The five stages of a tempo run

When: Last Friday, after work.

What: 4 @ "GHMP" (~8:00)

On Friday I attempted my first real tempo workout of this cycle, a four-miler with a one-mile warmup and cooldown. Right now, my "goal half marathon pace," is around 7:50 - 8:10. Is that a meaningless range based on nothing but an arbitrary goal time I would like (1:45)? Yes.

It still feels really fast to me (uh, I just clocked one mile at 7:13) but I'd done a 2x2 workout at the same 7:50 - 8:10 pace the week before with a short RI in between and it was fine. Besides, I reassured myself, it's "only" four miles! 

This modest workout set off a Homeric internal struggle. There were highs; there were lows. I felt like a million bucks; I felt like garbage. There was a lot of bargaining. I rapidly cycled through the five stages of a tempo run: Optimism, Doubt, Bargaining, The Steeling of Resolve, Relief.

  • Mile 1 (warm up): "I feel great! Running is fun! I am so happy to be doing this! Yes, I feel incredible. I'm gonna kill this one."
  • Tempo mile 1: "Here we go! Everything is awesome! I might make this a progression tempo. This is too easy! I guess I am in better shape than I thought! Maybe I should speed up. I'll wait one more mile and then speed up."
  • Tempo mile 2: "One mile down! Okay, that's not bad. But no, I should not speed up. Hey, here's an idea....I could make this a three-mile tempo instead. Or, like, maybe I run for time, instead of distance. 30 minutes instead of 4 miles? Okay, I'll go until 30 minutes and see how I feel."
  • Tempo mile 3: "Ugh." I turn up my guilty-pleasure workout music, Girl Talk. My form is starting to suffer and I remind myself to pick my feet up and turn them over. I rummage around in my bank of things I think about to amp myself up while running. I leverage these things to prove to myself that I don't ~need~ to quit after three miles. I do a check-in: "How are your legs? (Fine.) How's your breathing? (Fine.) Are you dying? (No.) Okay, so stop bitching and finish this." I now feel too prideful to stop. My earlier idea to stop after 30 minutes disgusts me. I will keep going 'til 4. I think, "If you stop after 30 minutes it's just going to make next week's tempo harder!" (Note how the mode of motivation slips from wanting to "be awesome"/"kill it" to just trying to avoid more pain in the future...) 
  • Tempo mile 4: I am listening to the same Girl Talk segment on repeat. I'm feeling desperate. I think my heart rate is speeding up and despite trying to breathe deeply, I can't slow it down. I find the sensation very unpleasant. Nothing is "wrong," but I guess I've just forgotten the pain of through a tempo run. I try another trick: I tell myself that there is literally nothing that will make me stop running until I get to the end of this fourth tempo mile, and my best choice is to stop fighting it. I stop focusing on my heart/breathing and try to just run in a haze. It works: I give in to the fact that I'm struggling and just experience it and deal with it. I feel more peaceful. When I hear the beep I am relieved. I made it without giving in. 

All that for a lousy 4 miles at "GHMP" (still a guess at this point) of 8:06! (I don't say this to diminish 8:06, but it's frustrating when less than a year ago I was much faster.)

If there's a takeaway here, it's that each training gain has to be earned and re-earned each and every time. Nothing can be taken for granted. Speed is only mine when I worked for it.