The past two weeks have been rollercoastery in many ways that had nothing at all to do with my marathon training, but which absorbed so much of my mental and emotional energy that it took a toll on my running.
Week Ten (April 15 – 21) started off with an untimed four-miler on Tuesday – I didn’t bother with the Garmin, since it’s been unpredictable – and it felt really good just to be out there running without even the ability to glance at my time or pace or distance.
The next evening, I was scheduled for an eight-mile pace run, which I wasn’t looking forward to, given my Week Nine struggle with a seven-mile pacer, But I carbed things up with a pile of noodles at lunch and found myself facing a gorgeous evening for a run when I got home after work. Warm enough for shorts, cool enough to wear long sleeves and not worry about overheating. I let myself get out to a quick start (7:43 first mile), and realized I still felt pretty good, so I figured I’d keep pushing while I had the energy. Two miles in, I was pleasantly surprised to see my overall pace still just under the 8-minute mark, so again, I’m thinking the better I can keep these early miles, the more of a cushion that gives me down the stretch. At three miles, I was at just over 24 minutes, and now I’m starting to kind of wonder what the hell’s going on that I’m feeling so, well, good. After four miles, I’m at an 8:06 overall pace, and I slow for my planned 60-second walk – even so, when I start up again, I’ve only added three seconds to my overall pace. Over the second half of the run, I watch my pace climb steadily, but I’m still feeling remarkably good, and my accumulated pace never goes above 8:13 per mile. In fact, when I hit the seven-and-a-half-mile mark, I decide to power things up and see if I can get my overall pace back into the eight-minutes-and-single-digits range – and I do: Eight miles, 8:09.
I’m floored. And I’m ecstatic. And it just feels so damn good that on Thursday’s four-miler, I don’t care when I discover that my calves had seemingly taken out a strength advance to pull off that eight-mile time the night before, so I’m just out jogging and enjoying the road.
What happens Friday and Saturday is this: Real life. The weather turns cold and rainy. We drive across the state to spend Saturday at Kelsey’s regional gymnastics meet – which is awesome because she places three times, including a third-place podium spot – but it means I miss my scheduled 17-miler. We get home fairly late, go to bed, and I am wholly unmotivated Sunday morning, which is still cold and rainy, and I never get out to run that day either.
This marks the first time I have ever completely missed a scheduled run while training, and paired with some other real-life stresses going on, it fuels a couple days of motivational crisis: Do I even want to do this marathon? Is my heart really still in it? I’m still not sure about either when Week Eleven begins, but Tuesday night, I make myself go out for my scheduled five-miler, and although I think this gets me back in the saddle, there are more scheduling conflicts and demotivational moments on Wednesday and Thursday, so I miss TWO MORE RUNS.
And now, I think, I am really up against it. Saturday, April 28, I am supposed to run 18 miles. Since my fantastic eight-mile pace run, I have missed three of four scheduled sessions and only put in five of my scheduled 35 miles. Time to see how much damage I’ve done, and whether I have time to recover.
The 18-miler and I, we have a history. Back in 2009, my first 18-mile run set a bar for Worst Run Ever that surpassed even the full marathon I ran a few weeks later. Many times since then, I have pushed myself through low points by thinking, “Wow. I feel like crap. But I don’t feel as bad as I did during that 18-miler in ’09, so I’ve got that going for me.”
Friday night the 27th, I carbed up at dinner and went to bed on the early side, knowing if I was going to do this, it would have to be early, since we were facing afternoon rain, and we had things to do in the afternoon. As with the last time, I was also facing a solo run, since my brother would be heading out pre-dawn due to a mid-morning track meet.
So: Up at six a.m. Some cereal, some toast, and a PowerBar. A single cup of coffee. I load up my running belt with gels and water. It’s overcast and in the mid-30s, and the high is only in the mid-40s, but it’s not raining, so it’s actually good running weather: I can get by with a sweatshirt, hat and gloves and not worry about sun or heat.
And out I go, at about 6:55.
And back I go, at about 6:57, because I forgot to bring my inhaler.
And out I go, 19 seconds after 7 a.m.
I’m utterly unconcerned with time – although I do expect to come in at under three hours, which I barely, barely managed to do on my Worst Run Ever. I just need to see if I can do this, and stick to my plan of 60-second walks for water and gel every 4.5 miles. That’s how I’m looking at this – four 4.5 mile runs. Just in case the Garmin decides to conk out, I look at my route map and memorize the spots at 4.5, 9, and 13.5 miles.
I am slow from the start, but I don’t care. I’m not pushing my lungs, and all I want to do is keep my legs moving. The first quarter of the route goes by smoothly, and just past 4.5, I eat a gel and drink some water and walk for just under a minute. Then I focus on the next 4.5.
