Every year there comes a time when I'm out on the road riding somewhere, over on the track suffering like a dog, or floundering around in the deep end of the pool where - seemingly out of no where - the thought of "life after the season's big event" first comes into my head. This is usually a good indicator to me that my mind (and body) is starting to feel the effects of training year-round for triathlon racing. The thoughts of that eventual end-of-season will often continue beyond that first episode, leading perhaps all the way through my big, late-season events. Some days, depending on how training happens to be going, it's a pleasant thought - kind of like the carrot beyond the carrot on the end of the stick. But other days, there's a part of me that resists the thoughts of winding down the season, and the inevitable resting, planning, and executing of the following year's grind.
This year, the very first thought of what life might look like beyond my big event - the Timberman 70.3 held this past August in New Hampshire - hit me while putting in my very last track workout just prior to beginning my taper for that race. I took this as a sign of a flawlessly executed annual plan for the 2006 race-season. That is, the very first thoughts of slowing things down and the itsy-bitsy joy that came with the prospect of doing so didn't occur until the final, hardest week of training; my peak week. From there, it was a taper, and then a race... And the rest of the season was mine to do with as I pleased.
And so the race went very well. After I took a week off from structured training, I began to get back into my routine; trading my evenly split time across our three beloved disciplines for more pure-running as I gear up for a local October marathon here in the Northeast. Day after day I more or less focus on the run, virtually doubling my weekly run volume as compared to what I was doing leading up to my Half-Ironman races this past summer. This past Sunday I did a 20-miler, for instance, and it felt great.
But there was something other than that prideful feeling of a good run that hit me while out on the road - something in the air. Indeed, the weather was cooler, crisper here in Upstate, NY. Leaves have started to turn, some have fallen already in fact, due to the abnormally cool nights we've seen. As I was out there, turning the legs over, I couldn't help but wonder where it all went? It literally felt like just yesterday I was holed-up in my basement during some freak snow-storm, grinding out a workout on the trainer to the sight of some lame 2-hour Friday-night fright-night B-movie (a common routine for me). I remember that heat wave we had here, bringing with it over 3 weeks of oppressive humidity and blazing sunshine that seemed inescapable. And yet there I was, this past Sunday, struggling to stay warm under the late-morning clouds.
Fall and Marathon are synonymous to me. That dull smell of wet leaves and left-over moisture from the morning dew, combined with the slightest traces of smoke from the wood-burning stoves. Pots of coffee that are warmed all morning on the weekends, that keep us company as we procrastinate our day's long-run. Warm stews, hot teas, and pumpkins. And of course, the very act of training for the marathons; the long trail runs, the track work that suddenly feels so new and invigorating now that it's not 100 degrees on the rubber, and those "filler runs" we do simply to bridge our days between our other key run-workouts. It's all part of this encore I perform after my triathlon racing season. Odd. I've never considered myself a runner, let alone a marathoner - yet every year, I end up here. Basking in the glory of a successful triathlon season, and enjoying the wind-down while putting in the run-volume. My closing act for every race season.
The marathon course passes directly in front of my house, ironically enough. And as I stumbled to work this past Monday, glowing from a great weekend of workouts, I noticed the fresh, bright pink arrows that seemed somewhat haphazardly painted on our city streets. To about 90% of our population, these arrows mean nothing; easily confused with utility company markings or perhaps the work of some high-school prankster with a can of ink and a lust for tagging. But the rest of know what they're there for. They're there to guide the way for us - to guide us through 26.2 miles of Fall foliage, heaving lungs, and burdened footfalls. To me, the very act of marking the course serves as one of the final closing calls for the 2006 season. Those arrows and kilometer markers will stay bright and fresh for at least a month, and then likely fade as the winter elements blow in, leaving behind only the slightest trace of their existence come the 2007 season. By then, I'll have forgotten all about them, their meaning, and what they represent... Until of course, closing time next year.