Sunburned, slightly dehydrated, and out several beers and most of our s’mores supplies: the hallmarks of a successful 4th of July summer staycation. Between running, chilling on the lake (and IN it!), a bonfire, a 4th of July kickball and grillout party, and a LOT of house work, we packed quite a bit into this 4 day weekend and it was perfect. I did drop the ball on running a bit but I have no regrets. This staycation was quintessential summer and I needed it. I had fun, I got a lot done, and now it’s back to work but instead of dreading it, I actually feel ready.
Other than a few hiccups, this was a good week of training. I finally hit the 30 mpw mark and I had some good workouts.
This week’s key workout was a speed workout with 2×400, 1×800, 2×400, 1×800 (400m recoveries for all). It was a cool, perfect morning and the workout went really well. I was sort of surprised to see the interval paces on the slow side, but, I’m just rolling with it.
I’m used to training through the winter, and in the cool temperatures I can almost always run at my best and hit good paces so it’s easier at any given point to gauge where my speed/fitness is at. But in the summer I have to run in warmer temps, humidity, and the early morning – all things which have an effect on my pace – so it’s a little harder to get a read on where my fitness is at. I’m having to learn to rely on other cues in this training cycle, notably, how strong I feel during and after workouts, how easy it feels to cover certain distances, etc. So, most days, I consider it a victory if I finish strong and feel good. I can put in the work and really hope that it pays off once the temps cool down, and that’s really about all I can control. Not being able to see results or get affirmation from every workout is certainly requiring me to put a lot more faith in the process of training, and I have to work a little harder to stay positive, but I believe that is helping me enjoy training more and not take myself so seriously, too. I will often ask myself: “if you had no idea what your pace/time for this workout was, how would you feel about it?”
My long run this week was 13 miles…well, 13.1, because if you’re going to go 13 you may as well just tack on that extra .1 for a half marathon right? No fast finish this time, just steady distance miles. It wasn’t terribly warm out this AM but it was really muggy. The middle of the run began to drag, and I was surprised to find that my legs were really tired. I had ridden a little fast on last evening’s bike ride home from work, so I wonder if I overdid it, because this is not a problem I usually have. I’ve always had pretty strong legs and it’s rare that they get fatigued during a run, unless it’s the end of a hard race or a very long run. The trail, while pretty, is really rolling and winding and after the halfway point it was starting to irritate me a bit that it wasn’t going by faster, so I started to push a little bit harder just out of annoyance, and I ended up gaining some speed in the 2nd half of the run. I was pleasantly surprised to see 20-40 seconds coming off my mile splits because it didn’t feel like my tired legs were going that much faster. But I just wanted to be out of that trail and done with my run so I could cool off in the lake and enjoy the farmer’s market!
While overall unremarkable, this run was a turning point for me in a couple ways. You all remember this spring when I ran two half marathons and I was so out of shape I had to walk a lot in both of them. Well, almost 3 months later and I can now run the distance all the way through! For a moment, it was oddly emotional. My return to distance running has been an overall humbling journey, with literally nothing as easy or fast as it used to be. But I’ve stuck with it and now I’m finally starting to gain fitness and endurance back. This is something I couldn’t do 3 months ago.
This run was also the first time I’ve really felt like I’m marathon training. It was a long run, on tired legs, and it took more energy out of me than the previous ones have. We biked back and forth to the park a couple more times that day, and that on top of the run left me SORE for two more days! I’m sure the run had a lot to do with that but maybe I should take it easy on the biking from now on and try to rest more after my long runs. They’re only going to get more tiring!
My Week 5 schedule has already gotten thrown out of whack. I didn’t run yesterday and today I got out late and the mid morning heat hit me hard, plus I knew the parks would be crowded with 4th of July revelers and I had to get ready for a busy day, so I ended up scrapping my planned speed work in favor of 4 easy miles. I’ll do my speed work tomorrow. Everything will get done and it will all be fine, but I have to say, as much as I’ve enjoyed my mini-vacation, I am looking forward to getting back into a routine. I’m a creature of structure and it is hard for me to keep up with a workout routine when I’m on vacation or off from work. I certainly won’t complain about this upcoming 3 day week, though.
Overall, training is going well. I’m enjoying running, I’m motivated to put in the work, I’m feeling good and strong in my workouts.
But mentally something is different than my previous training cycles. I’m having fun and I’m glad to be doing this, but the “fire” and excitement aren’t there like they were for Grandma’s and Pittsburgh. This is my 4th time doing this and it doesn’t feel like such a huge deal anymore. Training for marathons is something I do because I want to, because I enjoy the process of training, not because I desire praise or feel like I need to prove something to myself. It just doesn’t seem worth making such a fuss over anymore.
Part of it could be the change in structure. Running in the morning does seem to change how much it mentally consumes me. I get up, I get it done, and I move on with my day. I do have to make some sacrifices in the evenings to pull off the early AM wake ups, but overall it makes me feel more like a normal person, not someone whose life revolves around training.
But I’ve also learned to find new meaning in training. I realized with some surprise recently that my motivation for getting out of bed for those 4:45 AM alarms is starting to change. What used to get me out the door was thinking about getting faster and running a PR. That still motivates me to some degree, but more often in those early hours I find myself thinking about how important it is to me to build back my fitness and feel in shape again.
I do miss being faster, but when I look back on the runner I was while training for my previous marathons, what I see is someone who took a lot for granted. It’s easy to think that finish times are the most important thing when you’ve never had any setbacks that force you to start over again or change your relationship with the sport. Trying to build your fitness back after a long layoff sucks. It’s such a drawn out process, it’s frustrating, and it humbles you pretty much every single day you lace up. I don’t want to have to go through this again. And I don’t want to have to go through the feeling of being out of shape again, either. So that’s what I think about when those early alarms go off now. You’re doing so well and finally getting fitness back – don’t give up now! I don’t want to lose it again, and I don’t want to take it for granted. My speed work paces may not be what they were a year ago, but I keep reminding myself that just a few short months ago, 7 miles wasn’t even my long run, let alone something I could do on a Monday morning before work like it was no big deal.
2017 has been quite a year for me and I think I should cut myself some slack. We had a big life change, a busy spring, and lots of time off running. I should just appreciate that I’m able to get back on the horse and train for a marathon at all, regardless of where my speed and fitness are at, and I think just showing up at the starting line fit and healthy and running a strong race is enough of an accomplishment for me. Sure, it’d be great to run a PR and I’m not even saying it’s impossible yet, but it just seems totally unnecessary to pile on so much extra pressure and expectations of myself. There will be other years, hopefully as soon as next year, when I can focus more on my running and work toward a fast finish time if I want, but I just don’t think that’s what this year’s journey is supposed to be about. And that’s okay. Maybe this time it’s just about enjoying the one-of-a-kind Chicago Marathon experience and using the race as a victory lap for a great 2017 in which I experienced personal changes and growth, both in and out of running. Years like this one don’t come along very often, and I’ll miss it when it’s gone, so I think the most important thing here is to be happy and enjoy the ride.
This week and next week, I am transitioning out of my introductory phase and into my long fundamental phase – the middle of the training Oreo. After Week 6 (which is actually a cutback), it will be time to get into the marathon-specific workouts, and these fartleks and short intervals will be replaced by threshold running and long intervals at half marathon pace. I’m trying to brace myself for the work to get more demanding, but I’m also glad to start working a little harder, feeling more ready for the marathon distance, and seeing more fitness gains emerge.