These miles pass more slowly, since there are longer turn-free stretches of road and more hills, but at about 9.5 miles, I have another gel, wash it down while walking for a minute, and then tell myself that I’m more than halfway done.
I’m in mile 10 when the Garmin shuts down. Oh, well. I know where my next water-and-gel-and-walking marker is.
It’s about this point where my knees start getting that numb sort of ache, which sounds weird, maybe, but there it is. It’s getting harder to lift my legs and stride out the downhills, and harder still to push them uphill.
I turn the Garmin on just to see what time it is, and I make a note of exactly where I am at my two-hour mark. (Turns out I was 12.5 miles in and averaging 9:36.) Although I have run distances of 13.1, 14, and 15 miles this year, my legs are starting to feel like jelly, and I blame those missed runs and missed miles.
Past 13 miles, I eat my last gel and drink while I walk, and it’s soul-crushing how quickly this minute goes by, even though I know I’m three-quarters of the way done. The next mile is much more hilly than I remember, and it really wears on me. In 2009, this stretch actually almost drove me to tears. The next three miles feel like a dozen. By the time I get to the big climb that marks the beginning of mile 18, it is all I can do to just keep jogging. My lungs are fine, but the knees and calves and ankles are just screaming at me to freaking stop, and maybe more painful than that, I’m getting close to the three-hour mark.
I reach my driveway at 2:56:48. Not nearly as much of an improvement over the Worst Run Ever as I was hoping for, but considering the lost miles and my strategic walking minutes, I’m OK with it.
It’s eight-and-a-half hours in the past, now, and my knees feel shredded, but thinking ahead, I realize that even so, I’ve run 26.2 miles once before, and this run convinced me I can do it again.
So the Garmin Forerunner has been acting funny from time to time, blanking out and throwing my time and distance calculations off. Oddly unpredictable about it, too. I thought maybe I was bumping the power switch somehow, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.
Anyway, last week marked the halfway point of the training schedule, which is hard to believe, since it’s gone by pretty quickly. There are long runs and high-mileage weeks coming up though, and I don’t expect the second half to go as smoothly.
Tuesday and Thursday’s four-milers were routine.
Wednesday’s seven-miler called for me to try to achieve race pace (8:23), which I’d managed to do in Week Seven (8:18). This time around, I worked in my recently-adopted one-minute walk strategy. Just before the four-mile mark, I slowed up and drank a bit of water before kicking back into my run. My overall pace was still slower than I wanted, but I felt like I had more energy through miles five and six than I had two weeks earlier. (My final times would prove this to be true: These laps were both 10 to 15 seconds faster than the Week Seven run.)
Still, going into the last mile – in fact, going into the last half mile – my overall pace was 8:27, and I was all ready to settle for it and tell myself that I was only a few seconds off pace … and then I decided “Screw it – I’m going to try and knock that down.” I ran really damn hard that last half mile and watched my average drop to 8:26 … 8:25 … It hit 8:24 when I turned onto our street for the final almost-quarter mile, and at about the 6.95-mile mark, I got it down to 8:23.
I know that the sprinting finish to lower the average pace is hardly ideal, but hey, I’ll take it.
Saturday I did a half-marathon route of 13.3 miles, running solo and walking for one minute to eat a gel at the 4.5- and 9-mile marks. The Garmin went wonky early in the run and threw off my accumulated distance by about a half-mile, but it still gave me a decent idea of the pace I was managing, which turned out to be right around nine minutes per mile.
By the numbers:
- Tuesday, April 10 Schedule: 4 miles. Actual: 4 miles. Time: 35:26. Pace: 8:51/mi.
- Wednesday, April 11 – Schedule: 7 miles. Actual: 7 miles. Time: 58:43. Pace: 8:23/mi.
- Thursday, April 12 – Schedule: 4 miles. Actual: 4 miles. Time: Unknown. Pace: Unknown.
- Saturday, April 14 – Schedule: 13.1 miles (half marathon). Actual: 13.31 miles. Time: 1:59:00. Pace: 9:00/mi.
I was 15 when I bought my first concert tickets, shelling out my hard-earned summer job money for lawn seats to see Mr. Mister at Blossom Music Center on July 23, 1986. It was the second stop on their Welcome to the Real World tour. (Oh, shut up, and Don’t. You. Judge. I played the hell out of that cassette and don’t regret it for a second.) Opening act: The Bangles.
I bought one ticket for me, one ticket for my then-girlfriend, and one ticket for her dad – who brought a lawn chair and sat himself at the top of the Blossom hill – since we needed someone to drive us to the show.
My parents had taken me to a Beach Boys concert before then, but the Mr. Mister show was the first time I paid my own money to see one of my generation’s current pop bands. I remember how it changed the way I their songs sounded in my head after that, because my mind would overlay the regular recordings with the much louder, slightly different concert version of the music, with the crowd noise and everything mixed in.
