by Dathan Ritzenhein | Apr 16, 2010 |
I was having a little difficulty figuring out what to write about this week. My good friend Jason Hartmann sent me a text message saying, “Where’s your latest blog? You’re getting lazy!” I guess I have to keep on track a little better. He also gave me a couple things to write about. He suggested I write on what I thought were my hardest workout, hardest race, and greatest accomplishment in running.
Surprisingly, my hardest workouts corresponded with some of my hardest races but not necessarily my greatest accomplishments. Many of my greatest accomplishments happened when everything was clicking. Sometimes your best races and workouts are the ones that feel easy. For some reason you just could not reproduce those times no matter how hard you try. I think that sometimes that is a trap that people fall into. You have to have benchmark workouts that you can use to judge your fitness. For example, I know that mile repeats are a workout that you cannot fake. They are hard and long intervals, and you must have some snap in your legs, but if you do 6-10 of them you need the aerobic training to back it up. Those are the workouts that have given me confidence going into big races.
I think one of my best workouts was probably doing 9 x 1600m with 400m recovery in 4:21 average. I did this workout a week before I did my semi-famous 10-mile tempo run in 45:03 around the Nike campus. Those were both pretty amazing workouts, but they just happened. I think I was able to run these workouts because of something I learned last summer and fall from Alberto: you can’t have an A+ workout every time. Between those workouts were B and C type workouts that allowed me to hit it out of the park. Before, going all the way back to middle school, I use to try and hit it out of the park every time I did a workout. It was not any specific coaching philosophy that held me back the most, but more my thinking that I needed to kill it every time. I think killing it every time was what led me to some of my hardest races.
I’ve learned that if you hit it hard every workout, there is an accumulated fatigue that sets in. You never fully recover from the previous workout. One big problem I had when I trained with Brad Hudson is that I always had to beat the workout. If he gave me a threshold run, and I could run faster than that, I did. But that might not have been the point of the workout and the next workout I would do the the same and by the time I got to the race, I was stale. I can think of doing some amazing workouts that were very hard but then I followed them up with very flat races.
The hardest race I have ever had came not because I was working so hard, but because I completely lacked any base fitness. When I won the 2003 NCAA Cross Country Championship I was destroyed for a couple months after. I had come off a full year of injury, and I did not do nearly the cross-training that I have done in every injury since. If that race had one week earlier, I think it would not have been the hardest race I have ever run. I was more tired by the day leading up to the race, and I had to muster everything I had to beat Ryan Hall. I probably gave Coach Wetmore a good scare in the months after because it took me a long time to get back to my old self.
I can contrast the 2003 NCAA XC Championships, however, with my greatest accomplishment, and that has to be running the American 5000m record in 12:56. I have had some amazing races outside this, but this is the one that changed my perspective on what I am capable of. It brought me to a level I did not think was possible after so many years. I brought that attitude into my training and racing since then, and it is completely different from where I was. Leading up to that race was the exact opposite of what I did for the 2003 NCAA XC Championships. I had a full year of great training with only minor interruptions, and I was finally listening to my coach and my body, hitting some workouts out of the park, and being content to have average workouts in between those super-hard efforts.
As an athlete it can be difficult to bury your pride and listen to what your coach and you body are telling you. If you have an amazing workout your natural inclination is to keep pushing and to do even better the next time. That is the American dream being shoved in your face since you were a little kid. “The harder you work the better you’ll be.” There are times to have your greatest workouts, but you don’t want those workouts to also become your greatest accomplishments. Save them for race day!