Have Dental Floss, Will Travel

Mapping the world, one waxy strand at a time…


How do you gauge a workout?

Do you rank it as a 1 or a 10 by some internal barometer that determines whether it was good or bad?  Or do you assess how you felt based on the performance of your training partners and teammates?

I’ve been tossing around these questions in my head for a few weeks, as I think back on the past season of racing and begin to gear up for the current one.

I would classify 2011 as a banner year for me (both in terms of racing and in terms of life, but I’ll stick to racing here).  I felt confident and competent on the race course in a way I never had before.  I felt strong.  I kept up with my teammates.  I was a contributing member of the team.  I traveled to my first international race (which, admittedly, sort of sucked).  I competed in my first USARA national championship.  And when all that was over, I PR-ed in the marathon by 9 minutes.

Sure, there were some crummy moments, some blips during racing and training, but when I think back on the year as a whole, I’m proud of what I did and what I was able to help our team accomplish.

When Brent thinks back on 2011, though, he remembers a much more spotty season.  He struggled to find a rhythm with training as he started graduate school last January, and he felt like it undercut his performance on the race course.  He’ll point to good moments and positive experiences, but in general, when he describes the past season, he does so with an eye toward improvement and redemption.

All this makes me wonder – is my experience of success linked to Brent’s of frustration?  Did I feel more like a contributing member of the team because another teammate (Brent or whomever) wasn’t having his best day?  Was I able to keep up because someone else was moving more slowly?

How much was my personal barometer calibrated to respond to someone else’s?

This past weekend, Brent and I set out for a fifty mile ride.  It was only my second (and Brent’s third) outdoor ride of the year, but I’ve been logging some quality hours inside, and after my legs warmed up, I felt reasonably good as we rode down the windy towpath.  Even though Brent pulled for the lion’s share of the ride, I was keeping pace with little trouble, and when he needed me to, I was able to pull in front and take the lead for a couple miles at a time without slowing dramatically or wearing myself out.

About 10 miles from home, I pulled up alongside Brent and  asked, “How would you rate this ride?”

“What do you mean?”

“Like, on a scale of 1-10, how would you rate it?”

He was skeptical at first, but once I assured him that I had no ulterior motive for asking, he said, “I guess about a six.”

“Me too,” I said, “I was thinking a six, too.”

As we spun up the final hill toward home, we chatted about where we’d go for lunch (Iron Hill Brewery) and the documentary we were planning to watch that night (Paradise Lost III), and I stopped thinking about the relativity of that scale.

But still, I wonder.  Was Sunday’s ride an indication that it’s not, in fact, relative?  That my barometer is, indeed, calibrated internally and that it’s just a coincidence that my best race experiences have coincided with rougher days for some of my teammates?

Or was it that we both felt fine – not spectacular, but not bad, either – and so there was no comparison to be made?




12 responses to “Relativity

  1. kari @ Running Ricig February 1, 2012 at 4:57 pm

    I think for me it’s always a personal thing because all of my races and most of my runs are solo. I’m sure it’s different when you’re working with a team and your success depends on more than yourself.

  2. Kristy February 1, 2012 at 5:50 pm

    I’m with Kari. A majority of the runs and races I do are by myself. But I could see the potential to adopt someone else’s attitude or energy during a run, especially if you’re not having a good run/race yourself. It would be much easier to throw in the towel (pack mentality!).

  3. Julie (A Case of the Runs) February 1, 2012 at 5:58 pm

    Interesting. I’m a slacker, so when I am out there, I *think* I’m putting in a 10, but it’s probably “only” a 6. This is part of the mental aspects of endurance that I have yet to master, and I’m sure I will improve once I do.

  4. misszippy1 February 1, 2012 at 7:32 pm

    It’s an interesting way to look at it. My first response is that you should only measure yourself against yourself. But I understand the urge to compare in the terms you are describing also. Great food for thought!

  5. Kara February 1, 2012 at 9:38 pm

    I think my mood is a big factor on my perceived exertion. If I’m in a crummy mood, sometimes the workout feels harder and when I’m with a fun group of people, sometimes a hard workout can feel more doable.

  6. Jill February 1, 2012 at 11:01 pm

    I kinda rate my running and racing as either: great or sucky. That pretty much sums up them all!

  7. kgeisen February 1, 2012 at 11:19 pm

    What an interesting post. My guess is that you felt better because you were better and more confident, not bc Brent was doing less well than he had in the past. Having read back over a lot of your older posts, you definitely sound like you’ve improved your skills and of course have way more experience now.

  8. kgeisen February 1, 2012 at 11:20 pm

    Oh, and I gauge my workouts by how I feel. If I compared myself to the people I tend to workout with, I’d want to curl up in a fetal position and never run or mountain bike again. But I can usually feel if I’ve done well (for me) or not.

  9. Denise February 2, 2012 at 9:14 am

    wow, that made me think really hard and i haven’t had my coffee yet. i think you should recognize the awesome year you had and realize, it’s b/c YOU pulled it off. it wasn’t b/c some other teammates didn’t have the best year. if you look at it that way, you’re selling yourself short.

  10. mallory February 2, 2012 at 1:24 pm

    I think it’s a very personal thing but thinking back to your posts for 2011, it seemed like a fairly positive and successful year for you!

  11. Coy February 3, 2012 at 1:05 pm

    If I go out with expectations I bomb, if I go out with zero expectations I PR. Go figure.

  12. Kavitha February 6, 2012 at 1:43 pm

    When I ran track with a number of faster people, I used to rank my workouts by my internal barometer. But as I started catching up to them, the comparison became easier, and I started rating my runs based on how I did, compared to others. But if you’re talking about an entire year, as opposed to individual workouts, I would definitely rate it based on my own individual performance. Sounds like you had a smashing year! Congratulations, Abby!

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