Tackling the Tempo

The dreaded tempo run...we meet again.  If there's one run that strikes fear into the heart of this particular runner it's the Long Tempo run.  It's the run that I dread seeing on my schedule.  Even though I know it's coming, it still manages to get me all worked up and anxious about getting it done.  It's silly, really.  I know that I'm the only one who cares and that it's not even something to get worked up about!  No one is out there at 5am in the dark with a stopwatch saying "You're terrible, Jen!  You did that last mile 5 seconds slower than the pace you were supposed to run!!"  The anxiety I feel before each tempo run on my schedule is all internal pressure that I somehow manage to heap on myself - but it still manages to make me into a wreck before each of these runs.

This week in my schedule it was time to conquer the beast once again.  Pfitzinger's 12-week schedule from Advanced Marathoning has you work up to this one.  You start on week two with a 4-mile tempo at half marathon to 15K race pace.  Then in week four you take it up to 5 miles and then finally up to 7 miles at tempo in week seven.  I just DREAD week seven.  This season that particular run seemed especially daunting since the last tempo I did was quite a struggle.   I have yet to really hit the paces that McMillian says I should be running (6:30s), so I just have to run each of these tempos AS FAST AS I CAN SUSTAIN - knowing that I've got several miles to do.  It's very humbling, and somewhat discouraging.  But those kinds of runs are what make you stronger, so I do them.

Since I dread these tempo runs, I was less than enthused about getting up early to run in the dark and cold on my own.  I entertained the idea of doing the run later in the day ("It would be light outside!  And warmer!  And I would have had breakfast!  And coffee!") but I had a recovery run scheduled for later in the day and wasn't sure if it would be the best idea to flip the two runs around.  After texting a friend, he gave me the advice I'd been trying to avoid hearing:   He basically told me to suck it up and knock this tempo run out in the early morning hours as planned.  So...it was tempo run or bust.

But this week (after less than stellar tempo run last week where I ran the exact same average pace as this time LAST year - ugh), I decided I'd try something new on this run.  I pulled out all my "cheesy" race mantras and positive thinking articles and tried my best to arm myself with good thoughts the night before.

Alarm went off at 4:30am and I was up.  Grabbed a quick piece of toast and was out the door before I could think too much about what was coming.  Ran my warmup, got to the stretch of out-and-back I normally run tempos on (it's got some hills, but it's one of the flatter sections around my neighborhood), and it was time to start.  I was hoping to start around 6:50 or so and then drop down to somewhere in the 6:40s-6:30s for the rest of the run.   My internal dialogue went something like this:

Mile 1:  Ok.  I can do this.  Mile 1 is all uphill, but I'm supposed to be "easing in" to this so it's okay if the pace is a bit slower....wait...6:54 for that split?!?!  ARGH!  

Mile 2:  Positive thoughts.  Positive thoughts.  Let's just go ahead and get all cheesy and think "Only Love" for today.  Only positive thoughts.  You got the hill out of the way.  Keep pushing now. Your legs feel fine!  They feel great!  (side note:  they didn't.)  6:41 split.  Yes!  Moving in the right direction.   

Mile 3:  Wait - I have 4 more of these to do!?! Okay that's not positive - let's turn this around.  Quick feet, come on, come on.  Down the hill on this mile.  Try to relax your shoulders and let gravity do the work.  6:36 split.  Oooh - I like it.  Keep it up!  

(quick chug of Gatorade and then back at it)

Mile 4:  Time for the hill again.  Ughhhhh.  The legs feel dead.  Wait, positive only today - hmmm...okay.  Well, the legs haven't fallen off yet!  Yes!  I'm still out here running...up this darn hill, but running! It's good to be alive! Man, that's cheesy.  Okay, just don't look at the watch, keep pushing.  6:45 split.  Eh, since it's up the hill, I'll take it! That's a win!  This is going okay!!  

Mile 5:  Only 2 miles left!  Just two!  Okay, I'm tired now.  5 miles is good, right?  I could just stop at when I finish 5...no one would know.  Yes, but Jen, YOU would know.  Argh.  Just keep running.  This is making you stronger - no pain, no gain, right?  6:44 split.  ARGH.  Is that it?!  I feel like I'm working too hard for that to be it!  

Mile 6:  Ok.  Come on, legs.  We are going to improve on that 6:44 split.  We have to.   This is a TEMPO run.  It's supposed to feel uncomfortable.  Use the arms now, think about firing those glutes.   Downhill on this mile - use it to your advantage.  Stay relaxed.  6:39 split.  YES.  Better. 

(quick Gatorade sip, time to tackle the last mile)

Mile 7:  I'm almost done I'm almost done I'm almost done.  My legs are toast.  I am going to have to crawl home.  Wait - don't think that way - back to positive thoughts!  Okay.  I'm going to try to finish strong.  Up this last hill, push push push! Almost done.  This is great practice for how you'll feel at the end of the marathon.  Come on!  Get in the 6:30s for this mile - go go go!  6:40 split.  Missed it.  But solid effort. 

I was SO HAPPY to have this one done.  While the average pace was around 6:42 which was a bit slower than I'd have liked, I was still pleased at the fact that I was able to successfully quiet the negative voices in my head and get it done.  Besides the cheesy positive talk, I also found myself lifting up several prayers along the way.  With the silent streets and stars overhead it was a perfect time to offer up some thanks to God for my healthy body - the body that was able to run this pace, for this long.  And for my family for supporting me through the training.  And for my friend, Meg, who passed away last year.   The prayers helped and gave me other sources of positive thoughts to help push me along when my mind was telling me that I was tired and wanted to stop.  I was wiped out on my cool down miles, but it was such a happy tired.   That deep, satisfying exhaustion that you get when you work really hard and push yourself.   I ran home, made my post-run smoothie and enjoyed the heck out of my hot coffee later in the morning.

86 miles for the week.  

What workouts do you dread?  Any positive phrases you use to talk yourself through them?