BY Patrick Dean
It was supposed to be a slow and easy morning’s run. Two days before, I had gone a little longer, adding mileage in training for my first trail race in a year. This was the easy recovery day in the plan.
I expected my legs to feel a little heavy and tired. Instead, everything was great. I ran lightly, with amazingly little effort.
The experience brought to mind a Netflix series I’ve been enjoying, The Least Expected Day: Inside the Movistar Team. Movistar, one of the top teams in pro cycling, is made up mainly of Spanish and Latin American riders, race directors, and crew, and I love the enthusiasm and passion they show. The race director is always in the pace car during stages shouting into the radio, “Venga! Venga! Vamos! Vamos!”
As Movistar competes in the Tour de France, the Giro d’Italia, and the Vuelta d’Espana, they travel with all the luxuries necessary for top performance: masseurs, meals, their own charter buses, top-tier hotels. Everything is managed to maximize their performance.
And yet these riders are interestingly inconsistent. Neither they nor their coaches can always predict how they’re going to feel once they’re in the peloton, or when they reach the foot of the Pyrenees or the Alps.
You watch Alesandro Valverde, forty years old, the World Champion rider who’s seen it all, the consummate pro. Even he is sometimes surprised by off days. And by strong ones, as he blazes to the finish on days when nobody expects him to. Even Valverde himself.
The same is true for the young arrogant hotshots from Ecuador or Colombia. On any day their legs and lungs can just…fail them. They’re struggling in the back of the pack, baffled by their bodies.
There was a time when I lived in DC and ran road races. My first marathon was the Marine Corps, through the streets and around the monuments of the capitol. I followed the perfect training schedule for months before, building up mileage slowly. The morning of the race brought ideal conditions, cool and dry.
I didn’t vary anything from my training. Same shoes, same socks, same pace. And ten miles in, inexplicably, I got awful blisters. At twenty, I gave up and walked to the finish.
No matter how precise and scientific we try to be, we are not machines. We can’t count on feeling great when we’re rested. Nor are we always tired or sore when we’re ‘supposed to be.’
I think any runner who’s really pursued it has been surprised by days when the legs felt heavy. Or, like me on this particular day, amazed to feel light and fast. I hit a quicker tempo, finishing a mile per minute faster than my usual pace, and felt fine. In fact I was kinda exhilarated.
So let’s get out there and enjoy the trail, the road, the day. Especially when the day—and the run—is a different one than we expected. That’s what makes running, and life, so interesting, yes?