In training, there is this thing that I like to call “defining workouts.” Defining workouts are the ones that define us as athletes. They are the ones where we do something truly extraordinary. They are the ones that we look back on when the going gets tough, that remind us that do have what it takes. Defining workouts only come around a couple times a year, but when they do happen, we remember why they are so worth fighting for. In a way, these defining workouts are the reason why we train.
Lately my coach has been trying this new thing where she is legitimately trying to kill me, and yesterday was a valiant effort to do just that. My two workouts on the schedule for the day were big, high intensity sessions – sessions that nobody in their right mind would schedule back to back.
I went into the first workout (a power test on the bike) feeling a bit fatigued. I started the effort off right on target, but a few minutes in, my quad started giving up on me. By the time I hit the halfway mark, I knew that I wasn’t going to get the result I wanted, so I mentally checked out. I finished the effort, but without the normal gusto that I typically bring.
Afterwards I called my coach, Kimberly, to tell her about my dismal result. We talked about it and came to the conclusion that it was a bad test, and not a good indicator of where I really am. We would test again in the future, and not get discouraged by the one today.
Then I mentioned the track workout that was on the schedule for later in the day. I was secretly hoping she would tell me to move it to a different day but instead she said, “Yeah make sure you recover well. You’re going to want to really make that one hurt.”
I politely asked if she was sure she didn’t want me to postpone the track workout for later in the week. Or maybe I started whining about how she was a sadist and this was a terrible idea. I don’t really remember. But I do remember her response:
“There’s going to come a day when you’re in a race, and you have a bad bike. I’m not talking mechanical issues…I’m talking you’re just not feeling it and you’re not putting out the times you need. Kind of like today. And when that day comes, how are you going to turn the race around?”
“On the run…” we said it in unison, I a bit more reluctantly than she.
“That’s what we’re preparing for here. For that day that you need to pull off the race of your life.” She told me the paces she wanted me to hit. They were faster than I had ever done for that workout. “It’s going to be hard and it’s going to hurt, but I know that you are fully capable of doing it.”
I arrived at the track a few hours later, and then sat in my car for a solid 10 minutes replaying my conversation with Kimberly in my head. The little voice in the back of my head doubted that I’d be able to pull off the paces I’d been given, but I told myself that I was ready to dig deep to make it happen.
My first few steps felt heavy and awkward, but I found my stride by the end of the first lap. As I finished my warmup and entered the mainset, I felt everything start to align. My legs felt surprisingly strong, and my stamina was unfading.
I knocked out the first interval exactly as it was prescribed, and with more ease than I expected. I took the subsequent intervals even faster, recording my best times ever for this type of workout. I couldn’t help but pump my first in the air when I finished my last interval and looked at the time on my watch. It was a defining workout in every way.
Sometimes we have workouts that leave us feeling defeated. Sometimes we have races where we feel like we’ve taken four steps backward. Sometimes we have tests where we question if we really have what it takes. But the amazing thing about days like this is that there is always the potential to turn them around.
It’s not easy, starting bad days over. It requires us to trust in something that we can’t see in the moment, as our vision can be clouded by failure. It requires us to take control of our thoughts, and not allow our minds to restrict what our bodies are really capable of. Sometimes it requires a little push from someone who cares about us, but at the end of the day it’s on us. It’s on us to show up, even when our better judgment is telling us to go back to bed.
Starting the day over doesn’t work every time. But when it does, we realize that we are so much stronger than we ever thought we were.
A bad workout does not mean that your day is over. It means that you’ve created an opportunity to turn it around and experience one of the most beautiful feelings in this world.