Monday, September 21, 2009

A Week of Shizzlesticks

"There is no failure except in no longer trying. "
~ Elbert Hubbard

Boy, am I glad last week is behind me. As I reported early in the week, it started with a phantom pain in my calf that made me worry about whether or not it would turn into a full-blown injury. I took Monday off from running to be safe, but The Miracle Worker saved me on Tuesday so I could resume running.

Next, my training schedule became all jacked up. At some point early in the planning for this training cycle, my coach had asked me for a list of races I wanted to do, and I apparently put the Race for Her 5k (held last Saturday night) on the list. I remember being puzzled when I saw it on my schedule, but I think I threw it in as an option just in case I was unable to run one of the other short races in the local age-graded series I'm entered in. As it turned out, I completed the other races (Shriner's 8k, Race for the Arts 5k), so I didn't need this one.

Nonetheless, my schedule was written to include this race. So, my training week was part recovery from the 10-mile race the weekend before and part taper for the 5k = light on mileage. I had a double planned for Saturday, with 4 miles in the morning and then 14 miles total including the 5k race and some goal marathon pace miles. I did the morning run, and frittered the rest of the day away doing some diversionary shopping. I'm happily typing away on one of my purchases presently: a sassy little MacBook Air.

As the clock ticked closer to race time (5:30 p.m.), I started questioning my resolve. I felt fine and knew that I would have a good race, but did I really need to run a 5k now? It seemed like running longer and closer to goal marathon pace was a smarter thing to do. In the end, I couldn't come up with a compelling enough reason to run the race, so I asked my coach for an alternate workout to tackle the next day.

As a side note, I discovered something that I think is important while going through these mental gymnastics. When I decided against this 5k, I immediately started looking for another short race to do. I found one that I wanted to do next weekend and proposed this to my coach. I have always done a fast race within 1-2 weeks before a marathon. She challenged me on doing one a week out from my marathon. She said that it would not improve my fitness one iota. In fact, it could only hurt me physically since my body would have to focus on repairing muscle damage from the race.

While I had always done these in the past and they didn't seem to affect my marathon, how could I know if they did since I had always done them? Could I have gone into my previous marathons better rested and run faster without these races? I couldn't answer that question. What I realized about these races is that the purpose they served was as an ego boost. I think I have even said as much suggesting that at least I'd have a 5k PR under my belt if the marathon race went awry. After exposing this, I realized what folly it truly was. If 3 months of hard marathon training and a 3-minute 10-mile race PR doesn't convince me that I'm in the best shape of my life, nothing will. So, this will be the first race where I don't run a fast, short race before my marathon, and I am down with that.

While a good race can boost your confidence, a mediocre workout this late in the game has just the opposite effect. My coach gave me a tough alternate workout to do Sunday: 20 miles with 4 miles at goal marathon pace (GMP), 4 minute jog, 3 miles at GMP, 3 minute jog, 2 miles at 10-12 seconds faster than GMP, 2 minute jog, 1 mile as fast as I want. I was excited to run this impromptu long run. My legs were rested from a week of relatively light mileage, and the weather was somewhat cooler. I expected to hippity hoppity down the bunny trail leaving little tufts of bunny fur swirling in my wake.

Hippity hoppity, I did not. At 4.5 miles, The Dissin' Genius remarked that I must be feeling good given our warm-up pace, and I was feeling good then. I started my pace work at around 5 miles and started to dial in 6:15-6:20. I started a little fast, but quickly fell into a steady 6:15 pace. After about 2.5 miles, my legs started feeling heavy, and I stopped feeling the love. I ran the first 4 miles at 6:20 pace average. I shook it off, took a gu, and rocked on at GMP for the next 3 miles (6:18). Again, no love. At that point, it became all about putting this beeotch workout away. I ran the next two miles at 6:10 pace, and the final mile I hit the bridge hill and just knocked out another 6:18-paced mile. That was as fast as I wanted to go.

I was spent. the feeling I had was reminiscent of my under-fueled state in Belgrade. Because my workouts were changing all week long, I think I didn't fuel enough for this effort. Certainly, eating a smallish salad the night before (because I was still full from having eaten a mondo burrito late in the afternoon as prep for my planned race and long run Saturday night), did not give me the energy I needed for the effort.

I was unhappy with this and transformed into the Cancer crab that I was born to be for the rest of the day: fierce claws snapping in the air, thick, hard shell, and wee beady eyes narrowed and focused on being pissy. Poor DG.

While these tough spots are not fun to endure, they serve an important purpose. I strongly believe they are necessary in order to become a better runner (and person). I have always said that the true test of a person's constitution is in how they handle both success and failure. When you succeed, do you candy dance all over others who are struggling? When you fail, do you immediately throw in the towel and give up? Hell no. You learn to be humble with your success and strong with your failure. So I sat with my challenging workout all day yesterday and worked through it. I woke up this morning with proper perspective and was able to let it go.

Recover hard. According to my coach, that's my new mission for the next two weeks. I have put in all the hard work and now it's time to make sure I rest enough, eat well and let my body absorb all of that training so I get to the starting line in Twin Cities raring to go.

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