Sometimes it sucks

Sometimes I feel like this after a ride. Luckily, not all the time. John snapped this shot two years ago after a bike century on a 90-degree day. It wasn't awesome.

Last Thursday, I fought through a 90 minute ride, with the final 10 minutes feeling like 100 minutes. I could feel the energy slipping away from my legs. I was so drained, I skipped my 15 minute transition run.

Friday’s a new day, right?


I slogged through 3200 yards of swimming. On good days, I can swim 3200 yards to warm up for the rest of my workout. On this day, those same 3200 yards sent me to the couch for a 2-hour nap.

And, then it was Saturday morning. Time for another long ride. Three hours.


I’m not gonna lie: it was the last thing in the world I felt like doing. But, how can you skip a long ride?

If you are an insane Type A triathlete, you can’t – even if you know you should.

So, I dutifully gathered up all of the items I would need: bike shoes, music, fueling, water bottles, sweat towel, computer (for CompuTrainer), heart rate monitor. I prepared my run gear for the 30 minute transition run that was to follow the ride.

Just the act of gathering and preparing the items was stealing what little motivation I may have had.

I procrastinated. The clock ticked on. With a 3.5 hour workout looming, I had to get started.

I somehow willed myself to begin my core routine that I use as a warm-up before my workouts. (If you are interested in the routine, click here, and scroll to the table at the bottom of the post.)

After half-assing it, I headed out to the cold, dark garage, where my trusty steed awaited. She seemed perky enough, with her shiny gray, black and white trim. Her gleaming silvery wheels. My BFF.

Okay, maybe this won’t be so bad. I willed my mind to be positive.

Silverman elevation profile from CompuTrainer.

Vince, my coach, had scheduled a hilly ride, so I selected the Silverman course. The entire 112-mile course has roughly 8,000 feet of climbing, which is comparable to Mont Tremblant. I figured that would be hilly enough.

And, so I started.

The first 60-75 minutes went relatively well. I was building in power, maintaining my heart rate, and while I didn’t feel spectacular, it wasn’t the crapfest I was expecting.

Well, that was the best I was going to get. Similar to Thursday’s ride, I felt the energy slowly sucking out of me as I approached the 90 minute mark. By this point, John had joined me in the garage. He was on a reduced load week, and had a shorter ride than I did.

As I approached the 2 hour mark, I wondered where I would find the energy for another 60 minutes. I was eating my gels, drinking my sports drink.

No change in energy. No change in attitude.

Usually, if I am low on calories, a gel will set me straight again. Not this time. This fatigue was apparently deeper than the 110 calories of the Power Gel (with double caffeine, mind you).

I watched as my watts and heart rate slowly dropped, despite the fact that my rate of perceived exertion felt comparatively high. The numbers on the screen did NOT match the feeling in my brain, in my body.

I had been riding 2 hours and 37 minutes when John said, “Okay, I’m done.”

I looked at him. I had been mumbling random complaints, and each time, he would say, “Just stop, then.” I stubbornly kept riding. But, when he said he was done, it was too much. I lost the battle.

“Me too,” I replied. And, with that I was off the bike, trying not to be anxious about the 23 minutes of riding I didn’t complete. I felt defeated, deflated, demoralized.

I came inside and put on my gear for the next phase, and headed out for the 30 minute transition run. The first 15 minutes or so weren’t too terrible. But, by the time I finished my run, I felt like I had run a half-marathon. I was winded, tired–cooked.

Yeah, this was NOT a normal Saturday. The past few weeks, I’ve been killing my rides and runs. Hitting my power marks, staying in my heart rate zones, and feeling strong. So, why was this particular Saturday (and the previous two days) so terrible?

This face says it all. Sometimes, it sucks.

The simple answer: Sometimes, training sucks.

I like to keep it positive on this blog. I’ve written about the glory of flow, the amazing beauty of the human body in motion, extraordinary moments and on and on with my love of the endurance sport lifestyle. And, most of the time, that is how I feel about it. It would be hard to train 15-20 hours a week and not love it.

