When Race Day is Closing in FAST and You Still Can’t Hit Your Pace

Regardless of whether you are training for your first marathon (or any other distance for that matter) or your 50th, if you fail to hit the training paces set to you by your training plan, by a coach, or even just ones that match up to a PR or PB you would like to run, you are not alone!

Actually, in most cases it is a good thing, because it means you are building up the miles of training through easy runs and intensity through workouts, that means you are just trying to survive. If you are doing it right, you will make it to the start line ready to run SIGNIFICANTLY faster than you have been in any of your workouts (or hold that pace for a SIGNIFICANTLY longer amount of time).

I might not be preparing for a race myself, although I have to say, this does feel a little weird for me. The first racing season in late spring kinda flew by, I was in this determined space where I had a new goal on my mind (getting my period back), and I knew running would just detract from that. I was happy for anyone else who was running well, and got so excited with all the PR’s run by friends, but myself, well, I was in a new chapter of my life.

Not that I am suddenly out of that chapter…In fact, I am even deeper into the next stage of my life, but this time around, as. I jog around my local neighborhood, it feels more real. Seeing all the runners out there with those narrowed eyes, struggling from the heat and the accumulation of miles, but refusing to back down, it WILL be worth it in a few months is inspiring.

I look at them, at you, with admiration and respect, I know how much that hurts…and maybe a little part of me wonders, will I ever go back to that?

I remember these moments all too well.

I can still feel it, feel the emotions going through your body. A constant battle between your mind and your heart, between your confidence and your self-consciousness. Training for a goal race is no easy feat, and it is around 6 weeks to go where your doubts are at an all time high.

(If you are already days away from your race, read this letter instead, it will be more applicable to you.)

All those miles you have already put into the training have caught up to you, tune up races have beaten up your legs to a new level, and they are not able to recover as quick as you would hope. Almost every run feels like you are barely able to put one foot in front of the other, just making it through those runs is all you can manage.

Easy runs can only be so easy, you can follow guides for how to make those easy runs slow enough, you can follow my advice to run using effort only and let your body tell you what speed you should be running for those recovery days, but it’s still hard, especially with the relentless heat and humidity (or cruel winter).

An enjoyable easy run? At this point in training, at this time of year, that doesn’t really exist.

Yet we continue to trust, hold out that little beacon of hope that come race day, all of this will be worthwhile, we have dreams and goals, and all this time, energy, heart we are putting into it will be forgotten in that moment of glory.

Because we know, those workouts, the long runs, the hard days, those are what make us able to do it, never mind the easy runs. Sure, those build aerobic endurance, help our bodies get used to running on tired legs, but the workouts and hard runs are what really make us run our best on the day that counts.

So why are those the days that often break our hearts, break our spirits?

You have your goal for race day, hopefully you are starting to think about A, B, C, and stars aligned goals, but what if you are not even getting CLOSE to the pace you hoped you would run? Or worse yet, not even getting close to the pace you have run before?

Surely I am stronger now than I was last time? So why can’t I hit the pace?!?

How am I possibly going to run this pace for 26.2 miles or 13.1 miles if I can’t even hold it for half that!?

Race day is closing in fast, but we start to panic? Is that goal too high? Should I set my sights lower…a lot lower? The idea of heartbreak due to our greediness and over estimation of our ability starts to nourish that seed of doubt.

My friends, no.

Every single runner, I don’t care who they are, what level they are, or what speed they are, has those exact doubts you are. Theirs may be a week or two earlier than yours, may last a week or two less than you, but they are there, I promise you. And that is why I created my Mile 20 Mental Training Program to help anyone and everyone who could have this mental barriers that are stopping you from reaching your running goals.

They might put up a brave face on social media, as you scroll through other runners Instagram feeds, their Facebook accounts, it looks like they are just crushing their training, everything is just coming together perfectly for them.

It is demoralizing, it is defeating, and it breaks your heart.

You are working so hard, doing everything you can to succeed, but somehow things just keep going wrong for you, and right for everyone else.

But let me be frank here. Those Instagram accounts you see where everything is perfect, are lying.

They are having just as many bad workouts as you, they are struggling with doubt, body image, fear, frustration, just as much as you.

And in the VERY rare occasion that they are having that dream buildup where EVERYTHING is going even better than expected, in my experience, that is often where things come crashing down on race day, as you haven’t had that reality check, that question of, “how bad do you really want this?” asked.

never had a perfect build up, something always went wrong, I always had doubts, fears, and wondered why I even put myself through this, but those moments, these bad workouts, days, weeks, are what make you who you are, they make you determined on the day, and you will be able to draw on these moments.

The times where my training has gone very very well, are usually the races I struggled the most.

So if you can’t hit your paces in workouts, if it is absolutely destroying your confidence as every time you run one it seems to make you feel less and less ready, you are running slower and slower, I can only give you one suggestion, my best suggestion for most confidence related running questions.

But you aren’t gonna like it.

Remove paces from the equation.

Run by effort, or what the Running for Real Community calls #NoWatchMe. Either run by minutes, UNMEASURED, or by distance, but with the pacing completely switched off, all you can see is distance on your Garmin.

Now, I am NOT saying do not wear the Garmin, do not register it. I was just as obsessive as anyone else about getting in my mileage, as after all, that is part of the confidence building process, being able to look back on a build up of training and seeing that you did the work.

I am just saying to remove pacing from the equation, take the “should” out of it, and just run what you can, what you are ready for on that day.

Effort doesn’t need to take weather conditions, or terrain, or what you are going through in the rest of your life into account. You just run your best, and its as simple as that.

I know it sounds scary, and it might be hard at first to pace yourself, that is why I strongly recommend you download my effort scale cheatsheet to understand what you should be feeling, without relying on the watch.

But I guarantee you will find it incredibly empowering, and you will feel so much better. If you need to look at your splits after, by all means go ahead, just don’t put any expectation or pressure on it, whats done is done, you did your best for that day, and that is all that matters.

Now, this all depends on your coach, training plan, and ability to trust your body, but hopefully this can put your mind at ease. If you do find that you are crashing and burning race after race, might be time to consider a change of coaching/training plan. We have 5k/10k, half marathon and marathon plans, 100% effort based, and so far, it has been successful. But no pressure, your change might not be trusting Steve and I, instead finding someone local to stand and watch you do your workouts.

Either way, whats done is done, all you can do is trust that as long as you are training as you should be now, the best you can (and sometimes best means being the best at running easy to give yourself time to recover!).

Believe in you the way you would believe in a friend training for a marathon, you CAN do this, and you will.

Oh, and remember to read this in race week 🙂

Don't go into your next race unprepared

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  • I like that quote: “either way, what’s done is done”. I think it’s definitely true. We’ve all been there and had both bad and amazing races before a goal race. I do think it’s important not to get caught up in individual results and just keep focusing on the goal. Great post Tina.

    • Agreed with you there, girl! Often, we let good be the enemy of perfect. But what is perfection? It’s better done then not done. Thanks so much for this reassuring post, Tina.

  • I think an imperfect buildup just strengthens one’s resolve. I had people who told me I could do it (during the Taper madness) that helped stir me back onto the path I needed.
    Glad I went with their well-placed advice. Thanks for posting. Tina.

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