Much Ado About Tempo

Last night the 10k group I coach locally had their first tempo run, and boy were they anxious. Typically, Wednesday nights are hill nights for this group. Now, I find hills to be a challenge (not looking forward to that tonight!) and I dread all their arrival all week long, so learning my group would rather run hill repeats than tackle the tempo was a bit of a shock. Even more shocking, they didn’t even know what the darned word meant.

Ever the teacher, I set out to chat about lactic acid build-up and retraining our bodies to push past limits and learn to burn up the acid and set a higher lactic threshold…jargon, words, blah. As I did my best to explain that tempo running was sustaining a faster than normal pace over a period of time or distance, I realized I was earning some very dubious looks and serious eyebrow raises. And then, it clicked. They believed faster meant a specific number. Suddenly, I realized the word I needed to use was effort. The fear of the unknown was taking them out of the run before they even took a single step.

Changing my tactic, I led them into their warm-up before they bolted, and reformulated my strategy as I ran. After a solid 3km warm-up, we huddled at a point on the 1km loop I planned to use for the tempo. I explained that I wanted them to set a pace whereby they couldn’t get out full sentences, but where they could grunt a quick ‘ok!’ as I passed them. I had planned to run in the opposite direction for three reasons: 1. I didn’t want them to set themselves based on my pace, 2. I wanted them to have something to run towards, even if it was a lame high-five from me, and 3. I wanted to pace my loops against the fastest, and most consistent, runner in my group. Brilliant. And, it worked.

Comments after the workout (which ended up being about 7.5km)  …”That was wonderful!” “I felt stronger with every step!” “That sucked.” (me, haha!).

Consistently, I am reminded about how the brain and our old patterns of thought can affect how we tackle new fitness goals. Rightfully so, taking on a fitness goal requires an assessment of where you are. Right. Now. Not an assessment of where you want to be, or think you should be, or where you think your new trainer/coach/partner thinks you should be. Rather, it is taking stock of exactly where you are in this very moment that is the most beneficial. My group was subconsciously grading themselves against what they thought I believed was ‘fast.’ What they gained in this run was an individual ability to asses how their body felt in the moment and adjust to meet the demand of the workout. The phrase effort-based reassured them about listening to their own body and measuring their own breathing and comfort level. They got it.

Sometimes, it is that outside eye/comment/encouragement that is key to the success of reaching your goals. Sometimes, what we need is a coach to provide the method to physically complete something that our brains have told us is impossible.

Remember me moaning back in February about lack of direction? Well, I couldn’t really take it anymore; August waits for no one. The insecurity, and the looming behemoth Deer Lake 67, made me take action. That action was to contact one of Canada’s top ultra marathon coaches, Jeff Hunter, out of the blue and ask for help.

I finished week one of his assessment of me, and I feel confident in saying, his taking stock of me was thorough. He has magically melded my coaching schedule to what I need to do for this race. This week, I feel strong even though my kilometers run has jumped. I find myself anxiously awaiting my weekly overview (yes, at just the second week) and am excited about how well my effort matches my coach’s plan. Funny enough, yesterday’s tempo put me at 67.7km over the past 10 days of training with Jeff. It took 7hrs. I wonder what my time will be on that one day in August…

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