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A runner's diary: Why being competitive can hurt your training

Runner Dave Emilio

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Dave Emilio is documenting his training for the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon on Oct. 16.

Training for a marathon has a way of revealing one's flaws. I often forget to follow my own guidelines, for instance, and then let competitiveness get in the way of a good training run. Last weekend, my wife and I decided to enter in a 28-kilometre trail race near Algonquin Park. The idea was to get our long run for the week while enjoying the beauty of the great trails in Northern Ontario. Remember that quote about how you should not run the first half of a race like an idiot, and not run the second half like a wimp? Well, I momentarily forgot all about that.

We made it to the race and lined up at the starting line. My intentions of running easy and finishing strong immediately disappeared. The gun went off and I worked my way near the front of the pack. I realized if I pushed hard, I could probably finish in the top 10 or so. Big mistake. I don't run trails often enough to realize how much energy I was expending, and as this particular trail was a flurry of hills, I was quickly running out of steam. It's just too early in my training to perform well over 28 km of rugged terrain.

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Halfway, after a nasty fall, I was wiped. I was riddled with regrets. Why did I let myself get caught up in the moment? Why didn't I think about proper pacing? It was too late; the mistakes were made and I tried to make the best of it. Unfortunately I was so tired in the latter stages that I caught my feet on tree roots and ended up closely inspecting the forest floor a few times. It was a beautiful route and I did my best to enjoy it, but my training really would have been better served with proper execution. Instead, I spent the rest of the week recovering instead of doing more hard runs and speed-work. Lessons learned … again.

With only a cotton tee and great mental images of the stunning route as souvenirs, I will put the race behind me (for the record I placed 22nd), and forge on to the next stage of training, knowing all too well that if I plan to meet my marathon goal of 3:10, I still have a lot of "smart" work left to do.

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