Spring Equinox 8k

Spring Equinox 8k

instead of doing the 30k I’d planned at 7:30 Sunday morning, I did a lower-key 8k. And I didn’t even obsessively ad on warm up or cool down miles. Then, on Monday, I switched my Providence registration to the half. Relieved.

How Much Can Training Change?

I have been thinking a lot about how much training matters. I mean, training as separated from general fitness and confidence.

I missed a lot of running this week after getting a bad cold, and since outdoor has started up, it’s suddenly much easier to do a 16 minute tempo run a little faster than I should or 800m repeats than marathon-type workouts. After last weekend’s fairly (inexplicably) miserable 18.5 miler, I’ve been thinking about the difference in running every day, as I have for the past 18 years, and training, particularly training for a marathon. How much do I have to give to running? In terms of time, yes, but even more in terms of stress level (am I the only person who can’t relax when she has a 20 mile long run scheduled?) and emotional investment.

This got me to thinking about the four marathons I’ve run and how, though they seem wildly different in my mind because my expectations and the level of disappointment were different in each, in the big spectrum of marathon running, they are not really so different.

Vermont City, 2006: ran about 70 miles a week, including at least one long, hard workout mid-week and several Jack Daniels style tempo-long-tempo runs, crashed and burned and ran 3:24 after walking much of the second half. Had hoped to break 3, realistically thought I could run 3:10.

Boston 2008: got the news that I’d be running the race with 6 weeks to go and had done one run over 12 miles since Vermont CIty almost two years earlier. DId 1 16 miler, 1 20 miler and 1 18 miler, ran mostly 7 mile runs during the week. Goal was to finish and not disappoint all the people who’d given me the Bradley Award or to wound my own fragile ego. Ran 3:19

Boston 2009: ran about 50 miles a week, trained in a normal, methodical way, including about one speed workout a week and a handful of runs between 16-21 miles. Felt confident going into the race, hoped to PR. Ran 3:18.

Gansett Marathon 2011: entered on a whim about a month before the race after doing an 18 mile run on a whim. Longest run was a “I’ll pretend I was running 7:30 pace for that whole time and then it’s 20 miles” 2:30. Felt great at 10 miles and went through the half on pace to run 3:12, which felt completely reasonable in that deluded moment. Hit the wall hard at mile 16, felt very sorry for myself for the next 10 miles. Ran 3:22 (I think? I don’t remember. In this case, the real victory really was finishing)

So, is my body, when in general running shape, about a 3:25 marathon type of body, and then sometimes I can force it to run a little faster? What if I could handle more volume in training? Had a training group? Could I run 3:10? What if I didn’t do anything I didn’t feel like doing and just ran with the high school kids every day between now and May 7? How much do any of these things I have wasted days reading about matter? I’m usually a firm believe in mind over matter and the irrelevance of shape and talent in achieving at least modest distance running success, but at the end of this week, assessing the damage and exhaustion, I started to really question the range of influence my training actually wields.

Bewitching

My first inkling that I might like marathoning came when, on a whim, a friend and I decided to run around Madison’s Lake Mendota (about 24 miles the way we planned it). Sure, I was tired by the end, but we didn’t even start until after we both got off work (around 6pm) and I remember how quickly the miles from 10-18 flew by.

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smiling, mostly because I’m done, with my dad after 26.2 very humbling miles

It was almost a year later that I ran my first marathon, and although the race did not go as planned (every rookie mistake: went out too fast [as in, missed my 1/2 marathon PR by less than a minute] didn’t drink enough water, didn’t feel like chewing my shot blocks and figured it would be fine to just throw them away, stopped and walked, cried, got charlie horses, and eventually limped across the finish line), and it was, and I know we can’t remember degrees of pain and all that, but I think, the most painful experience of my life, I felt that the marathon and I had some unfinished business. I’d hoped to break 3 on a perfect day, but instead of adjusting the plan for a non-perfect (85 at the start) day, I plowed ahead stubbornly until I ran myself into the ground. I knew I could run faster even without training better, and probably even more faster if I trained smart.

