A week of base-building: Perspective Shift

I don’t have a ton of training talk for this post, because nothing of particular importance happened last week. I got all of my planned runs in, about the same mileage as last week but spread over 3 days instead of 4. I cross-trained 1 day – a spin class at the gym – for a total of 4 workouts. I had planned to do 5, but ended up with an unplanned rest day. The 5th workout was going to be hot yoga so it wasn’t a huge deal to miss it.

Instead, I’m going to talk this week about my ongoing shift in mindset and coming to terms with my new running reality.

I’ve been in this Groundhog Day sort of mindset where I remind myself that I’m still coming back so I should expect to be rusty, but then I’ll still spend each workout bemoaning the fact that my paces are slow and how “humbling” it is, and rinse and repeat every workout. But this week, when I was on the treadmill doing 400m repeats at a pace that used to be only slightly faster than my half marathon race pace, my slower speed wasn’t humbling – it was just reality. Eventually you get tired of comparing to what you “should” be doing and start to accept things for what they are, however begrudgingly.

Looking at the big picture, there’s nothing lacking or out of ordinary about my running. I’m feeling fine, I’m running fine, everything is going fine – I’m just not as fast anymore. It happens. People get faster, people get slower. Things change, bodies change. Over the past few weeks my attitude toward this fact has gradually changed from resistance to acceptance. As long as my running is otherwise going well, maybe it will be more productive to turn my focus away from pace and onto something that I have more control over.

That’s not to say I won’t still make improvements, maybe even get back to the level I used to be at in time for the marathon this fall. I just need to come to terms with what I’ve lost. I’m not the same runner I was in 2016 and 2015. I run less and I weigh more, for starters. The sooner I can truly accept that, the sooner I can move on with my life and just enjoy my new pressure-free journey as it unfolds. Here’s what’s true: I’m trying. I’m getting out there, I’m logging the miles, I’m putting in the slow work of training, and for the first time in my running career I’m actually making an effort to train appropriately (aka, not racing my workouts and easy runs). All of that has to be enough for me. If it’s not enough for me now, it never will be.

I also came to a “stop and smell the roses” sort of realization lately that by focusing so much on comparisons to my past self and feeling embarrassed about my paces, I’m sabotaging my ability to enjoy this unfolding new chapter. I’m running again, I’m trying new training, I’m doing races, I’m building up my fitness. That can make for a fun and gratifying journey, if only I let it.

On a more upbeat note, with every week and every long run that goes by, I get a little more confident that I can run 13.1 miles and the Canyonlands Half won’t be a total meltdown. I’ve known since the day I signed up for this race in September that this wouldn’t be anywhere near a fast race for me; fitness level notwithstanding, I’m going to be spending the week leading up to the race hiking through national parks so I’m going to be running it on some pretty tired legs anyway. Plus, altitude. But I think I’ve done a good job managing my expectations so I can hopefully have a good, fun day no matter how fast or slow I am.

It helps that I honest-to-God have no idea what kind of finish time I can expect. And my past race times don’t really provide an accurate frame of reference for estimation: I’ve run most of my half marathons at a pace that isn’t much faster than my training, either because I was running them tired and slightly overtrained during a marathon build-up, or because it was in the off-season when I wasn’t formally training but was still in fairly decent shape. So I’ve never really approached this distance from the same position I’m in now: undertrained and fresh-legged, with no base but with a few years of running experience under my belt.

You know, it’s funny – I remember being so disappointed at those off-season finish times back then, but now I would be over the moon if I could run those times at Canyonlands next month. I actually get excited just thinking about it. My how things change, eh?

I also still have 4 more weeks of workouts to get in before the race, so I should be holding my breath on any finish time talk anyway. The one advantage of being back down at the bottom of the fitness mountain is that I have more room to grow again, and right now I’m at a point where a lot can happen in just a few weeks of consistent work. I can’t get too ambitious, but I can’t count myself out yet, either – just think of how many times runners have tune-up races that show them they are making more progress than they think they are. That’s why I’m sticking to my guns and making my only “goal” for this race to have a slow start and a fast, adrenaline-fueled finish, and ENJOY the scenery. That way, while it’s possible I might not like my finish time, at least I won’t have any “what-if”s or be disappointed in myself for not running a good race.

Oh, speaking of which – last week I briefly mentioned the Rock n Sole half marathon but didn’t go into much detail. So, yeah, I’m running another half marathon in June. I was originally planning to run the Wisconsin Half in early May, but for a number of reasons I just don’t want to, so I got my registration refunded (how nice of them to offer that through January!) and signed up for the local RnS half instead. The race is one week before I plan to start marathon training, so I look forward to using it as a celebration of making it through base building. I’m not sure I’ll be PR-ready, but I do plan to run it hard and hopefully get a good time as a way of closing one chapter and opening the next. Then I can use the following week to recover before Chicago training starts :-).

RnS is a race that I should hate. It’s expensive. It’s corporate and not run by a local company. It’s part of Summerfest which I don’t even like. But for some reason I just really enjoy this race. I’ve run it twice – last year I ran the quarter marathon and in 2014 I ran the half – and I enjoyed myself both times. It’s the biggest race in town (10,000 runners across 3 distances), and I like bigger races. Or maybe it’s the just the good memories and the familiar, mostly easy course, or that it has the feel of being an unofficial kick off to summer each year. Either way, looking forward!

