A week of base-building: Trials & Tribulations

The big 1-0!

 

BREAKING NEWS: Last week I did my first speedwork in 4 months! After many weeks of slow easy miles to re-acclimate to running, it’s time to start the process of boosting my fitness. I’m planning to do one running workout per week here on out: mild speedwork that is appropriate for my current fitness level and not too demanding.

For my first speed workout, I did 6 miles easy with five .1 mile strides at the end of the first 5 miles. Then, a twist: in the last mile, instead of going right back to easy pace after the stride, I made myself bring the pace down only a tiny bit, and then very gradually slow back down to easy pace for the remainder of the mile. I call it the “de-escalating last mile”.

It went well. Breaking the run into intervals made it go by so much faster, and I had forgotten how good it feels to crank out some fast running. My overall average pace wasn’t that much better than usual, which I guess shouldn’t surprise me since some eased-into .1 mile strides aren’t going to knock that much time off my mile splits. My de-escalating last mile was almost a minute faster than my other miles, even with the gradual slow-down to recovery pace, so I’m glad I forced myself to push at the end.

The next day, however, was a very low point for me. I went for an easy 4 miles at what felt like my normal pace/effort, and when I looked at my watch at the end I saw it was literally one of the slowest runs I’ve had in years.

It really got to me. I tried to remind myself that it’s just one run, we all have off days, and I was probably just tired from working out three days in a row since my body isn’t used to that anymore. I knew I was overreacting, but in that moment, logic couldn’t stop every negative thought in the book from flowing through my head. How did I get this slow? What on earth is wrong with me lately? Why do I seriously SUCK at running anymore? I ran consistently for 3 years before I took time off in the fall – how is it possible that NONE of that is there for me now? It’s amazing how 4 measly miles could make me feel so angry and humiliated and defeated.

So in spite of how low I felt, I told myself to remember this run, this moment, these feelings. Remember it so that when I run Rock n Sole Half Marathon in June as a celebration of base-building, and when I’m in great shape during marathon training, and when I triumphantly cross that Chicago finish line, I can look back on this freezing February evening when I felt so pathetic and see how far I’ve come.

I’d love to say that I’m saying all of this because inspired to be better than before, or something equally hopeful, but really, I’m just bitter and I refuse to be defeated by days like this. Hey, whatever keeps ya going, right?

Later, I soothed my wounded ego by going back and looking at the Strava analysis of the previous night’s speed work (oh yeah, so, I came crawling back to Strava. But only as a training tool. I don’t follow anyone and I have my account set to private). The pace graph showed that not only did I execute my de-escalating mile pretty well, I was also hitting some decent speed paces in my strides. So my body hasn’t forgotten how to run fast after all, even if it is pretty rusty! But rusty is okay. I can work with that.

 

Sunday morning I set out for a long run, my first time running 10 miles in over 4 months. As I plugged through the first couple miles I was greeted by the tired legs and labored breathing that has become all too painfully familiar to me in the past couple weeks.

But I knew better than to get upset this time. The long run is like that old friend from back home who never changes. I knew almost exactly how the next hour or so would play out over this familiar route. I knew at which point in the next couple miles the tiredness would melt away and my legs would feel fluid and my breathing would calm down, and when I would start the gradual oscillation between stretches of gentle fatigue and comfortable smoothness, and when I would start to feel that familiar late-run tiredness charged with gritty resolve. I relaxed in my discomfort – this was the long run, and I knew what was coming.

For better or worse, this is where I shine. I was born to run long. I don’t have a lot of leg speed. I can’t race a fast 5K or knock out a blazing interval workout to save my life. But in training for three marathons, I have very rarely had a “bad” long run.  Sure, I grumble about them because of what a time-suck they are (why can’t I be good at the stuff that only takes 30 minutes??). But this is the one workout that just clicks for me. The long run is my redemption as a runner. It’s where I come home.

Sure enough, during the last half of that 10 miler, I started to feel like my old self again for the first time in weeks. My legs showed up for me after what felt like a long absence and, just like old times, in the last couple miles I could once again close my eyes (briefly, so I don’t trip, of course) and see the finish line coming into view and hear the cheering crowds and the warbled voice of the announcer. In that moment it didn’t bother me that my paces are slower than usual, because I felt strong at the end and I was proud of myself again. This long run was what I needed, it was that gentle but resolved voice saying, “hang in there, kiddo.” For the first time in 5 weeks, I came away from a run feeling like things are going to start getting better.

 

This month I will continue with majority easy miles, but my mileage will start to consistently increase. My long runs will be true long runs now (aka, passing the 90-minute mark) and every one of them from now until Canyonlands will be 10+. Add in the weekly speed work I’ll be doing and upping my cross-training game, and I’m crossing my fingers that by the end of this month I’ll finally start seeing some real, albeit small, progress in my fitness.

 

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21 thoughts on “A week of base-building: Trials & Tribulations

  1. Isn’t it amazing // awful how 4 (measly) miles can really knock you down? In the scheme of a marathon 4 miles is nothing, in the scheme of a 10K it’s a whole lot of something. But either way, FOUR MILES.

