I was riding my bike on the trainer in the land of Zwift the other day and decided it would be a good day to listen to a podcast. I took the recommendation of a client and listened to the Ali on The Run Podcast. This episode was an interview with Calum Neff, who recently paced Keira D'Amato to her American Record marathon in Houston. Not only did Keira have the best day of her life, but so did Calum.
He ran a personal record. He had never broken 2:20 before that day and he finished in 2:19:33. The coolest part was how he did it.
In the fall, Calum ran the Chicago Marathon. He ran it in a time of 2:23:47. He had a typical training schedule for a high-caliber runner, with some weeks reaching 112 miles for the week.
After Chicago, he took a break from training. He was contacted in December through Instagram while drinking wine and eating dessert. He says he "WAS NOT in training mode." The Houston Marathon was in January. He ended up running 30 mile weeks for training and used a stationary bike for cross-training. He even mentions being nervous that Keira would see his Strava and lose confidence in his ability to pace her.
His rest wasn't entirely forced, but his training going into Houston wasn't exactly what he would've planned if he had more time. It reminds me of my final year of racing in college. By this time, I had a nagging left glute and hamstring issue. Throughout the summer and fall, leading up to the track seasons, I hadn't been able to do the same amount of base training I had typically done (~60 miles/week). During the indoor and outdoor season, I primarily ran the workouts (track workouts, intervals, tempo, etc) and everything else was cross-training or short runs. I wasn't doing nearly the same volume as I had done in the past.
I remember showing up at the Duke Invitational in the spring for my first steeplechase race of the year feeling woefully unprepared. I had a dreadful feeling that my season was going to be an embarrassment.
I ended up running a huge personal best that day. The season ended up being my best season, overall. I ran personal records set in my 1500, 5000, and 3k steeplechase and almost won the conference meet if not for an epic steeplechase barrier fall in the last lap. It happens!
Calum's story and my story are not the only ones like this. I've seen it time and time again throughout my career. I've had many runners who make it through all of their intense training only to get injured a few weeks before and not be able to complete their training. Some of them end up having GREAT races.
In each of these cases, I think we can agree that the body is saying, "finally, a freakin' break!" When we're building up for a big race or a big PR, we need to be training right on the edge. Too little training and you won't get the result you want. Too much training and you go over the edge. This might lead to an injury OR just a poor race result. Too often we show up at the line beaten down from all the training.
To add to this, a lot of us train all year round. We may take a week or two, but how many serious runners out there really ever let themselves get "out of shape?" This can easily result in overtraining, which is a complex condition that is a lot more than just being too tired to train anymore. It involves issues with bone health, hormone balance, the immune system, and more. A two week break just doesn't quite cut it to break that cycle.
Having a well trained coach (and physical therapist!) can help you avoid getting into this type of situation in the first place. Ideally, we always want you to show up on race day strong, refreshed, and healthy.
However, if something forces you to stop training, don't panic! It might be just the magic you need.