That marathon has indeed been my slowest, but I’ve never felt the level of fitness I used to when hammering out mile repeats and repeat tempo runs (what? I did that?), doing Daniels-style T-L-T workouts, running 10 miles the day after 20 mile long runs, feeling like 7:30 pace was just too slow to stand.

When I think about this training period, I try to be fair to my current self. I hated my job then, and running often felt like the only productive thing I did in a day. I was 23. I thought I was invincible without even realizing it.

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with training partner Megan after Boston in 2009

None of the three marathons I’ve done since have been as frustrating, but none of the training has been as satisfying. I ran Boston twice, once, with the honor of honoring my late University of Chicago teammate with 6 weeks prep, and then later with my diligent 24 week buildup, and both times neglected to do any real speedwork and almost the exact same time. Then, last spring in a brief recurrence of invincibility, I signed up for the Gansett Marathon, did a bunch of 5 mile runs, a 25k race, a 17 mile run and a run I pretended was 20 miles but knew, even at the time, that 19 was pushing it.

So, this December, I thought: I’ll do this right. Who knows when I’ll have this much time again. I don’t have kids, I get to run as part of my job (coaching high school runners), and, as the winter went on, milder and milder, I felt even more obligated to take adventage of the clear running trail and the shorts-weather sunshine on so many January and February afternoons. After last year’s feet and feet of snow, I tried not to take clear roads for granted.

Either I’d forgotten how tired actually training for a marathon makes me, or I’ve become wimpy. Last night I had a dream about eating graham crackers. In the dream, I was outraged, because the graham crackers I found in my desk at school were low fat, but I was so hungry I ate them anyway. After today’s 18.5 miler, Nick and I walked a half-mile or so down the road to get sandwiches, and if I hadn’t eaten then, I don’t know that I would have all day. After my shower, I lay in bed reading and feeling my muscles spasm in little bursts all over my legs. Did this happen before? And what about all the short races I miss? I don’t have much leg speed right now, but I saw some runners after a local St. Patrick’s Day 4 Miler and I felt a nearly nostalgic longing to have been part of the race. I’d just run 18.5 miles but I felt unsatisfied and wished I’d run fast and short instead.

In the past, I’ve left marathons, proud of myself for finishing, but each finish has always come after serious doubt: why am I doing this? Why does this hurt so much? How can I keep going? Does the marathon ever not feel like this for anyone? If I could run a 2:25 marathon, or even a 2:50 marathon, would the pain be somehow different for being shorter-lived? Within a few days of finishing each of the marathons I’ve run, I think of something I could do better: go out easier, run less, run more, do more speed, do more long runs, introduce a mid-week long run… and then I come back to that run I did around Lake Mendota, or the fact that I can’t break :41 in a 200 anymore, and my willingness, even eagerness, in tolerating discomfort for a long time, and I think: marathon, I am not done with you, yet.

This training cycle I’ve done pretty much what I set out to do, hitting between 50-60 miles in 6 runs most weeks. I’ve done a mid-week 10-11 miler and I started Yasso 800s. I try to actually take my easy days easy (this is a new and difficult thing for me. On my college team, we rarely ran more than 6 miles on an easy day, but also rarely ran over 7:30 pace, and, let’s be honest, I’m an impatient person and I do a lot of my running alone, so it’s easy to switch an easy 8 for a moderate 6, almost by accident). I have been doing a lot of the things right that I thought were missing before, but I still don’t feel very good. My long run today was really, really hard, and not just in the way that 18 miles is hard, but harder than that 24 mile run on a whim (when the farthest I’d ever run before that was 14 miles).

