Endurance Sports: Falling off of the Performance Treadmill….Difficult to Get Back On

I chuckled when I saw this old “demotivational” poster:

And given my previous two “long” performances (15K run, marathon walk) it sure looks as if that poster applies to me.

Then I thought about it. My last “good” ultra performance (83 miles in the 24 hour walk) was in 2006. My last good 100 mile performance was in 2005. My last “good” marathon walks were in 2009 (two of them). I finished a staged 100 in 2009 (almost 48 hours, albeit on a horribly muddy trail) and I stumbled through some disgustingly slow ultras (2010, trail 30, 2011, 24 hour walk). My last good swim was in March, 2010. (5K PR)

But the reality is: since my knee operation in July 2010, I haven’t been able to build up to anything resembling steady training, and frankly I am beginning to wonder if I will be able to.

I sure am familiar with this!

It isn’t as if I am doing nothing.

Then I noticed something. I follow blogs of some endurance athletes; one is on the upswing and still climbing (5:16 50K walk!) and one has had, well, some injury related consistency issues. This guy had previously worked himself to a sub 3 hour running marathon.

I noticed other runners and walkers in my life have undergone similar things: they can still “do” events but they can’t seem to muster the old fire to really crush an event; the ability to consistently train hard and really push doesn’t seem to be there. One of my other friends has told me that she has “lost her ultamarathon mojo”; at her last 100 attempt she had to stop at 40 miles and was all nauseated. (sound familiar?)

Yes, I am familiar with some who can consistently, decade after decade, finish 100’s. But they seem to be the exception.

It seems that most of us have a limited period of time in which we can approach our genetic potential, but when that time is it marked by injury, illness, or whatever, we are never quite the same again.

Some of it, I am sure, is just plain old age. Some of it is accumulated injuries; even when they heal, their remnants degrade your performance, at least a little bit. So when you add their effects up….

Some of it is losing the ability to recover from hard training. And some of it is the training itself. For example: when it comes to weights, I almost never really, really push for that last rep; I do a few sets and quit when it becomes uncomfortable (the last rep often is); no more of that grunt and really push for me. 🙂

So my question: is this what I can expect from here on out? If so, I am ok with it as I am still having fun. Or, someday, will I finally be able to really bear down and produce something resembling a quality performance?

My heart tells me “yes”, but my head says “probably not”.

Note: this isn’t really a whine; I’ve been pretty happy with this past week’s training. But I’d like to be realistic in making plans for the fall.

June 23, 2012 - Posted by | Friends, marathons, Navel Staring, running, swimming, training, ultra, walking


  1. IIRC, in The Lore of Running, Noakes talks about most runners having 20 good years in them, no matter what age they start. I started running in 1985, ran my marathon PR a decade later, and ran my 100 mile PR 22 years later, But, it’s certainly been a challenge the last few years. For me, being someone who loves to run in a body built for sumo wrestling has probably just made it that much more difficult. These days, I’m focused on training so that I can continue to be active and do the things I love to do, rather than training to compete. Ten years ago, I don’t know if I would have believed I’d be happy without the competition, but I’ve adapted to it pretty well.

    Also, I’d take exception with your failure poster above. There might have been times when I would have agreed with it, but not any more. If I do my best, it’s not a failure. I might not hit a goal, but if I do my best, it means the goal was the problem, not my effort.

    Comment by Damon | June 24, 2012 | Reply

    • Damon, that demotivational poster was meant “tongue in cheek”; I posted it because that is how I “feel” after a performance flop, even if it is illogical to feel that way. 🙂

      Comment by blueollie | June 24, 2012 | Reply

  2. Ollie (and Damon) aka the Debbie Downers 😉

    You guys might like the book 14 Minutes by Alberto Salazar. He was the top marathoner in the world and then experienced years of frustration despite being “in his prime” before going on to win Comrades and become a top coach. I really enjoyed it.Ollie be warned he is very religious but IMHO very thoughtful way.

    Even runners far, far better than us never even make it close to the top.


    Comment by Dr. Andy | June 24, 2012 | Reply

    • I am familiar with Mr. Salazar; he won the NYC marathon for the first time during my senior year in college; his older brother ran XC for the Naval Academy. I have his “running book” and read it; it is pretty good IMHO. Yeah, I know, he went “born again” after he started to go downhill (from his 2:08 marathon days) and had all sorts of issues; he even had a heart attack a few years ago.

      I’ll have to look for that book.

      Comment by blueollie | June 24, 2012 | Reply

  3. […] well, I have a benchmark race coming up, and I remember something I wrote…gasp…6 years ago. I was to go under 25 minutes for the 5K a few more times…now..even going sub 28 seems […]

    Pingback by And I find myself a social conservative « blueollie | June 8, 2018 | Reply

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