Running. It’s all I’ve been focusing on for roughly two months now with my end-of-season A-race marathon approaching this coming Sunday. Sure, I’ve been working the weights a couple of times per week. I’ve been riding here and there and enjoying the cool and refreshing feel of Fall air in my lungs. But the work… The structured work, has been nothing but running.
I’ve put in the tempo. I’ve put in the 400s, the 800s, and the dreaded 1600 meter repeats at the track, on the road, and on the trail. I’ve done the long runs, topping out with a 20–miler and a 22–miler on back-to-back weekends. I’ve hit a max week of near 50 miles of running. Cruise intervals, easy runs, pace runs, taper runs. I’ve done it all. And things were looking good - things were looking downright stellar for a bright, shining marathon performance.
But things haven’t been all that easy as of late. I started my three-week taper process on time. I took two weeks to gradually reduce the volume, while keeping the intensity high. As those weeks went by, however, I wasn’t feeling sharper, I was feeling duller – like going from a Ginsu knife to a bent spoon – and this is when I began to feel the decline. This past Saturday I woke up sick, confirming my nagging suspicion that something in System Joe just wasn’t 100%. Lord only knows the battles that were waged between my immune system and the rest of my body. My head was light, my throat was sore, my ears were stuffed, and my nose was doing all the running that should have been done out on the road, but was regretfully, cancelled.
Coming into my final week of taper – a week where I was only planning on doing one final 8–miler, a pace run, and a few easy runs – I had to shift focus from tapering with perfection, to perfecting a recovery. And I did… Somewhat. I spent the entire weekend taking in enormous amounts of Vitamin C, multi-vitamins, and teas from various countries each claiming to boost one’s immune system (and libido, in some cases). Monday I was feeling better - good enough to run. And so 9.99 times out of 10 I subscribe to the theory that if you’re following a structured training plan, and you miss a workout, then just continue on: don’t “slide” your workouts and try to compensate for missed sessions – but in this case, this 0.01 time out of 10, I slid my 8–miler from Sunday to Monday, and got it in. I can’t say I was lighting the roads on fire, but at least I got it in and got things loose again.
Tuesday I was feeling better yet, but my workout (which was a simple set of 4x400s) had to be done on the treadmill due to absolute pouring rain and my fear for a relapse by attempting to run in the elements. Again, I felt decent, but in the back of my head, I had to wonder if I would be feeling as good out on the road had I not been on the dread-mill. Yesterday was another story. Yesterday was my final workout before the marathon (with the exception of a quick 2 miler on Saturday to loosen up) which consisted of 2 miles easy, 1 mile at race pace. Out the door, I was stiff and awkward (no, not because of the aforementioned tea) and every foot strike was sending pains up my left hip and into my lower back. WTF? I stopped to stretch and restarted only to feel a “twang” on the outer part of my right knee. Again, WTF?
“Okay Joe, these are simply the symptoms of the final taper. These little tweaks and pinges mean nothing.” I said to myself.
And so I continued on at my leisurely 8:00 min/mile pace before ramping it up to 7:10 for the final mile. Incredibly, I felt better running the 7:10 than I did running the previous warm-up miles. But was it all in my head? Rather than analyzing it to death, the ultimate take-away for me this week has been to just relinquish myself (mentally) from any big targets on race day. Going into this race, I have – like – 5 tiers of time-goals. For example, if I finish with a consistent pace, I’ve met my goal. If I finish in sub-3:40, I’ve met a slightly more aggressive goal. If I finish in sub-3:30, I’ve met a very aggressive goal, and will be very happy. If I finish in sub-3:20, I’ll be so happy that photos in the local paper will catch me crying with happiness as I break the tape. If I finish…
You get the idea.
In the middle of this season, I was running half-marathons in training at a blistering pace, and banking on that fact that with some solely dedicated run-training after the tri-season, I could carry that kind of pace into my final A-race, the upcoming marathon. But during this taper, I just feel like I’ve lost that “snap”, that big muscle feel when everything on the run just “works”. And it could be because I was sick at a terribly inconvenient time. Though these issues are quintessential “taper-blues” symptoms, I know in my heart of hearts that I’m only adding to my Type-A psychosis by focusing so much on target times… And let’s face it, honestly, there are only two times that matter when you’re (okay, when I’m) running a marathon: The PR and the BQ. It won’t take much for me to PR (3:45:00 which I ran last year with embarrassingly minimal training), but it will take every bit of luck, weather, nutrition, hydration, immune-system boost, and tailwind for me to BQ (3:10:59 for young guns like me). But there’s a silver lining to this “state” that I’m in. In reality, I’ve done all that I set out to do in order to prepare for this marathon as an A-race. I didn’t miss a long-run, and I made it my business to go hard on my hard days, and easy on all my easy days. Sunday I’ll run my best, and I’ll run by feel. If I go out too hard, well then I’ll know for next year. I seriously doubt it’d be possible to finish a marathon thinking: “damn, if only I’d gone harder”, so I won’t even both to address that end of the spectrum.
Probably the most important thing that will be going through my head Sunday is this: No matter how much it hurts, no matter what pace I’m setting at that particular mile… It will be nothing in comparison to doing it next July 22. So I’ll embrace it – embrace the feel of fresh legs on a marathon course, because with 112 miles of time trialing in my legs, it’s gonna be a whole ‘nother world of hurt.
In the evening after the marathon, we’re picking up a large pizza (for me) and un-corking a bottle of red (re-hydration, shmydration) and we’re celebrating the official end of the 2006 race season. It’s been a phenomenal one, filled with PRs, first time experiences on the long-courses, big volume and some of the best preparation possible for a year preceding an Ironman bid. And though I’m relaxing a bit on the pressure to perform Sunday, know that I’ll leave every ounce of drive out on that road just to make sure I end this season the right way. Empty.
Thanks for reading.
Swim. Bike. Run. Repeat. This is our routine, our Grind. Joseph is an accomplished cyclist, marathoner and age-group triathlete currently residing in the Northeast and training for Ironman Lake Placid 2007. Coffee is a common theme with Joseph, as his love for training and racing is matched only by his affection for deep, dark, and complex javas. Between workouts, Joseph is an aerospace engineer, working for one of the world's largest research and development centers. Contact information: The Daily Grind Blog | firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted: October 6, 2006