Race day benefit

The progress we seek to make in training is often elusive, as the adaptations that take place within our bodies from periodically stressing our systems in workouts don’t show themselves until either days or weeks later. Each runner makes these adaptations in relation to the types of running they are doing, the degree to which they stress their bodies, and their ability to recover. Changing how quickly you recover is very difficult to adjust, but no matter what type of runner you are, running to the point that you force your body to adapt is much more measurable.

We call it “Going to the well,” or “Digging deep”.

That is to say, in combining the two, “If you want to hit water, you gotta dig deep.”

In workout terminology, that means in order to get to the point that you actually stress your bodies systems and force them to adapt, you need to run long enough or hard enough, or both, that you reach that point where your body is so fatigued that it is forced to make physical adjustments in order to ward off that fatigue next time around.

In evolutionary biology terms, it’s a survival mechanism. When you run to a point where you have very little glycogen left, your muscles are significantly weakened, and your mind is receiving all the signals that you are hitting crisis mode…everything begins to shut down, to force you into a more sustainable, manageable effort. The body and mind experiences all these signals and says, “Yikes, that was rough. We need to become stronger in case that happens again! If we shut down and a predator is attacking us, we’ll have no ability to escape or fight back!” So adaptations are made and the body becomes stronger. More capillaries are grown, enabling better oxygen delivery, and longer, strong running. Muscles are repaired and become more powerful, enabling faster running. And so on.

The most important dynamic though, is digging deep enough in our workouts to hit water. Anyone can start a workout feeling fueled and strong, lay into a few hard intervals and then call it a day, feeling powerful and on top of the world. But that’s only because they didn’t get to a state of a fatigue, and their body will not register any need to adapt. They simply won’t get stronger, faster, or able to endure.

Our goal then, is to start our workouts feeling good (or only mildly fatigued from previous efforts), get through the first set of intervals (or miles, depending), maintain through subsequent efforts….and then start to experience that distinct sensation of weakness, spiking heart rate, and general fatigue….then DIG DEEP. Then keep going. It is that point we have fatigued our body and stressed our systems, used all the fuel that is necessary for maintaining a hard effort, weakened our muscles through micro tears in muscle fibers, and reached the capacity of our capillaries ability to transfer oxygen throughout the body. And at that point, we need to push just a little more, to knock out a couple more intervals or miles and tell our body, “Hey, we need to keep going, despite the crucial fatigue…WE NEED TO KEEP GOING.”

This certainly takes an effort of, psychologically digging deep, of trying to reach that point in the workout where you force the body into adaptations. When I start to hit that point in my efforts and the desire to back off, slow down, or just plain quit gets stronger and stronger, I tell myself, “This is where we get better.” Because it is.

It seems counterintuitive, to feel so weak and tired, but to keep pushing, but that is truly where you get better as a runner, by stressing your body. There are a number of motivations related to the individual runner in order to dig deep, and it’s up to you to find yours, to keep pushing no matter what.

The payoff of digging deep will be shown on race day, when you are both primed to cover the race distance with speed and strength, but also when, towards the end of the race, things start to get really rough, where you’ve depleted your energy, weakened your various systems, and need to really dig deep in order to keep pushing towards the finish line. It’s at that point you can pull on all the relative suffering you experienced repeatedly during your workouts to say, “I’ve done this before…I’ve suffered when things got really hard…and I know I can make it through.”

And then find your way to the finish line to experience that ultimate reward you experienced deep into your workouts.

Don’t let the building fatigue force you to back off. Dig deep and soon enough you’ll hit water.

Scott Spitz

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