This weekend, my daughter – age 15 – bought her first concert ticket. She and a friend will be heading to Columbus next summer for an arena show – and yes, Kels had to buy a ticket for her mom, who has the driver’s license. (Of course, unlike my girlfriend’s dad back in 1986, I know Jenn’s excited about going. And hey, I’m not judging.)
This year’s nest popped up overnight and includes a bit of green Christmas ribbon.
Without any pace runs scheduled, this looked to be a good week. Turned out kind of odd.
Started out OK on Tuesday. With four miles on the calendar, I thought I’d work on maintaining a steady pace, trying to keep things as constant as possible. I altered the Garmin display to show my current pace as well as my average pace, and tried to make an effort to push a little bit harder if I saw the current pace regularly displaying above 8:40. (The current pace stat can be a bit maddening, since it lags slightly, and since it occasionally spikes or drops off by a jarring 30-seconds-per-mile without me feeling like I’d changed pace at all.)
I didn’t really brake myself on steep downhills – that’s just wasted energy – but I tried to conserve energy on the more level stretches so that the steeper climbs wouldn’t hit me as hard. And I was pretty happy with the results. The miles looked like this: 8:11, 8:20, 8:27, and 8:10. Overall, that’s 8:18 per mile, slightly ahead of my race pace goal, and I felt really good afterward.
Wednesday and Thursday weren’t that enjoyable, really: It was sunny and breezy both days, and chillier than it had been in awhile, so the wind kind of made things feel raw. With no pacing to worry about, I just tried my best to put in the miles and appreciate the sun and the time and the landscape.
Then came Saturday.
I was expecting a rough run, of course: 15 miles on the schedule. When I did my first marathon, I remember the 15-miler as a really significant challenge, and even though we did 14 last week, I found myself dreading this one.
The sun was up, but it was freezing outside at 8 a.m. Technically, just below freezing, at about 30 degrees. I knew the high for the day was only in the low 50s, so while I had been counting on wearing my hat and gloves to ward off the wind anyway, I followed Adam’s lead and wore a sweatshirt over my short-sleeved running shirt.
While it was a nice morning (if chilly), and I like my brother’s company fine, especially on these long runs, both of us admitted afterward that we were surprised how early on this run just turned into a slog. And seriously: Nothing makes a run pass more slowly than when realize you’re already counting miles less than a quarter of the way in.
My lungs were fine, really – but my legs just felt shredded by the fifth mile, and I was really struggling to keep my energy level up.
Maybe it’s being a couple years older than the last time I did this, but I really found myself questioning and doubting and wondering whether, in fact, I am actually up to running another marathon.
So I’m thinking of trying out an adjustment in my training, something I avoided back in 2009, but which seems like it might not be such a bad idea this time around: incorporating brief walking breaks into the long runs. Although I’ve always figured that for me, walking would only make it harder to resume running again, Hal Higdon himself writes:
Walking is a perfectly acceptable strategy in trying to finish a marathon. It works during training runs too. While some coaches recommend walking 1 minute out of every 10, or even alternating running and walking as frequently as every 30 seconds, I teach runners to walk when they come to an aid station. This serves a double function: 1) you can drink more easily while walking as opposed to running, and 2) since many other runners slow or walk through aid stations, you’ll be less likely to block those behind. It’s a good idea to follow this strategy in training as well. You will lose less time walking than you think. … Walking gives your body a chance to rest, and you’ll be able to continue running more comfortably. It’s best to walk when you want to, not when your (fatigued) body forces you too.
The thing is, I never want to walk. When I did the Towpath Marathon, not walking during the final five miles was the hardest mental and physical battle I’ve ever fought, and not stopping or walking was a big part of my goal.
But if walking needs to be part of a strategy, since I’m actually trying to hit a specific time in the Canton Marathon, well, maybe I need to see how it affects me.
I wish I could say that I was being logical and strategic on Saturday around mile eight when I called ahead to Adam and asked him to hold up. I kept running, and when I caught him, I said, “Gotta walk. Just for one minute. Then I’m good to go.” I can’t even say I felt like I was giving up, because honestly, it felt so good just to be walking and sipping some water and trying to recharge even for those all-too-quickly-passing seconds.
Looking back at the route stats, it looks like it was about 90 seconds, during which my pace went from 9:23 to 14:10 and then back up to 9:10, and this was about a third of the way into our ninth mile. When I consumed my second gel and washed it down at about the 10.25-mile mark, I took Hal’s advice and walked while I did so, this time slowing for about 1 minute and 15 seconds.
Miles 12-14 were, without question, the most difficult I’ve done in quite awhile, and I felt pretty miserable. The sun was fully up, and though it was still probably only 40 degrees or so, I was feeling too warm in my sweatshirt, and I removed my hat and gloves. But having stopped to walk twice, I wanted to push through the rest of the way.
