Continual Learning

Training for the Vancouver Marathon was going really well. My easy runs were faster while staying easy, my body was feeling good, week after week I was able to run longer intervals on the track at the same pace and effort as I had for shorter ones…I was firing on all cylinders. And I wasn’t taking a moment of it for granted.

As is typical when an athlete is pushing their body, usually I have some sort of niggle. This time things were feeling smooth and the niggles were fewer. Having dealt with two partially torn hamstrings last year and wondering if I’d ever be able to consistently train again, much less run fast, this felt like a dream. I was thankful everyday for what my body and diligence (with the help of Dr. Zach) was allowing me to do. I even allowed myself to start thinking more realistically about big goals I had pushed aside.

All good things come to an end.

During my big mileage/training weeks, things were feeling good and I was running strong. Until I wasn’t. It was fairly easy for me to figure out why the wheels felt like they were falling off. It’s normal to feel fatigued and crappy when doing your hardest training. Having run for as long as I have, I know my body well and I could tell this wasn’t normal fatigue. It was my body no longer recovering well. I wanted the confidence boost that comes with hitting high mileage, but during my final week of big training, I realized being stubborn about hitting the mileage wasn’t valuable. I wasn’t going to get faster by digging a bigger hole, but I could ruin everything I had worked so hard for if I stuck to the plan. Instead of running my last big week as planned, I ran 10-13 miles less. I was determined to be smart and back off. Still getting in decent mileage and a final, solid long run including a half marathon race), I wasn’t going to let this get me down.

Just before the big hill at the Whidbey Island Half Marathon.

Just before the big hill at the Whidbey Island Half Marathon.

What I figured out was that I wasn’t consuming enough calories to support the high mileage and two speed workouts a week I was doing. Mostly this was due to laziness. When I get tired and hungry, the last thing I want to do is make food. That means I’m not eating enough, so my body doesn’t rebuild well, I don’t sleep well, my body doesn’t recover well, and so on. The important lesson I learned is that I need to be willing to spend extra money on food when I’m in a heavy training block. Going to PCC (Seattle’s version of Whole Foods before Whole Foods existed) to buy healthful, premade food is worth the time and money. The mental anguish that has come from not doing this has cost me far more, not in dollars and cents, but in worry, stress, frustration, and likely, performance (which could end up impacting the dollars and cents part, too). I know this now and will be sure to follow through in future big training blocks.

In addition to figuring out the problem, I realized that damage control was necessary. I had been contemplating starting my taper one week earlier than usual anyway, now it was a necessity. A lot can happen in three weeks, so I focused on that. Trying to stay positive, but being realistic about what was truly possible, I have focused on doing all I can to put myself in a good place: eating enough and healthfully, doing all of the important “little things” to the best of my ability, and simply running less.

My race is this Sunday so the jury is out on whether this worked. And what will that even look like? I’m scared and excited about the race at the same time. Road marathons are relentless and unforgiving. They really are an incredible test of fitness, a smart race plan (and following said plan), will, and determination. I’ve had to adjust my goals for this race, knowing that I have lost some of the speed and strength I had a few weeks ago. I am also hopeful that having made smart adjustments soon after I realized things were going south will lead me to a better result than I might otherwise have had. We’ll see. No matter what, I have learned a lot from this experience. I can run faster, my body does hold up well (as long as I feed it enough), and I’m already looking forward to building off of the training I’ve put in over the past few months.

Vancouver Marathon, here I come. Ready or not.