Think about the level of discomfort you experience in races, and then ask yourself how often you approach this level of discomfort in workouts, if ever. If you are like most runners I know, and you are honest with yourself, the answer is not very often. Once or twice every week you should expose yourself to near-race-level suffering in high-intensity workouts such as speed intervals, threshold runs, and hill repetitions, if only briefly in those periods of the training process when you wish to train well within your limits.
And this discomfort should be an explicit objective of the workout, along with the specific physiological adaptations you seek from it. In my experience, actively seeking the misery of high-intensity fatigue in workouts actually makes it more bearable. And like anything else, you get used to it. Indeed, stepping outside your comfort zone can almost paradoxically become a part of a bigger, braver comfort zone.
It’s worth doing. Scientific and real-world evidence suggests that athletes increase their tolerance for suffering by developing mental coping skills that make the misery of fatigue more tolerable during repeated exposure to suffering. For example, in a 2003 study researchers from the University of Stirling, Scotland, experimentally induced pain (by cutting off blood flow to specific limbs) in 20 male competitive rowers in training and a control group of 20 nonathlete men. Pain tolerances were measured and found to be significantly higher in competitive rowers. The authors of the study noted: The rowers also reported using a range of self-generated pain-coping strategies during testing which, they claimed, they also used during training. Pain tolerances were correlated with the number and quality of coping strategies used during testing.
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