The Post-Training Guilt

guilt_got-guilt-buttonA bit like the post-race void of emptiness athletes get when training no longer commands their life, there’s also something of a post-training guilt.

It varies from person to person, but this guilt usually appears in one of two ways (or both in my case).

  1. Distance guilt.

During training, 10 miles a day was the norm. You took off days because you should (and were tired enough to need them). Yet even those felt weird because in our training conditioned minds, there were miles to be run. Once training ends and the race is over, we go back to whatever “regular” weekly miles are (usually 30-40 for me).

Then the guilt sets in. What was once 10-milers turns into the more normal 3- and 4-milers. But I feel guilty because 3 miles seems so short (it’s not, but we’re distance runners and we view things oddly). In my mind, I’m usually thinking something like “well obviously I can do 10-milers, so why am I just doing 3.” Herein lies the issues.

Athletes, of any kind, seem to have this built in guilt mechanism when it comes to our sports. We feel guilty having off days, even though we should. We feel guilty having easy days, even if there’s a reason for them (like an upcoming race). We even feel guilty when we compare our workout to our friend’s, like this past weekend I ran a measly 10-mile long run while several running buddies were tackling a 20-miler.

Our minds disregard logic. We need off days. They keep our bodies going optimally. We need easy days. They help our bodies rest and prepare for running awesome races. And we shouldn’t compare workouts, especially knowing that each runner has different goals and are at different places. Those friends? They were doing 10-milers when I was doing my 20s. Because I was in training and they weren’t. Now they’re in training for a marathon that’s 6 weeks away and I’m not. It’s as simple as that.

Talk to a runner about their workout. Notice we often add in words like “just” and “only” before giving our mileage for the day. I did “just 10” on Saturday.

(On a side note: while my distances have been significantly shorter than during training, I seem to have alleviated some internal guilt by going faster. Not intentionally mind you, but maybe in a subconscious attempt to “make up” for only going 5 miles instead of 8, I’ve been running minutes faster than what I did before training. Though this may just be that I’m conditioned too…)

2. Food guilt.

Maybe the worst of all guilts any athlete can have. The dreaded food guilt, which is pretty self-explanatory. We come off of training and racing where we can barely eat enough to cover the exercise we’re doing (or in my case, I can’t. Pattern seems to be that I lose 5-10 pounds during marathon training, no matter how much I attempt to eat).

Once you transition back into a regular running schedule, there’s still this massive craving (for me) to eat everything in sight. But I’m no longer running the ridiculous miles per week that I was, so the balance is thrown off. Admittedly, my food guilt is much less than my distance guilt no matter the situation. I love food too much to be guilty all the time about eating it.

But at some point post-training, you have to decide that eating everything in sight has to stop and you return back to your regular eating schedule too.

This may seem slightly random, but I’ve noticed my distance guilt rearing it’s head in the last couple of days. Even this morning when I went out for a 4-miler, in my mind I was going through my route options because I felt like I needed to run at least 6 or 7. Hopefully, hitting some solid mileage weeks that aren’t reverse taper will help me settle back into the non-training mentality.

Do either of these guilts hit you?

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Tips: One Workout A Training Plan Does Not Make

This is probably THE concept that I struggled with the most while training for my first marathon. It was easy when I didn’t know what to expect to just assume that a bad workout could have a serious effect on my race performance. Of course, ignoring that it was 4 months of training.

Lesson learned: take the bad with the good.

In the grander scheme of things, a couple of bad workouts across a 4+ month training plan is not going to stop you from doing well on race day. It’s a mental battle you have to win. Sometimes there’s just bad days and miserable runs. There are too many ways that the preparation, the workout, and the recovery can go wrong.

I bring this up because a recent workout for me was just horrible. I felt miserable, the miles were a struggle, and my legs were tired. The tired legs I expected, but wanting to stop before I even really started was not. It can be hard when a big race is looming to just let go and say “I’ll try again tomorrow.” But sometimes that is the best thing you can do.

So this time around I have learned. I know better. I’ll try my best to complete my workouts – but if the variables just aren’t lining up one particular day I’ll cut it short. It can be more detrimental to force yourself through a bad workout & ultimately result in a longer recovery than to skip it. If you cut one short, it’s fine. Add a mile or two of the ones missed to other workouts when appropriate. Maybe rearrange your days that week so you can try that particular workout again. And other times you can just write that workout off as “it just didn’t happen.”

courageKeep in mind – this doesn’t mean make lame excuses for skipping workouts just because you’re feeling lazy. This is for the days when your mental or physical health will suffer more if you force yourself than if you miss it. And yes, the guilt can do you in sometimes.

A few workouts, spread across several hundred and a few months, will not seriously affect your ability to accomplish race goals. Now skipping 3 whole weeks of training might.

So don’t be afraid to change things up – to modify your days. Don’t guilt yourself into doing a workout that you know is going to hurt more than it helps. And remember that you can always make it up later when you are more physically and mentally prepared to take on this challenge.