Training for a marathon is a grind, if you do it right. A well designed and properly executed marathon training program dishes out as much hard work as you can handle. Inevitably, then, there will be many days when you feel the toll of your recent hard work in your legs, and you don't run particularly well. Of course, if you never (or rarely) feel strong while training for a marathon, then you're obviously trying to do too much. Your fitness makes the biggest leaps forward on the days when you feel strongest and run best. Without adequate recovery, those days don't happen. But those "grinding" days, when you feel sort of flat, are nothing to worry about, as long as they don't become too frequent, and they can do a lot for your fitness, too, if you do in fact grind through them (instead of wimping out, which you should only do when you feel truly lousy).
I have a mantra that I use to help me grind through those tough workouts when I feel sort of flat. "Just do the work," I tell myself. Like a lot of competitive runners, I am very time focused. I pay close attention to my pace in all of my workouts. Thus, when I do any workout involving faster running and I struggle to sustain my target pace, I tend to become frustrated. Telling myself to "Just do the work" is my way of reminding myself that my split times in any single workout really don't matter. What matters is completing the workout as well as I can on any given day. In becoming too time-focused it's easy to forget that I still benefit from workouts in which my times are substandard. If I just do the work each day, my fitness will increase, and my performance will improve. If I just do the work, sooner or later I will have a workout in which I run much faster than expected.
It just happened last week
twiceas a matter of fact. Two weeks ago I had one of those grinding weeks, when I had to tell myself to "just do the work" every day. But I was rewarded last week. On Tuesday I did a speed workout consisting of 5 x 1K hard with 1K jog recoveries. I had planned to run each hard 1K in roughly 3:12, but shocked myself by easily running the first in 3:05 and sustaining that pace through the next four. Then, on Friday, I went to the track and ran a 10K time trial. My goal was to run 34:55, but I wound up running 34:18 and feeling great the whole way.
This week I'm grinding again, but I couldn't care less. Last week's workouts renewed my confidence that my training is right on track. I'll keep reminding myself to just do the work until my next breakthrough comes around.