From the Archives: Waiting for the Breakthrough

[My running log for the summer seems to show a negative correlation between my training and my racing; as I’ve ramped up the training, I’ve raced slower and slower. So it seemed fitting to republish this reminder to anyone building base over the summer to practice patience… originally published August 22, 2010.]

It’s human nature to be impatient as you wait for all your hard work to pay off.

Here you are, nearing the end of summer and looking back at week after week of high mileage. Oh sure, there were a few interruptions – slight injuries that forced you to back off a bit — but the body of work has been submitted and it is not paltry.

The beginning was hot and humid, worse than anything we had in New England last summer, but you adapted to the conditions, seeking the woods… running late in the evening. By mid-July, the worst was over and the sweltering heat gave way to day after day of perfectly pleasant temperatures. You settled into the routine.

You watched the professional runners in Europe and thought about the races you would run in the fall. Maybe that added a little extra inspiration as you went out each day on legs that weren’t completely recovered from the previous day’s exertions.

So… when does it all translate into your own breakthrough race?

The hard truth is that no one can tell you with certainty when it will come. Maybe the first race, maybe the third, maybe not this season. As unfair as it seems, training operates on its own mysterious timetable. John L. Parker famously wrote that conditioning was “a geometrical spiraling upwards,” with each spin taking you a different distance up… or even down, gathering momentum for the next upswing. In somewhat less mystical terms, I believe that the initial adaptation to training is simply to raise your average work capacity, noticed first as an enhanced ability to recover from hard efforts and only (sometimes much) later as the ability to drop awesome times.

Yes, yes, but when will you see all that translated into a personal best, a sub-17:00 5K or sub 25:00 8K? A place on the varsity?

Ah, well…that I don’t know. Even the best coaches hesitate to say when everything will come together — mind and much fitter body — to enable that ascent to the new, higher plateau that you’ve been yearning for. Training is science, certainly, but it is also faith, or at least patience. Training works, but more often by simmering for many months or years, not by boiling in an instant.

I know it’s hard not to be eager for results. Distance running is one long exercise in delayed gratification. We train a long time to be able to gallop over a five-mile cross-country course at such a breakneck pace. Having done all that training, it would be nice to reap the rewards now. But if that first race or time trial doesn’t provide the proof you seek, if it’s not the breakthrough you were hoping for, don’t despair. If you have trained well, trust your training and known that you’ve laid a good foundation. After that, all you can do is stay healthy and accept the burden of continuing to ready yourself for the breakthrough that must, eventually and when you least expect it, come.


About Jon Waldron

Running and Racing have been important parts of my life for as long as I can remember. I ran Track and Cross Country at Amherst HS, back in the day, and am proud to have been training and competing with the Cambridge Sports Union (CSU) for more than thirty years. If my bones hold out, I hope to continue for another thirty. Sixteen years ago, I began coaching, first as an Asst. Coach at Newton North HS in Newton, MA, and for the past ten years, as Head Track and Cross Country Coach at Concord Academy in Concord, Massachusetts. I've been writing about running for almost as long as I've been running, dating back to high school, when I would write meet summaries for the Amherst Record for about $0.33 per column inch. I've been blogging about running since 2005, and began blogging at "the runner eclectic" in 2014. Until recently I also had a day job, working full-time as a Technical Product Manager for Nuance Communications, based in Burlington, MA. But I am now on what might turn out to be a permanent sabbatical. Thank you for reading my blog, and please consider leaving a comment.
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