"Fatigue makes cowards of us all"
- Vince Lombardi
I just can't seem to figure it out. Somedays are diamonds and somedays are coal...somedays you're the windshied and somedays you're the bug...somedays you're the bat and somedays you're the ball. Ok, this is even getting old for me, but you get the gist. A week ago, I went out for my pre-dawn run, and it was like I never laced up running shoes before. Every step was plodding, every step was an effort. Then, for absolutely no good reason, my next three runs were wonderful and my longest of the three was also my fastest! Of course, that run had a little boost because I was running in Boston on the Marathon course. It wasn't because I was trying to make it my best run of the week, but it was the one where I felt the most in tune with what I was doing. My legs were propelling me forward, not exactly effortlessly, but it felt smooth instead of my legs just moving forward to keep me from tipping over onto my face.
If you're going to get yourself swallowed up by endurance events, you've got to prepare yourself, and pretty much expect, that for periods, sometimes rather extended periods, you will just feel like "who-did-it-and-why'd-they-do-it". One of the many things long distance running has taught me is that most of the time you'll work yourself out of most of these difficult patches if you just hang in there and accept it as part of the deal. That patch might be a few minutes in a 10K, a couple of miles in a marathon, several hours in an ultra, or a couple of weeks in your training schedule. This is not the "wall" so many new endurance athletes work themselves into a lather about, but just a period where the fatigue point rears it's ugly head and the left side of your brain becomes domineering with thoughts of how good it would feel to quit this foolishness and sit down, be it on the curb in a road race, in the middle of a trail in some woods, or right in the middle of your training schedule.
Now, if there seems to be a pattern that every week you're bailing out of at least one run, well, then, you're developing a wicked habit if you wish to sculpt your body into a long distance machine. I know I'm having a devil of a time getting myself going regularly in this cold weather. I'm just plain tired of it (the cold weather, not the running). Once I kick myself out the door, most cold weather runs are actually very good, but my short term memory wants no part of it and the next day, I have to grapple with myself again - ugh! Sometimes, you get going and you know in the first quarter mile that today is going be a rough day. In those cases, try to give it at least 15-20 minutes and if you still resemble yesterday's fish (your run stinks), then start to head for Plan B, which is usually heading for home. But in a planned long run, if you start to fade, understand that this is part of the process, and you slow down, drink some Powerade, and take a Powergel or some other form of sugar (though how anybody eats those sports jelly bean things, I have no idea). Then get going again and see if your body tries to climb out of this "bad patch". Remember, in a marathon (or longer race), you will have long time to try to work things out - maybe not enough to accomplish Goal A, but it doesn't have to be a total disaster. If you're going to give in to the Bad Patch Monster every time it comes out of it's cave, then you're doomed before you even begin.
We have a lot of seasoned marathoners out there on Sundays at our runs mixed in with newer long distance hopefuls, and no matter where you're reading this (believe it or not, from Canada to Russia to Australia and 6 of 7 continents - nobody in Antarctica has read RWA!), one thing that is common amongst all veteran runners is that we all love to talk about running - the good and the bad - and each of us will boost your confidence by telling you horror stories about how we had runs that were just falling apart, but by hanging in there and doing the right salvaging things, we resurrected what seemed like a total loss and made it a positive run. This could be in a race or "just" a training run. Many training runs I've done, I've said "What if this had been a marathon today? I'd be toast!". But, I would walk some, keep drinking and most of the time, eventually got back to running, as long as I felt like I wasn't going to hurt myself - THERE IS ALWAYS ANOTHER DAY! Training for 26 or 50 or 100 miles is a long road (literally) that has 4-6 months of goal-oriented runs attached to it, so that's well over 100 training runs and your body will learn something from EVERY run you do, some of it good, some not so good, but it will learn. If you work your way through the bad patches repeatedly, your body and mind will accept "Good Patch...Bad Patch...Better Than Bad Patch". You HAVE to learn to hang in there in order to learn what works for you. Then it will become habit. You may not learn it fast -three decades and I haven't completely learned that lesson yet, but I'm working on it.
A quote of Scott Jurek's that I used several blogs ago is still one of my all-time favorites - "You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have". It's one of the lures of marathons and, more so, ultramarathons - how strong will I be when I face the demons? They will be there, count on it. I've finished many long runs where I could never figure out how I did it, because 2/3's through the race, I felt cooked, and the only reason I kept going was because my car wasn't parked in the middle of the woods! But, as much as logic would tell me "This is it Big Boy", my anti-logic of experience would convince me to believe my mantra of "every step is a step closer", and most of the time it was like grabbing a rope and climbing out of the abyss, and that rope was attached to the finish line. As many times as you promise yourself during the race that if somehow God allows you to finish, you're going to burn your running shoes and never run again, that promise is soon forgotten at the finish line where you alone realize how deep you really can reach down to depths you didn't know you had. And that, my friends, is why we come back for more! I love this sport!!
Ok, 3 weeks till the Mercedes Marathon. For tomorrow, we've got 15 on the schedule for the full marathoners and 7 for the half. NEXT WEEK, we return to Downtown for our final run on the Mercedes course, so put that in your calendar NOW. We're coming in for a landing now, so don't screw up. You've been training since September...you can't cram in training in the last 3 weeks. Believe in yourself. I believe I'll see you all on the roads tomorrow - AL
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