Today, as I was limping down the stairs, I told Nick: remind me next time I want to run a marathon, that training for a marathon is an entirely different level of exhaustion than just running every day. But, I don’t remember that always being the case. Am I (selectively) forgetting? Am I getting older? Is there such a thing as a person who’d be an ideal 15 mile racer? Why marathons and not 25ks? Why the extra 11 miles? But, on the same token, what makes those extra 11 miles so awful? If I were training for a half marathon (rather than just occasionally jumping in half marathons for a tune-up or challenge) would I wonder why I hadn’t found a 10 mile race? Or a 10k?

What is it about these 26.2 miles that is so bewitching?

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after Boston in 2008 (my mom hates this picture, sorry, Mommy!)

Essay up at n+1

I’m not really sure what I would put on a non-running blog, so perhaps this should become a beyond running blog.

In the meantime, I just wanted to post a link to my essay about teaching and reading The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie that was published at n+1 last week. I’m really proud of the essay, particularly after the careful editing that n+1’s managing editor, Carla Blumenkranz, guided me through. I’m also a little nervous about having something so personal be so public. In the end, I think excitement and a feeling of gratitude to n+1 for interest in the essay, and then, excitingly, to Byliner for naming it an editor’s pick, won out.

Maturity

Last night at the track banquet, one of the seniors said, “thank you to the coaches. What you have taught us is about more than just running. It’s about maturity. We learned to do the full warm up, the entire workout, and cool down. We also learned not to wear sneakers to the banquet.” I loved this so much.

Don’t Let It

This weekend, instead of doing the last (25k) race in the Boston Buildup, I met my friend Sara for a 16 miler in the cold rain on Saturday morning. Sara and I used to teach and coach together, but she’s a third year law student now, and I don’t see her nearly as much as I’d like. Since we’re training for the same marathon and have friends training for the half, we’ve made a routine of meeting at the softest surface around and getting in a long run before meeting for breakfast together. After the run, Nick and I headed into the city for a surprise birthday dinner my dad was planning for my mom at Eleven Madison Park. Luckily for my classiness, I accidentally left my phone at home and could not even be tempted to take pictures of my food. I spent most of yesterday reading the Eleven Madison Park cookbook and google-image searching the restaurant.

There have been a lot of years in my life when running came first. It’s embarrassing to admit: at best I was a potential conference-scorer on a DIII team, and more recently, a weekend warrior with slightly inflated expectations. Of course anything worth doing takes sacrifice, but after reading my Oiselle teammate Mollie’s thoughts on running potentially interfering with personal relationships (“it doesn’t because I don’t let it,” she said) I’ve been consciously looking for a way to make the joy I find in running and in racing supplementary to the joy I find spending time with my family, with Nick, writing, reading, and traveling.

Yesterday morning, still stuffed from the amazing dinner, we spent a leisurely morning in New York City. It was cold, but the sun was shining, my dad went out for fresh croissants, we lazed around reading the newspaper and doing crosswords in our pijamas, I re-read the cookbook, and it didn’t even occur to me until we were almost home, that the race had been going on without me the entire time. It’s funny how on the morning of races, I forget that any other life exists–that people are reading the paper and walking dogs and going to church. It was just as easy to forget that rank elementary school gymnasiums, buckets of bagels and agonizingly tight hamstrings were converging a few miles away in Silvermine.

This morning I checked the results–I still finished 4th in the series, and there’s no way I would have finished third, even if I had gone to the race and run well. I mean, I think I would have had to run my 5k PR 5 times in a row to win the race outright, and still, that might not have bumped me above the third place finisher.

I woke up refreshed before my alarm this morning, to birds and sunshine. While this is about one million times more enjoyable than waking up to creaky legs to rain and darkness, it also makes it hard to leave all these things that bring me joy for work. Once I’m there, I know there will be joy also (like my AP class that randomly incorporated Dadaism into a conversation about The Grapes of Wrath, or my freshmen’s sincere outrage that Ms. Maudie’s fire was left out of the movie version of To Kill a Mockingbird).