This is the second part of my last post. I discussed what happens to runners when they experience “bad run days” and that they are not necessarily an indicator of losing conditioning or being out of shape suddenly due to that workout. Now I want to contrast that with a really great run – “great run days”.
Every runner lives for these days! Your stride is effortless. You breathe freely. You are strong and your legs are responsive. You have that youthful bounce in your legs. You feel like you could pick up the pace at any moment or run longer or do extra reps on the track. It flows. If you are on the roads and you see runners way up in front of you; you attack wanting to show your superiority. (Come on – admit it, you think that.) Life is good. Sometimes you feel like it’s a matter of all your hard work paying off and other times it’s like there was no reason at all for having such a great day.
This is when we realize we are fit and in shape. A common comment I get from runners is “I wish this were race day” or “I wish I could feel like this on race day”. Capturing those moments proves quite elusive for most runners.
I believe that much like a bad run day, a great run day has reasons. It is our job to figure out why and how it occurs so we can replicate it more often. More importantly we want to be able to replicate it on race days! That is what peaking is about. That is what peak performances are about.
As with figuring out bad day runs our problem is that we are not in tune with ourselves. We don’t track the right variables (weather, sleep, training, HR, medications, life events, travel, etc.) We are even poorer at integrating all variables! Which combinations yielded the perfect run day? Until we tune in to all these variables we cannot get a handle on any cause and effect. It is our task to figure it out. Even if we could, most of us will not take the time and effort to track all the possible variables that cause good days.
Though a great run is often cause for personal celebration there are two directions the minds of runners tend to take after experiencing such runs.
One line of thinking goes something like this: “It is a fluke. It probably won’t happen again. I’m not really in that kind of shape. I ran ‘above my head’.”
A second line of thinking goes along these lines: “If I ran like this today then I should be able to run this way everyday.”
Both of these lines of reasoning have faulty logic.
Great runs are peak performances. Peak performances are when many variables – physical, mental, environmental, social, etc. – come together in the right way to enable an athlete to take advantage of their physical/athletic capabilities. But no set of variables can allow you to do something physical that you are not actually already capable of doing. Which is why line of thinking #1 is faulty. If you actually did it then indeed you are capable of doing it. Someone else didn’t do it for you! You have to take the credit. There is no such thing as running “above your capabilities” even if you previously have not run that far or that fast. The truth is that it is within your capabilities only you have never had the variables come together to manifest itself in that magical day.
The way to visualize peak performance variables is to see your physical conditioning as a finely tuned racecar. All variables other than physical are analogous to your emergency brake. The racecar will perform UP TO the limits of the physical tuning or ability of the vehicle – just like your body. If your emergency brake is on – no matter what condition you are in physically – you will not have a top-performing machine. It will always fall short because the brake is on to some degree. Releasing the emergency brake fully is having all those other variables come into alignment. And your mental game is the #1 “other variable”.
To build on this, peak performances can be replicated but not daily. However it is physically impossible to be able to have a PR-like effort every day. You could have all those “other” peak performance variables come together but in a physically fatigued state – your performance will fall short. This is where line of reasoning #2 is a fallacy. Therefore, to set the expectation that you have done it once and therefore should be able to always do it is setting yourself up for great disappointment, discouragement and a big hit to your confidence.
A great run is indeed an indicator of your capabilities. It is not an aberration. You ARE that fit. Now, let’s find ways to optimize replicating it when it really counts.
Your homework: On your next great run day – log your thoughts, self-talk, focal points and as many variables (from life events to you name it…) as you can. Do this after each great run and soon you will discover patterns. These are the very patterns you need leading up to your next race to increase your chances of having THAT great day on race day!