen at any time to anyone, and a phone call might be the best and only way to summon help even during a race.
Training allows us to take all of the lessons we’ve learned on those long runs and deal with problems we may encounter out there on the race course. It’s not a guarantee nothing bad will befall us, but it provides the confidence to overcome adversity. Raining on raceday? Draw strength from that 16 mile training run you did in that storm. Starting to feel a bit of muscle soreness in that left calf? Call to mind those long training runs where the mantra “Running is about pain management” took your mind off of things until the soreness subsided.
Racing conditions are seldom perfect, but that’s why we train so hard. That’s why we pull ourselves out of a warm bed before the sun has risen; why we run for hours after a long work day; why we put up with black toenails and blisters. It’s so we can deal with the challenges running throws at us head on and make it to the finish line.