-- Marathon Running Information, Coaching and Advice from Coach Joe English

Training — Why do the Tough Get Going?

running-advice-bugWe’ve all heard the expression, “when the going get tough, the Tough get going.” I was wondering yesterday what it is that makes actually makes the tough “get going”? In other words, when the pressure and hurt is on, what makes certain people shrink away and others rise up to the challenge? I think that the answer is pretty simply put that they want something and have somewhere to go.

I’m reflecting on this because one of my athletes has really been struggling. She’s sent me messages that ask things like “why is this so hard” and “why isn’t this getting any easier?” In fact, this is one of the key themes of questions to us running coaches. And we understand that we’re dishing out hard work to people, so we aren’t surprised by the questions.

There are two things that I’d like you to think about today. The first is the value of the hard work itself and the second has to do with goals and desires. Let’s look at each in turn.

First, some portion of your running workouts are going to be hard, with hard here meaning that they push you to your limits and perhaps beyond them. One expression that you may have heard is that if your workouts aren’t hard then perhaps you aren’t getting much out of them. I think there is nugget of truth in that street wisdom. By pushing the body to our its limits and beyond, we force the body to activate our recovery and compensation pathways, leading us to greater heights and achievements for future performances. By pushing a little further, we are able to push even further the next time.

The “hard” part of this is the point at which we’ve gone faster or longer or more intensely than we have before. And the great value in your workouts comes at that point. As my friend Coach Dean has often point out, the last two miles of the workout are the most valuable. In fact, one way to look at this is to think about most of the workout really being a prelude to that tough section at the end. That’s where the point from which the growth and development benefits are derived.

The second aspect is how we deal with the “hard” parts of the workout. Do we rise up to the challenge or do we fold when the pressure comes at us. I recall one athlete that stopped doing track workouts. Why? He said that they made him feel “uncomfortable” and that he “didn’t like the way they felt.” There’s validity in those comments. You may not like the way the hard parts feel, but that’s exactly the crux of the issue: at that moment when the going gets tough, the Tough have to decide whether they are going to get going or stop.

The people that keep themselves going in the face of the tough parts and adversity are those that know where they are going and want to get there. They know that to finish that marathon or break that PR then they need to do the work. If they don’t do the work, they won’t get there. And they want to get there. This mental component is all about having goals and having a vision of what you want. To say it another way, if you don’t know what you are working toward you can sacrifice to get there.

I’ll close these thoughts by giving some advice. If you’re struggling in the later stages of your workouts, understand that there is value in this struggle. Much of the benefit is derived from the tough parts. And make sure that you spent at least some time every week, perhaps on your rest days, thinking and meditating on your path. The more concrete your vision of your goals, the more secure you’ll be in putting yourself through the challenges to get there.

Coach Joe English, Portland, Oregon USA
Running Advice and News


2 responses so far, want to say something?

  1. 1. Training — Even the Best Struggle and Bonk | Running Advice and News February 4th, 2013 at 5:16 pm

    […] wrote a piece a couple of days ago called “Why do the Tough Get Going?” in which I was giving some advice to one of my athletes who had struggled in a series of […]

  2. 2. Training — Keeping Your Eye on the Prize | Running Advice and News February 17th, 2013 at 7:42 pm

    […] seems like I’ve been hitting some familiar and related topics over the last few weeks: keeping yourself focused on the end goal; staying with it when it gets tough; and, understanding how to you keep your workouts from becoming […]

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