20 x 400 meters. Working from 61 all the way down to 50.1.  That’s 50.1 for his 20th 400m, and he went through the first 200m in 23 high.

This mind-blowing workout comes from the log of Alan Webb. It was during his American Record (3:46-mile) season and occurred 2 weeks before he traveled up to Randall’s Island, NY and turned the turbochargers on over the final 100 meters to take down the legend, Bernard Lagat, over a mile.

In a recent podcast with Alan, we broke this workout down rep by rep, but what I found most interesting is what he did the day following this Tuesday morning session. He took a day off.

One of the lessons that I’ve learned in coaching elite runners is that when you are riding the razor’s edge of stress and recover when you have a phenomenal day, that isn’t a signal to push forward, it’s a signal to pull back.

Yet, our temptation is often to do the opposite. How many times do we get excited as athletes or coaches after a breakthrough race. “Wow, you just dropped from a 4:20 mile to a 4:10 one!” Then, the next week of workouts we start formulating based on the athlete being a 4:10 miler. Yet, a week ago, he was training as if he was a 4:20 miler. Training like a slower miler got him to the breakthrough mark, yet we paradoxically assume that in one weeks time, amping up the training is the smart thing to do.

We get greedy. We get excited, seeing new possibilities. It’s easy to fall into the trap, but whenever a breakthrough occurs, the reaction shouldn’t be to drive forward but to take a step back and assess where you actually are.

As Alan aptly put it, he had just completed something that his body and mind had never done before. Even for someone who had run world-class times and workouts preceding this, 20x400m at those speeds and closing that fast was unheard of. His body had reached a new level. When you are somewhere you haven’t been before, your body doesn’t need you to press down on the gas further, it needs to step back and absorb what you’ve done.

The lesson from Alan is a simple, yet profound one. We are our most vulnerable when we are reaching new heights. The prospect for success is at its highest. Don’t let the excitement blind you to what you’ve done.

In any endeavor, success begets greed. Next time you have a breakthrough race or workout, remember the lesson from Alan, respect the work and effort it took to reach that performance.

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After a breakthrough, you should back off, not press forward

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