We reached Adam’s driveway more than two-and-a-quarter hours after we’d set out, and I was completely spent.
Still, what I learned later, crunching the numbers, was encouraging. Even with my two walking breaks, I had managed an overall pace of 9:03 per mile – 15 seconds faster per mile than I’d run 14 nonstop miles on the previous Saturday. Maybe I can make this a strategy for improvement after all.
By the numbers:
- Tuesday, April 3 – Schedule: 4 miles. Actual: 4 miles. Time: 33:10. Pace: 8:18/mi.
- Wednesday, April 4 – Schedule: 7 miles. Actual: 7.18 miles. Time: 1:01:52. Pace: 8:37/mi.
- Thursday, April 5 – Schedule: 4 miles. Actual: 4 miles. Time: 34:24. Pace: 8:36/mi.
- Saturday, March 31 – Schedule: 15 miles. Actual: 15.05 miles. Time: 2:16:11. Pace: 9:03/mi.
Just testing out Instagram for Android.
This week, we added miles.
The Tuesday and Thursday runs, which had been three-milers, bumped up to fours, and Wednesday bumped up from six to seven.
Saturday was a fourteen-miler: five more than the previous weekend, which had been a step-back nine-miler in preparation.
Because of the increased distances and the extra daylight, I’ve shifted to running after work, rather than trying to get up even earlier in the morning.
On Tuesday, to start the week, Adam and I decided to run our usual four-mile around-the-block route in the opposite direction just for a change of pace, but also because it means we finish the first mile with a big downhill instead of beginning the last mile with a steep climb. (Of course, since we start and end at the same place, we know full well our ascents and descents wind up washing each other out.) Without much effort, and boosted by that nice downhill, we did a 7:48 first mile, and then surprised ourselves by following it up with an 8:02 second, even with a decent climb toward the end. The third mile was by far the toughest – it’s basically a couple long gradual climbs separated by a short dip – and it took us 8:41. I hadn’t really set out with a time goal, but as we got close to the finish, I realized if I pushed hard, we just might make it in under an 8-minute pace, which I’m not sure I’ve ever done for four miles. I accelerated hard for the final two minutes, and we came in at 31:59. I may have whooped a bit at that.
I did Wednesday’s seven-miler solo, and had my doubts about the race pace goal, since I tend to struggle to push myself when I’m running alone. Looming in my mental rear-view was the surprisingly successful six-mile pace run of a week prior. I figured I’d try as hard as possible to mimic that run, at least through the first three miles, and then try not to lose whatever pace cushion I had built up. I actually ran the first three faster, and was right about the same time through four. At 8:50 each, though, miles five and six took a serious toll and ate up a lot of the time buffer I’d accumulated. Still, I managed an 8:09 final mile, which made my final pace average out to 8:18 – five seconds faster than my goal.
Thursday, I took it easy on the four miler, looking ahead to Saturday’s distance.
The jump from 9 to 14 miles was reminiscent of the 10-to-15-mile increase back in 2009, when I was training for my first marathon, and I remembered that it was rough. Yes, we had just run a 12-miler two weeks prior, but the knees and muscles really start feeling the mileage at these distances. And I was doing this one solo, too, since Adam had to be someplace else on Saturday. I set out with the following goals:
- Don’t walk.
- Don’t stop.
- Don’t puke.
- Don’t care (too much) about the time.
Achievements unlocked – in fact, after about the 1.5-mile mark, I completely stopped looking at my overall time and accumulated pace, focusing only on the distance, enjoying the overcast and comfortably cool 40-degree morning. The first 3 miles were into a bit of a breeze, and they felt long, but after that, I kind of settled in and paid attention to setting small goals, doing the math and figuring what fractions of the run remained; noting the appropriate points to eat a gel and drink some water.
Since I wasn’t pushing my pace, my lungs felt fine, and I really didn’t start feeling the fatigue in my legs until about mile nine. At that point, though, it did hit pretty hard, and miles 11-13 were by far the slowest of the day. Still, my last mile of the run was my third-fastest, and I recovered pretty well over the next couple hours.
Seven full weeks in, eleven to go.
By the numbers:
- Tuesday, March 27 – Schedule: 4 miles. Actual: 4 miles. Time: 31:59. Pace: 8:00/mi.
- Wednesday, March 28 – Schedule: 7 miles, race pace. Actual: 7 miles. Time: 58:03. Pace: 8:18/mi.
- Thursday, March 29 – Schedule: 4 miles. Actual: 4 miles. Time: 34:19. Pace: 8:35/mi.
- Saturday, March 31 – Schedule: 14 miles. Actual: 14 miles. Time: 2:10:24. Pace: 9:18/mi.