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.