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11 thoughts on “A week of base-building: Perspective Shift

  1. Wait–how did I miss that you are running the Canyonlands Half?!?! So awesome! I’m excited for you! I wish I could adopt your perspective. Everything that you’ve been trying not to do–bemoan and be embarrassed by slow paces–is what I’m doing. I’m really inspired by your perspective. How do I shift my thinking? What’s your secret? I’m wondering if I should instead focus on base building and gaining fitness like you’re doing instead of training for something in the spring.

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    1. My secret is that it just wore me down eventually. I just get tired of it. All the complaining and feeling sorry for myself isn’t going to change anything or make my old fitness magically come back, so why keep beating myself up? Running can’t be great and effortless all the time. I’m going through a low point and I just have to ride it out. I remind myself that low points are temporary just like high ones are. Whatever your situation – good or bad – one day it will change.

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  2. I can very much relate to your statement on how great it would be to run a time comparable to one of my “bad” races. I was thinking about my build up to my first marathon and the two half marathons I ran while training that year. The first I viewed as a disaster (Charlevoix half marathon) but the second, just a few months later, is still my half PR. When I think about what my goals are for my upcoming half, I was like, “if I run comparable to charlevoix, that would be great! I would know exactly where I am in relation to PR shape, how long it might take to get back to that shape, and have more then enough time to continue to build and improve!” It’s funny how the passing of time can turn a bad race time into a goal race time.

    I hope shifting your mindset makes the process more enjoyable 🙂

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    1. Funny, isn’t it? Those times were only about 3-4 minutes off my PR at the time, even though I was only running/training sporadically. Now when I look back I can’t BELIEVE how upset I was – I think that’s awesome! I had the same attitude toward the halves I ran during Pittsburgh training – I PRd at both but because it was only by a small amount I was a little deflated. Now I’m like, seriously? I ran a friggin PR on one of the hardest hilliest courses I’ve ever done, and then 2 weeks later I ran one again during a freak snowstorm…and my reaction was…to be UPSET?! It makes me sad that I couldn’t just be happy with what great accomplishments those were simply because I didn’t have an OMG HUGE PR. I hope that those races can keep reminding me to have perspective and just be proud of what I’m able to accomplish, PR or not.

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      1. Learning to be proud of my abilities and accomplishments, even if they aren’t 100% what I was expecting is something that I need to work on. I’m glad we are on a similar journey right now, I feel like your perspective is really helping me accept that it is 100% okay to not be the same runner that I was a year ago.

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        1. Plus, the nice thing in my case and especially yours with your later race, is that even if our March halves go badly, it’s not the end of the world. In fact, I need to listen up, because once I strip away the mitigating factors of tired legs and altitude, this race can provide some valuable feedback for me – am I on the right track? Should I change course with my training, or double down? What should I add or do differently? etc. And I still have three more months until my next race/marathon training to make those adjustments. That’s enough time to buckle down and maybe even train for a PR at the June race, if that’s what I decide I want to do. Probably not, but my point is, it’s nice to know that no matter what happens at this race, I still have a lot of time to keep improving and adjusting. It helps take the pressure off and reminds me where I can find the real value.

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  3. Oh hey, me here. You’re not slower now, you’re just out of shape. You’re the same runner you were for your last PR, you just have less fitness built up right now. Take this base building period slowly and seriously and when it comes time to train for Chicago I know you’ll be right where you need to be. That extra weight will come off and that speed will come back. It takes time, but you’ll get there. Then you’ll run those streets of Chicago so fast, you’ll just be a blur.

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  4. I think your speed is still there. You aren’t training for it right now. Same way it seems impossible to hit “race paces” when it isn’t actually a race. You also had a period of time when you were still doing races, but you were burned out. It’s OK to take a break from the paces and times. But I KNOW when you put your mind to it, you will be like “GAME ON!” In a couple of weeks we turn the clocks ahead, the weather will start to turn…it will be a different story. We just need to get through Feb. and March!

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  5. I can definitely relate to this. I feel like I am still wishing I could be the same runner I was a few years ago, but I am finally starting to accept that I am not there anymore. Maybe I can get back there one day, but right now I need to focus on getting/staying healthy so I can run at all- I cant get caught up worrying about distance or paces.

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  6. It is a good place to be in when you can start making the shift and being happy with what is happening currently. I know it is hard! I have been through several phases of it..to my current state. Closer to race day a pace will present itself that is just a little above what you’ve been running and you can go for it 🙂 My experience has been about 10 lbs. can make a big difference in my pace, I know not everyone is the same, but i have seen it in the few runners I have as well. If you are moving and breathing it is a gift..and I believe eventually the speed will show back up 🙂
    I enjoy going back to a course that feels familiar and I have run before, hopefully June will be the perfect transition for you!

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  7. As I was reading this post I couldn’t help but be reminded of one of the routine pieces of advice I’ve heard over and over again about marathon running, which is to have goals completely unrelated to your finish time. I was going to offer that as a suggestion for your approach to the remainder of base building and/or Canyonlands, but it sounds like you’ve already gotten to that approach yourself! I ran two marathons without any sort of time expectations or goals last year, and while I was a little disappointed to not break five hours in either one, I will say that it made ALL the difference to not go into the race with a time goal in mind. I ran my first one of 2016 on my 26th birthday, and even though it was my second slowest marathon to date, I wasn’t at all mad at myself over my time when I finished. I was just happy that I was done and could go celebrate my birthday and eat ALL OF THE FOOD. Hahaha. Then, when I ran my second one three weeks later, even though that was my slowest Chicago since my first in 2013, I didn’t care either, because I was just happy to have finished two marathons in three weeks! Time goals are nice and good motivators, but having other goals in mind can make a big difference on race day in my experience.

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