Sunday, May 19, 2013

confessions of a former badass

I’m not sure I’ve ever asked this question after a race before: 

How did I run that fast?

It’s not like I blitzed the Eugene course in some incredible time. However, when I took a hard look at my training and work life in the 4-5 weeks leading up to the race, it seemed like a pretty fair question. I also found that answering the question revealed some critical lessons about how to balance work and recovery.

Runners are crazy. Read about us in any magazine story, blog post or running-related tweet and you'll see that. We love to talk about how tough we are; running the hardest workouts as fast as possible without puking (though puking often scores bonus points). We feel like complete slackers if we don’t get in our recommended daily allowance of miles.

We live for our numbers: lap splits, mile paces, weekly mileage totals. The numbers make us feel prepared. We get a special feeling of satisfaction from surviving the brutal training that we put our minds and bodies through on a regular basis. 

 This is the focus and drive that makes us bad ass.

Anything, be it injury, illness or other life obligations, that keeps us from getting in our RDA of mileage is like kryptonite, depriving us of our running superpowers. This for me is the hardest thing about running: tempering my natural drive to push myself harder with smart decisions about rest and recovery. It is, in fact, one of the great reasons to have a coach. Having someone else make you take a break is much more palatable than having to make the decision yourself.

I've mentioned too many times before that my training was not ideal leading up to Eugene. I didn't allow myself to look very closely at my training log in the weeks leading up to the race, because I knew it would mess with my brain. That was a good decision because this is what I would have seen:
My four weeks of training (incl.  some work info) leading up to the Eugene Marathon (click to enlarge).  
It ain't pretty. Even worse was looking at the average weekly mileage for the 20 weeks of training leading up to the race and including race week: 53 miles per week. Executing my plan as written would have had me around 65-70 mpw.

Those last 4 weeks were mental torture for me. Every day that I made the (smart) decision to forgo my run or workout brought my confidence down a notch. I tried to justify to myself that all the hiking and climbing I was doing was a good substitute for training all the while hearing voices in my head saying, "the only thing that makes a runner faster is more running".

Then, there were the low iron levels discovered 5 weeks out from the race. I felt pretty confident that I could get the numbers up with heavy supplementation in the weeks before race day, but it was just another reason why I would probably not have a good race.

My marathon paced workout the week before the race was supposed to be that last chance to get the feel for marathon pace, except that I felt like stopping multiple times during the 8 mile workout and did. I ran about 6:22 pace for the whole thing, but I stopped so many times, I lost the value of feeling the pace. It was just one more nail in the fast-marathon-time coffin I had built. The final week of the race, I didn't even get a chance to run my workout of 2 x 2 miles @ GMP.

Oh, and that 3-4 pounds I was expecting to slough right off during my hard training? Never happened. I weighed in 3 pounds over my typical marathon racing weight in the weeks leading up to the race. 

So, why did I run within a few minutes of my PR at this race? I think it's precisely because I took the rest I needed when I needed it. I listened to that little whiny voice in my head telling me I was too tired to get out the door, and I did not open the door. I opted to stay on the couch or sleep instead. Wow, that's hard to admit.

Coach Hadley and I exchanged some thoughts on this, and we agreed that I had done a good job of letting my body dictate my running schedule. It was a tough thing to have to report week after week-- that I had failed to run the workouts he planned for me, or that I had not run at all for a few days. I was making these decisions, and I felt like a failure. He never made me feel that way, of course. I just felt horrible having to admit I didn't get the work done. Coach Hadley did a remarkable job of adjusting my schedule around all of this craziness.

We also agreed that I had completed a block of really solid training up until about the last 6 weeks of my program. By allowing for lots of recovery, I kept from getting overtrained or injured and thus preserved the fitness I had gained. I also ran the race well. I went out a bit fast, but I ran within myself the whole time. I stayed focused and determined. Having 19 other marathons under my belt was a real advantage. I know how I should feel at different points in the race and was able to use that to my advantage. 

Each marathon race is a lesson and I've always tried to take the time after the fact to learn from it. I've probably spent a lot more time than normal on this one because it was so anomalous. Those can be the most important ones to dissect. 

I guess the main reason I wanted to write this post was to show you (and me when I look back on this) that you can have a crappy training cycle and still have a great race. It is possible to run a decent marathon on 53 miles per week and with race times that don't come close to predicting a 2:48 finish.  

There's something else that characterizes successful runners: the never-ending desire to improve. So, I'm making my plans for a fall marathon and start my new training plan in earnest next week. Next stop, Chicago and my first attempt at 2:43!

I love that trait.