“We’ve done everything we need to do”

So here’s the thing. I don’t coach off of a template. I don’t use a book. And I certainly don’t coach based on anything I see on social media. I coach with my gut and with first-hand anecdotal evidence from 25 years of experience in the sport. My gut was telling me I needed to make a change to the plan. My years of experience were telling me that we didn’t need the 2 x 6-miler this time around. They had done enough. They had the nearly 18 miles at 5:02 pace in Chicago. And that was in the middle of four straight big weeks after the Great North Half Marathon (also a great workout). They had that killer 12 x mile at Doney Park. Faubs, especially, had crushed that one. He had also looked amazing on the cutdown long run later that week. And the list goes on. They had done enough.

I spoke to Ben on Wednesday night, just a few hours after we had gotten back from Camp Verde. I had already told Scott and Scott they could each skip one second run this week. Whichever day they wanted. Faubs had immediately elected to skip Wednesday’s. What I discussed with Ben was completely scrapping the 2 x 6 and just having them run 18 miles. Besides the one afternoon run, I didn’t want to pull back on the mileage until next week unless we absolutely had to. And I didn’t think we had to. But I did think that if we attempted that 2 x 6—A) it wasn’t going to go well and B) we’d be risking going into a hole that even a two-week taper might not get us out of. Ben had a couple of alternative ideas, but I think my mind was made up. The 2 x 6 was out.

I texted the Scotts on Thursday morning to see if they could get to strength about ten minutes early to talk out the rest of the week. Once they arrived it was pretty simple.

Guys we’re not doing the 2 x 6. We don’t need it. We’re good. We’ve done everything we need to do. We’re totally ready. Tomorrow we’ll run a leg speed session so we don’t veg out. And Sunday we’ll run a normal 18-miler. That’s it.

Faubs briefly asked about maybe a fast finish to the 18 but I said no. We’re good. To me if we weren’t ready for a workout we weren’t ready for a workout. That was it. He agreed. In fact, I could tell they were both relieved. It’s not as if I was the only one who realized they were on the edge. Hell, they probably knew it more than I did. And watching both of them react in such a calm and collected way was not only reassuring but it also confirmed what I already knew—that these guys were true pros. The rest of my week was stress free.

On Thursday, I was eating a burrito and working on this very book, when I got a text from Ben asking Scott Smith and me to come to weights a little early so that we could go over the rest of the schedule. When we all convened, Ben got straight to the point. In a voice that didn’t quite have his usual contagious confidence and optimism, Ben said, “I think that we have all the tools, and that we should not do the 2 x 6 miles that I had planned for Sunday. I just think that you guys are fit, and we can only mess it up from here.” Ben’s generally positive message about us being ready, was overshadowed by his tone. Instead of his normal positivity, it almost seemed like Ben’s voice was laced with extra compassion. He even sounded a little apologetic, it felt like he saw Scott and I as two beaten-down, exhausted skeletons and the look in his eyes seemed to acknowledge his role in pushing us this far and this hard. Even though Ben said, “We have all the tools” what I heard was, “You look fried.” My heart sank a little bit when he shared his plan to ditch the 2 x 6, and instead to just do an easy 18-mile run. I felt like doing 2 x 6 was pretty necessary. This weekend was going to be our last really hard and specific session. It was our last chance to gain some meaningful fitness, and I wanted to crush it. I’d been feeling terrible, but the taper was so close. I felt like I had enough left in the tank to take one more swing, and I thought that we’d have plenty of time to recover afterward. But, that’s not what came out of my mouth. The words that I actually said, were, “Okay, that sounds good.” It came out of my mouth quickly and easily, almost automatically, like the words had been waiting for a chance to be said. I was surprised to hear them fire into the air, but I didn’t try to walk them back once they’d slipped out.

Intellectually, I know that changing the 2 x 6 miles was a good move. I hadn’t really felt good for a number of weeks, and it’s been a long segment where I did some pretty monster sessions as long ago as August. My heart rate variability numbers were in the toilet, and even cognitively and emotionally I was starting to show signs of fatigue. I knew that the plan was created a long time ago and that we didn’t have to stick to it 100%. In fact, it’s probably better that we do vary from the plan, because we have more information now and should be able to make better decisions than we could have five months ago. But we don’t have many more chances to gain fitness at this point, and it feels like we missed two of our final opportunities. A week like this makes it harder to draw a line from training to race day and say, “Okay, this work equals top five.” That lofty goal of getting top five was feeling so real and attainable only a few weeks ago, and this week it feels like we took a step away from that. It got a little harder to visualize the race, it felt a little bit less real.

After we decided to switch things up, I found that my mood improved, almost immediately, actually. I realized that I had been kind of dreading doing 2 x 6. I’d been worrying about how hard it was going to be, and now that it wasn’t on the horizon anymore, I felt better. I’m not the type of person who leans away from doing hard things, so if I’m feeling this way, it’s a pretty good sign that something wasn’t right. My legs didn’t necessarily feel better, I still felt flat and tired and heavy, but I also wasn’t waking up every morning dreading going to work. I could finally see the light at the end of the tunnel, I could smell the taper.