But, sometimes, it sucks.

These sucky moments present themselves as a teacher, if we are open to the lesson.

When it sucks, we may need learn to increase our mental toughness. There are moments in an endurance race that undoubtedly suck. But, if we learn to hang tough, we find that we feel better if we figure out what we need: more fuel, the right pace, some sodium, some water – whatever.

However, the lesson of the suck is not always to soldier on, to push on through, to HTFU.

In this particular case, my lesson was to chill out.

Three days of fatigue, reduced performance and increased irritability are signs of overreaching, of pushing past the edge. They are not signs that I needed to be tougher mentally. In fact, my mental stubbornness was probably the only reason I pushed through workouts when I would have been better served by resting or lighter active recovery efforts.

It’s a benefit to our overall performance when we train hard enough to find our edges. But, if we continue to push beyond those edges without giving our body the time for recovery, our performance will continue to decline, and we become susceptible to illness and injury. Without recovery, we are not able to adapt and push our edges to new limits, and that definitely sucks.

After last Saturday’s suckfest, Vince cleared my Sunday, and I had an instant rest day. By Sunday afternoon, I could already feel the energy returning. It was as if I hit a reset button, and my body restarted, leaving me refreshed and ready for a new training week.

This week, I hit my marks, I made my numbers, I felt strong in my zones. Yesterday, I had a 2 hour and 15 minute bike, during which I maintained average watts that are higher than any I’ve seen so far on a ride. Then, I went out and ran for 45 minutes at IM race pace–and it felt comfortable.

You know what? That doesn’t suck.

What do you take from sucky training sessions? How do you move past them?

**Note: This post is inspired, in part, by a post from my twitter buddy, @TriMeOn, which you can find here.



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  3. I think we’ve all be there! I am similar to you in that it takes me at least 3 days of bad workouts before I admit that I need to rest even though everything I read tells me that if my body is telling me no then it’s probably a good idea to listen.

    I can’t imagine being on the trainer for 2.5 hours – no wonder you got off early! 😉

  4. @Derek – You’re so right: there is nothing wrong with a 2 hour nap 🙂

    @Katie – I wish I could be hard core all the time. But, it’s just not possible.

    @Jenn – good for you for listening to your body. When we don’t we get into trouble!!

    @Jason – my twin 😉 Solid ride & run, brother!

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  6. Every training session teaches us a lesson. The sucky ones teach us to listen to our bodies or teach us that it is going to get bad in the race so be prepared for it.

    I deal with sucky training sessions by mentally preparing for the next day’s session. Knowing that it was bad I want to be able to go out there and get that confidence mojo back. Build that confidence back up.

    I will say that through Ironman training I have learned about going hard when need be and getting in the required work, but not lazy work. Junk miles are useless, might as well take a rest day and avoid the chance for injury.

    Thanks for tweeting with me this morning as it helped the trainer ride go by quickly and guess what: It didn’t suck and then I went out and laid down a 4 mile run in 30 minutes for a 7:21/mi pace which is only the second time I have ever done that off a ride that was 3 hours or longer. Doesn’t SUCK!

  7. I’m fighting a bad flu right now and unlike a lot of my running friends who can just run through an illness, I can’t. They take me down, fast. And all I can do is think about the mileage I lost this week, my upcoming race, the great weather I missed out on earlier in the week, etc. It is so hard to quiet down that inner voice sometimes.

  8. Derek

    hahaha – love the picture of you and John on the trainers you complain he says stop you soldier on –
    & what the heck is wrong with a 3200 swim + 2hr nap!

    for sure tho – peaks and valleys of training…there are always the certain low spots

  9. this is such a good lesson to see – I have so many friends who are “ALL HARD ALL THE TIME” and it’s not smart OR sustainable. sometimes you need a break, a chance to catch your breath. thanks for sharing 🙂

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