Training is like electricity. It powers everything we do, but we really don’t notice it until it goes out. Only when we’re standing in the dark, flicking a dead flashlight for the hundredth time, wondering where in the world we put those D batteries, do we realize just how much our lives depend on electricity. When the power goes out, we are incapacitated. We walk around like candle-bearing zombies, flicking light switches out of habit even though we know our efforts are in vain. We sit on the couch, wallowing in despondency. We stare at the shadows fluttering across the wall. We are consumed with a sudden and overpowering urge to open the refrigerator. We realize nothing sounds as pleasant as microwaving a frozen item. Or tossing a load of laundry in the dryer. Or finally breaking out that George Foreman grill we got for Christmas six years ago. We fantasize about watching reruns of The Office on TBS as our iPhones flash a soul-crushing 15% battery life.
If only we could open the refrigerator.
I don’t think any of us would hesitate to laud the benefits of consistent, dedicated training. We know that long runs, tempo runs, track workouts, and recovery runs contribute to an ever growing level of fitness. Heck, that’s why we do them in the first place. But the miles also have a way of skewing perception, and it doesn’t take much for us to take for granted the benefits we work so hard to achieve. While we are grateful for PR shape, we slowly—even subconsciously—begin to feel entitled to it. Like flipping a switch, we expect our fitness just to “turn on.”
But the truth is our fitness, our ability to step out the door and hammer a run, is dependent on our daily commitment to follow the mandates of our training schedule. Long. Hard. Fast. Slow. There is a method to the madness of numbers strewn across the pages. There is a reason behind every pace. There is logic behind every distance. There is purpose in every run.
And nothing reveals just how much each day of training matters like not training.
I know this because, currently, I am not training. Granted, I’m still running. I’m still logging a weekly long run. But I haven’t run a track workout since last year. Or a tempo run. Or a long run at pace. High mileage is a thing of the past. I’ve been running without a watch. I’ve been running for fun, plain and simple, so I shouldn’t have been surprised when I was unable to hold pace during a recent tempo run, a run that months ago I would have cruised.
But I was. In fact, I was almost insulted.
What’s up with this? I wondered in annoyance as I struggled to stay within sixty seconds of my goal pace. This is unacceptable. This is dumb.
This was me forgetting that the benefits of training are contingent on… you know… actually training.
We often hear the mantra, “Trust your training.” Usually, it’s applied as a confidence booster before races, implying that because we’ve followed the schedule, the ability will be there come race day. “Trust your training” is a reassurance of benefits after all the work is done.
The thing is we have to trust our training before we can begin training in the first place. And the stronger our trust, the less likely we are to waver along the way.
Training is counterintuitive and even countercultural. It flies in the face of instant gratification and minimal effort. It defies the religion of convenience and comfort. It is more than a recreation diversion. It is a lifestyle of dedication and discipline. We sacrifice sleep for early morning runs. We log twenty miles in scorching temperatures. We finish track workouts when it hurts. We run long when we’re tired. We head out for a few extra miles when we’d rather sit on the couch and watch reruns of The Office on TBS. Or raid the fridge. Or both. We do all sorts of things we don’t feel like doing because we believe that what we are doing matters.
Running may be a sport, but training is a faith, and sometimes even the most faithful disciple can grow weary. Our determination may recoil. Our resolve may shrink back. What we know may suddenly fade in the overpowering sensation of how we feel. And deceptive emotions aren’t limited to the negative; even feelings of strength can woo us off course. We know our midweek tempo is important, but accumulating fatigue may entice us to cut it just a bit short. We know running slow on our off days is key to recovery, yet an antsy spring in our step may tempt us to run just a bit too fast. No, we’re not in any great danger of skipping weekly long runs. No, we won’t be swayed to forego track workouts all together. Because our faith isn’t tested by the big things. Our faith is tried, day by day, in the tiniest of decisions. Mile by mile we are asked, “Will you be faithful even in the small things?”
Because what we know and what we feel are often in conflict, and it is our level of trust in what we know to be true that determines which one will prevail.
To trust someone is to firmly believe that he or she has your best interest in mind. Our training is designed to help us succeed. To forfeit a part of training is to forfeit part of its benefits, but to be faithful in even the smallest of details is to store up a harvest of reward.
So trust your training when you set your alarm for 4:00am. Trust your training when the last interval on the track is mocking you. Trust your training when you feel like your recovery jog is a waste of time. Trust your training when you get home from work and don’t think you can lace up your shoes for an evening run. Know that no mile is wasted. No effort is unrewarded. Remember that feelings are tricky, and emotions are often illogical. Remember that running is a sport, but training is a faith.
And on race day, you won’t have to be reminded to trust your training, because you will have been trusting it all along.
Amy L. Marxkors is the author of The Lola Papers: Marathons, Misadventures, and How I Became a Serious Runner. Her second book, Powered By Hope: The Teri Griege Story, will be released in 2014.