I can’t tell you how many times I heard these words while running track and cross-country in college. These words are some of the easiest to say and some of the hardest to do. They refer to pushing all the way through to the end of an interval or workout.
Anyone that has ever done 800 meter repeats on the track will tell you that there is not much else in the world harder than this workout. Your lungs burn, your legs feel like cement and at the end of the workout, you’re almost cross-eyed with fatigue and exhaustion. Sometimes those last few feet of an interval look and feel like a mile! So… it’s natural to want to ease up before the finish line of each interval. I mean after all, it’s just training right?
As a new runner in college (raced bikes in high school), these workouts were new to me, as was the “all the way through” concept. Not that I didn’t work hard on the bike, but I never had a coach standing at the side of the road making sure I kept going all the way to the designated sprint line. So, when I took my foot off the gas before the finish of one of the first interval workouts with the track team, I got an earful.
“Why did you slow down?!” asked my coach (or more to the point, screamed.)
“What do you mean, I finished.” I replied.
“No, the line is when you’re finished – not one millimeter before it” responded my coach.
Post workout, my coach stated that if I wanted to be on the team, I needed to do the work. He explained that the difference between winners and losers was the winners show up day in and day out and push to the line each and every workout. He continued by stating that if I eased up short of the line on each workout, over time that would result in a lot of missed training and would be the reason why I’d likely never be great runner. Point taken.
The hardest part of most any workout or race is the end. As such, it’s easy to back off the intensity. However, as my coach also explained to me, it’s not just the physical aspect of training that you’re cutting short, but also the mental aspect. He explained that by easing up before the line, I was essentially giving up and not completing the workout.
“Running is way too f#cking hard to rely on just your legs. The best runners are mentally tough and know how to suffer”
While I’m sure I’m getting the exact words wrong, I do remember the f-bomb and the overall gist of his ‘pep talk!’
Law of Diminishing Returns
At low levels of fitness, pretty much anything that an athlete does will elicit a positive training adaptation and likely, a pretty big one. However, as one gets more fitness, gains become harder and harder to come by. While overly simplistic, this is why a Couch to 5K program looks nothing like that of an elite 5,000M runner. While the same distance is being trained for, the programs look entirely different.
Therefore, as a runner gets more fit, those last few feet at the end of a workout are the most valuable from a training adaptation standpoint.
While I certainly didn’t appreciate it until my coach so ever kindly explained it to me, the value of those last few feet or meters in workouts and races is huge – both physically and mentally. So keep working hard and go ‘all the way through!’
Rick Prince is the founder/director of United Endurance Sports Coaching Academy (UESCA), a science-based endurance sports education company. UESCA educates and certifies running and triathlon coaches (cycling and ultrarunning coming soon!) worldwide on a 100% online platform.
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