    I’m glad Strava was able to calm you down, and a long run helped your body redeem itself. It truly took me til late last fall, as in like oh, you know, 5 months ago, to realize that I never really feel good the first 2 miles of a run, I’m rarely in a groove and my body doesn’t quite know why I’m doing all this. But if I can get past those first two miles? It usually seems to get a little easier. Talk about a slow learner though, who knew it would take me 5+ years of running to learn such a simple lesson.

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    1. I am also a slow warmer-upper. I’ve had marathon long runs where it took me 45 minutes for the dead-leggedness to go away. That’s why I have to remind myself to take these shorter runs with a grain of salt – by the time I am fully warmed up, I’m almost done running already!

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  2. I’m glad you had such a reassuring long run. When you spoke about knowing exactly how the long run would play out I was sitting here nodding my head. I know what you mean, 100%. I know exactly when I’ll feel truly warmed up (about 2.5mi in), I know exactly when I’ll start coasting (miles 4-7, always). The only part that ever changes is when I start wishing I was already home … and that’s just dependent on my level of fitness at the time. My base is 8; I’m always in shape enough to do an 8 miler without fighting for it … but some days 8.5 feels hard and some days (way back in the day) 15.5 was when it started feeling hard. The long run is my old friend too.

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    1. Isn’t it funny how much it can change depending on our fitness? In the last couple miles of my 10 miler my feet were getting sore and tired and I couldn’t wait to be done and I kept thinking about how if this was marathon training I’d only be HALFWAY there!

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  3. I wish the long run was my friend! I tend to give it way more mental energy than I should worrying about it (dreading it, at times). However, I am always so glad to be finished with it! I love the first picture–you look so happy!! You are well on your way to fitness–keep up the good work!

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    1. There is nothing that compares to the feeling of finishing your long run! I dread them too but it is just because I hate having to be out there so long. The run itself is usually fine and the distance doesn’t scare me.

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  4. I couldn’t agree more with your feelings about long runs. I had a pretty similar experience myself this past week. I just started training again, so this past week was my highest mileage week post-injury and post-marathon (which really is one in the same, I suppose). My long run was only six miles this week (“only” – the farthest I’ve run since the marathon, so it’s not quite as “only” at this point as it will be eventually) and the first mile was MISERY. I had lead legs and everything felt hard, and I didn’t want to keep going. But I’ve done enough long runs to know that you really just need to get through that first mile or so before your body remembers what it is you want it to do, and sure enough: once I got into the second mile everything started to feel the way a long run is supposed to feel again. Sometimes I really think it’s only the knowledge that the first mile or so is ALWAYS hard that keeps me going on long runs!

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    1. My first long run miles are usually okay – I think my body instinctively slows down to conserve energy for what’s coming. I often feel tired when I start long runs but at the same time, I’ve already run so many miles for the week that my legs are used to it and feel a little looser, if that makes sense. I’m glad I haven’t had truly hard first miles of long runs lately because I seriously think I would turn around and go home if I did!

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  5. As you know, I have been struggling too. I also feel like I do better with long runs once I get into the groove. I think we just have to remind ourselves that not every run will feel easy, and fitness can take a loooong time to come back…much longer than we would like!

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    1. Yes, indeed! The upside of this whole saga to get my fitness back is that it’s been a learning experience – I now know that I will never again take being in good shape for granted.

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  6. The glorious redeeming run. I love when my confidence is low and my body reminds me just how strong we are. Its easy to question the process and the progress but you have the right mindset, there is an end goal. These one off runs aren’t going to mean much when you kill it at Rock N Sole

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  7. I’m the queen of the slog. Don’t let it get you down. When your body is tired, it’s not going to go fast and you shouldn’t force it to the day after a workout – no matter how small that workout seems to be! I need 3ish miles to warm up on a long run so I usually face the same thing as you, tired legs, labored breathing, and then my body gets itself together and I’m fine. I did my first fast-ish workout run in a month last night and it felt amazing. I’m starting to get re-energized for summer marathon training, but maybe that was just a result of the insanely warm temps yesterday!

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    1. “Queen of the slog” – I love that! I do always admire your ability to be so secure in your slower running. I try to be, but every once in a while one sneaks up on me. I am already energized for summer marathon training, but a gratuitously long break and then taking 700 years to get back in shape will do that to you!

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  8. Glad that your quality runs this week left you feeling strong and confident, even if one of your recovery runs did try to knock you down a few pegs (what a jerk!). I’m hoping to start adding a little quality back into my training this week with a hilly run (not to be confused with hill repeats! I’m definitely not up for that!).

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    1. I know, recovery runs are a-holes sometimes. Hilly runs have been hard for me since I came back, and our hills aren’t even that bad. I slow way down on them now, so I do recover faster from the climbs, but man, my legs feel every tiny little incline these days. Anything that’s not flat or downhill comes with an embarrassing amount of huffing and puffing.

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  9. That’s the perfect way to describe a long run – like an old friend. Don’t let a tough recovery run knock you down. Those first couple weeks back to quality running always feel a little weird and harder, but then everything clicks back to normal. You will get there soon!

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  10. Those are a lot of the same feelings I’m having right now as I get into my half training plan. I think the word “suck” has come up at least a dozen times during my past week! haha! But yes, the good old running feeling will come back eventually. Keep at it!!

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