Often when I write about the difference between plan and reality the plan is much more entertaining, faster, (pain-free!) and positive than the real end-result.
This weekend was a complete flip of the switch on that situation. The plan was to get eight miles yesterday at close to a ten-minute pace. Not only did we get eight, we got it in at a pace about fifteen seconds per mile faster than planned.
Okay. There was a down side. I ended up subluxating (popping) one of my ankle tendons five miles in; something I end up doing once every six months or so. To top it all off, I had no choice but to walk or run another two kilometers...up-and-down a bridge (I will not receive any sympathy from those friends who live with elevation changes.). I guess I could have swam across the bayou and saved myself about 1,500 meters of limping. Actually, once I got to the top of the bridge my heart rate made me forget about the ankle. While the training isn't as fast as what I used to do it was a major improvement over how I felt some time back.
Think back to the last time you had a sudden leap in performance; perhaps you were able to run for a longer period of time without feeling the need to stop or slow down. Or, even better, you knocked a big, honking chunk of time off your best performance on a run course.
Quite simply, you adapted to a stress.
The Austrian-born Canadian psychologist Hans Selye likened a graphic version of the physiological response to stress - especially the way we adapt or fail to adapt to it - to that of a sine wave, dropping during the period of time during and immediately following a workout, then slowly returning back to the baseline.
Once baseline is reached a period of what he called "supercompensation" can occur, depending on the level of stress induced and the period of time given for recovery. Put one-too-many hard workouts in succession and that wave might not return to baseline for a while...that's a state known as over-reaching or over-training.
Do some easy workouts, or focus on a different areas of fitness while the ones you stressed are recovering - any functional fitness enthusiast would tell you there are as many as ten, to include cardiorespiratory endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, speed, coordination, accuracy, agility, and balance - and that supercompensation will not only occur, but will eventually raise the baseline so that your former supercompensated state is now your new baseline. When I look at the list of ten "fitnesses" it's easy to tell that distance running has a strong focus on some, and not as great a focus on others. This is most likely why we're starting to see top-shelf elite runners hit the weight room and take on functional fitness training regimens as adjunct training.
(I don't think we're around the corner from seeing Dave Castro's ideal functional fitness enthusiast, a person who can both run a five-minute mile and deadlift five hundred pounds. But, I'm sure there's a golden mean between the folks dropping iron and the treadmill crowd working to drop fat pounds in my local gym.)
The goal of the training, whether it's strictly running, or if there's weight training or cross-training or functional fitness added in...is to get the sine wave of fitness back to that peak of supercompensation faster, higher and to stay there for a longer period of time. Sometimes that means a deeper level or a longer period of "down." When you hit that level of down it's time to focus for a little while on something else.