Right on cue, my last post was looking like it had actually jinxed me for my upcoming race. I wrote about the hamstring soreness I developed doing some new eccentric hamstring exercises added in to my strength routine. That soreness came after the first day of strength training. I did the second day of strength training a few days later. These exercises isolated the hamstring even more. My hamstring muscles actually cramped up during the exercises so I could not complete them with good form. Lesson #1: muscle cramping is not a desired state during strength training and is likely a sign that bad things are happening to the muscle.
I was almost immobile the next few days from these exercises, and I was in my highest mileage training week. I consulted my strength coach and he backed off of the hamstring work. Rather than back off my running, I decided to continue to get my mileage in. The hamstring cramping was pretty awful when I ran. It concerned me--not because of the pain, but because my hamstrings were so tight and inflexible that my gait was really jacked up. I knew it, and I actually predicted that it would lead to problems elsewhere in my body. I was right.
The next week, the hamstrings loosened up a bit, but my calf muscles were overworked from running with jacked up gait. My achilles and arches on both feet were screaming at me with every step. This is exactly what I predicted I would feel. Instead of backing off from my running, however, I had this weird response. I justified continuing to run because I could explain why this happened. Somehow, I rationalized I didn't need to worry about doing further damage because cause and effect were so clear.
Doesn't sound very smart does it? Well, lucky for me, it all worked out fine. My miracle body worker, Jen, was able to get the kinks out of those tendons and muscles so I was able to continue to get my mileage in. I did miss one workout as a result of this, though. Jen was the one who pointed out Lesson #2 to me: don't add in new stuff in the middle of high mileage training. Your body has enough to deal with in recovering from the running alone.
These last couple of weeks were a stark contrast to the happy running weeks I wrote about last time. I was running in pain again and in fear of developing another injury. Plus, I was starting to feel the fatigue of high mileage with double runs almost every day, strength training and flexibility exercises 2x per week. I still don't know how I fit it all in. This took a toll on me both mentally and physically, culminating in a fantastic breakdown during an important workout this last weekend.
I had 14 miles with the middle 10 at a hard effort. My hope was to run that middle 10 as close to goal half marathon pace as possible. My achilles were barely sore and the hamstrings were feeling okay. I had missed a hard workout midweek of that week (due to the achilles), so I only had fairly easy miles on my legs. I was running 10 less miles that week as well (80 rather than 90), so I thought I was going to feel like a superstar. I started out at a little slower than goal pace for the first 2 miles and it started to become a struggle to hold. I slowed a little and just tried to maintain the effort. I was continuing to slow and it seemed like my legs were stuck in molasses. My breathing was not labored at all, but my legs--damn my legs! I stopped at the 5 mile point to get a drink of water and had a minor meltdown. The pity party was not pretty as I cried, bemoaning all the time I had put in to my training to only be able to run 20-25 seconds slower than goal pace. What was wrong with me? I should feel so good! Why do I suck so much?!
Lucky for me, a friend saw me on the side of the trail and stopped to talk. It forced me to take down the banners for my fun little party and get my slow butt moving again to finish the workout. Normally, I would have been proud of myself for finishing, but I just didn't have any pride left at the end of this one. I was a beast for the rest of the weekend.
I tried to dissect all the things that could have caused this shit workout, but in the end, I just had a bunch of possible reasons and nothing I could really do anything about. So, some wise words from my coach and my friend T-meat helped me to see I needed to have faith in the hard work I had already put in. I hadn't lost fitness over the 4 weeks since I last did this workout. I was just having a bad day.
Last night, I had my last hard workout of this cycle and was super anxious about whether I would have a repeat poor performance. The workout was 6 x 800m with a 400m jog rest. I decided during my warm up that I would do the workout no matter what and that I would do it by effort. If that effort equated to 6:00 pace, then that's all I could do. The workout was awesome. I felt so light and fast AND RELIEVED!
I did not look at my watch at all for the first repeat until I crossed the line: 2:43! I was stunned because that was much faster than I expected. I jogged for a quarter mile, starting to feel pretty pumped about the next 5 repeats. I started my watch and ran to the next marker: 2:40! Holy cow! I have never run an 800 that fast! The third repeat, I was still pushing 5:20 pace and my legs started to sieze as I approached the finish: 2:43. I had to back off the last 3 in order to complete the workout, but I paced them like clockwork: 2:45, 2:45, 2:45. This was easily the fastest set of 800s I have done. I was so happy, you can't even imagine.
With renewed confidence in my fitness, I was able to do a little soul searching today. I realized that I put a ton of pressure on myself to achieve my ambitious, sometimes unreasonable, expectations and that is not the healthiest thing. I honestly think that this internal pressure is what has made me successful in running (and probably in many aspects of my life in general), but it comes at a cost. That cost is increased stress and will lead to burn out if I don't temper it. So, that's my challenge for my next chapter in training: to figure out how to diffuse that pressure and keep my running life light and positive.
I have a little over one week to go until Grandma's! I've put in the hard work and am excited to see what the day gives me. More than anything, it feels great to have been able to put in the hard work this training cycle and to feel confident in that. Go hard or go home!