Workout of the Day
Planned — 5 mile tempo at 5:40-5:35/mile
Actual — 2.5 miles in 14:22, jogging break, 2 x 400m in 80 w/ 60" rec. -END-
Jackie Areson — Feb. 22nd, 2011
Context & Details
Now more than ever, we live in an overly manicured world. Filters, photoshop, and polished images are the status quo. Athletes and coaches sometimes fall into this trap to maintain appearance as well.
Often, athletes only share the workouts that went well. The home runs create a perception that all of their workouts are amazing and they are invincible. But reality is messy. Elite athletes are no different than you or I. They’re human and subject to off days. They bomb workouts, blow up, even threaten to quit mid-workout. We never hear about these sessions, and that creates a false reality for high school and college runners to emulate.
Therefore, Jon and I will begin sprinkling in Altered or Contingency workouts in the Workout Of The Day offering. We want to show that no athlete is superhuman and "on" all the time. In fact, such is an illusion. Even when someone is racing at their peak, they are not immune to discouraging workouts, as Jackie Areson and I experienced first-hand years ago.
In February 2011, Jackie was in the midst of a solid indoor campaign. Her training menu called for a no-frills five mile tempo run. She wasn't shooting for anything crazy, just a feel good tempo in the 5:40-35 range with the goal to get in a quality aerobic effort that day.
But after she started, she didn't look quite right. She was laboring a bit too hard for the pace she was running given her current form. I hoped she would get a second wind of sorts and slip into a synchronized rhythm of movement and effort. But I watched her carefully, finger ready on the kill switch.
She passed the first mile in 5:41 then slowed drastically to 5:47 on the second mile. By then, her breathing was more strained than was appropriate. After 2.5 miles, I checked in with her to see how she was doing, and based on her feedback and how she looked, I pulled rank and stopped her dead in her tracks.
Full timeout called.
We chatted. She regrouped. And I called an audible to see if we could salvage the day or not.
I was curious to see why she was so strained. Was it because she was physically drained, stressed out, or just felt off and it wasn't her day?
So I elected to have her run 2 x 400m with 1 minute rest at a moderately hard effort. She wasn't allowed to time them, and I was just looking for feedback on how she looked. She ran them in 80 seconds a piece and that was the final piece of information I needed to cut the session.
If she had run relatively quicker, say 70 - 66 range, on those 400's, then I would have switched the remainder of the session to engage a different set of physiological stimuli. For example, we might have done some rhythm 200's or some short hill sprints. But her lack of power, pep and slow times at near maximal effort on those test 400's instructed me that the most prudent choice that and the following day was rest and regeneration.
The next 4 days she took it pretty light with easy running on splits/doubles (i.e. 5 and 5 instead of a 10 mile run). She started to come back around on the third day, so we introduced an easy workout of 100s to encourage some zest and neuromuscular coordination back in the legs, but being careful not to tax her in the slightest. By the start of the next week, she was feeling fresh again and was back to full workloads and intensities commensurate with her ability.
Less than two weeks later, she hit a big season goal, sprinting her way into the finals at the World Indoor Championships in the 3,000m. And roughly a month later, she knocked 20 seconds off her 5,000m best to run 15:18 and achieve the 2012 Olympic A Standard.
That day, and her success later that season, proved to me that sometimes the true art of coaching is knowing when to pull the plug and call it quits so the athlete can bounce back to fight another day.