Saturday, March 31, 2012

Lesson learned: slow, easy, rest

"You'll sleep when you're dead."
"Pain is weakness leaving the body."
"If you're not first, you're last."
"Go hard or go home."

These are things that we tell ourselves, quite foolishly, as a way of talking ourselves into stupid behavior.  I remember vividly in high school and college, getting into pseudo bragging contests with friends and classmates:
"I didn't go to bed until 1.  Oh yeah?  I went to bed at 2 and then got up at 5 to finish my homework."
"I have 2 tests this week. Oh yeah?  Try 2 tests, a paper, and singing in a concert."
And the list goes on and on.  We would try to outdo each other in terms of difficult challenges and throw our bodies into this relentless contest that ultimately...meant not a lot of sleep and a lot of stress.  When I think back on it, it was a really unhealthy form of competition - our way of trying to assert who could handle the most under pressure and less than desirable living patterns.  Thankfully, I've grown up a bit now and realize that that sort of attitude is not ideal and now opt for more healthy, sensible living patterns.
This year, I have made a conscious goal to get more sleep.  This was part of my 8 + 4 = 12 in 2012 (8 hours of sleep and 4 bottles of water per day) resolution.  And while I have not been perfect about it, I have on average at least 4 days a week gotten between 7-8 hours of sleep.  That is a major improvement.  I had grown accustomed to about 6 hours of sleep most nights, and only on the weekends could I dream of a full night's sleep.
In reviewing March, I had 3 tough races back to back to back, which culminated in my 5k PR.  I can attribute my success to a couple of things:
 *Consistent sleep.  Each week leading up to a race (and after), I got 8 hours of sleep most nights, and only had 2 nights a week when that proved otherwise.  I will no longer make apologies or feel guilty for getting a full night's sleep.  That is not me being weak or less of a hard worker - that is me knowing that I perform best with optimal conditions.
* Easy running on easy days.  When my schedule says easy, I run easy.  Yes, I am sure I could crank out a 4 mile run in 28 minutes and be done with it quickly at 7:00 pace.  Or, I could take it easy, and run about 8:45 pace.  Additionally, while I really went to the well and worked very hard to push during my track workouts in February, I backed off in terms of pace this month.  So, instead of super hard and long workouts, the workouts were geared to spark some speed, but not leave me depleted for my races.  After Sunday's race, I got the following message from Sarah,
I hope that you are noticing how sometimes conservative workouts (even if you feel held back) can led to breakthrough races.  It's all about having it on the day you want to have it rather than worry about times in a workout.  It can be a hard thing to do sometimes, but look how fast "slow" workouts have gotten you ;)
And she hit the nail on the head.  It doesn't matter how great or impressive a workout is if it doesn't translate into a good race.  So, while there are hard workouts that I want to really smash great times in, I am now throwing in some caution as well.  Sarah always lists reasonable times for me to hit, and this month, I didn't go out knocking 5-10 seconds off of her goals.  No, I generally came within a second or two of her recommendations, and look - 19:39 speaks for itself.
I just had an easy week of training.  My 4 week cycles are hard for 3 weeks, and then a recovery week to wrap it up - which I definitely needed after a month of racing.  And that meant only running 29 miles this week, and I'll make no apologies for that either.
Slow, easy, rest: these are not terms of weakness.  These, when mixed with harder days, show strength and possibility.  It's a funny coincidence that the Runner's World online poll asked this week:
So, in a way, I am currently resting on my laurels this week with an easy training week and still a big smile from last week's race.  But next week, when cycle 4 starts up, I'll be coming back swinging!

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