Tuesday, October 9, 2012

5 days 'til 50k

Here I sit in the familiar state of madness induced by tapering from a strenuous training cycle.  Am I ready?  Am I over-trained, injured even?  Should I be running more/less right now?  Am I eating right?

I’m not a life-long runner.  I never ran in high school, never considered running for fun until I was well into my 20s.  Even then, I never took running seriously until I started racing.  I’ve never run a 50k (~31 miles) before, much less trained for racing that distance.

A tough day
I trained hard for KBVCM, but that race was a complete and utter disappointment (read: failure) for me.  Were it not for Joel’s good graces, I’d never had made the finish line, even if I did end up nearly having to crawl there.  Looking back on my training, I did everything by the book; I didn’t miss a workout. I hit every split, grunted out every single long run and every last speed workout.  I thought I did it all right. 

I spent the better part of the month after KBVCM getting ART therapy, rehabbing my legs and rethinking my approach to running.  The bitter unhappiness I felt after having put in such an arduous training cycle left me at an impasse with running:  Why work SO hard for such little result?  The moral of many “survivor” stories is “for the personal satisfaction of it”, but that isn’t the moral of this particular story.

When I started running again, I did it without obsessing about splits, without worrying whether I was hitting a predetermined weekly mileage volume.  I forgot about pace and ran for the sake of running.  I ran more on trails, in the woods, away from cars and traffic, and I was surprised to find, away from other runners.  I would often stop in the middle of a run to look at a group of turkeys off the trail, a deer grazing nearby, or just simply to take in my surroundings.  My mental state was becoming fueled by my running adventures.  I’d never in my life run slower, but I’d never in my life run for longer; not necessarily in terms of mileage, but in terms of time on feet.

The Ridge between Bonfcliff and Bond
I took a couple trips up to the White Mountains, did some serious elevation gain/loss, put in some epic solo efforts where I was either going to learn how far I could push myself, or simply crumple up in a ball right there on the trail and leave it up to everyone and everything else to determine what came next. 

I learned a lot about fueling myself on long runs, hydrating and taking in calories.  I learned about how far past the “I don’t want to” feeling I can push myself, and how that “I don’t want to” feeling comes at different times and in different ways on every run.  I learned about how my mental state is equally if not more important than my physical state for my ability to continue to push on in those “no man’s land” miles beyond where I ever thought I was capable of going.

My lungs and legs felt very strong, but I felt very slow.  When September rolled around, realizing the race was a little over a month away, I started to panic.  The New River Trail 50k is run on trails, but hardly the trails I'm used to.  The race is entirely flat, on primarily crushed gravel trails.  Running 25 miles through the White Mountains involves quite a bit of hiking and technical sure-footing.  Running up and down hills on trails engages different muscle groups at different times, evening out the fatigue and allowing for a bit of recovery as you shift pitches.

Charles River Path
For the marathon, I had trained on flat pavement.  Knowing how flat the 50k was going to be, I thought it would be best to put in a few long runs on the Charles River, my go-to training course for the marathon.  I went over 20 miles on 4 runs in September, focusing on keeping moving, only stopping at crosswalks or when otherwise absolutely necessary.  Two of those runs where 25 mile runs, both of which were quite slow and both of which were really enjoyable.  The other 2 20 mile runs where done on consecutive days, back-to-backs as I’ve heard them called by many people who recommend them for building endurance for longer races.  I got up very early for each of these runs and did most of my fueling on the run.  I took in 3 gels per hour and no other calories on each of them.  I ran with a hydration pack filled with 3 liters of water enhanced with electrolyte tabs.  I had high-points, low points, falls, rain storms, small injuries, but not once did I bonk and not once did I feel like I wasn’t going to be able to do it.  In fact, I would count all four of these runs as great experiences, through which I learned simple principles of endurance and mental toughness.  (Waking up on Sunday to strap on my shoes and bang out a 20 miler after I had done it the day before was particularly inspiring).

All of these long runs were slow.  Much slower than the long runs I did in the lead up to KBVCM.  I felt slower, I FEEL slower and certainly, with the lack of speed work, I am.  How much slower is very hard to say.  A few weeks ago, Todd and I did one of the ever-popular Let’s Run, Have Fun and Be Fit series runs along the Charles River.  Last year, we did the same run, the “Halfway to Mardi Gras” race.  Last year this was a 4.2 mile race.  We had no reason to suspect it would be different this year (and I certainly didn’t read the fine print) and so when it ended after 5k, I had a little bit left in the tank.  Even so, I ran my second fastest 5k time.  5k speed has very little to do with 50k speed, but at least my lack of speed work isn’t going to be a primary concern going into this weekend’s race.

Joel running in Rock Creek Park
So, am I ready?  Writing all this out is what I’m doing to make myself feel better.  I probably pushed a bit too hard, packed a bit too much into September.  I’m certainly paying for it, as my legs don’t feel great, even after 2 weeks of a 3 week taper.  Still, I don’t think the residual fatigue or niggles up and down my lower leg will keep me from finishing the race.  Regardless, there isn’t much I can do now, we’re 5 days away; it is what it is.  I’m getting very excited for the race and really can’t wait to toe the line.  I feel very fortunate that Joel will be down there with me to run as well and glad we’ll be able to share the experience.  And I feel very happy having been through the training cycle I’ve had.  As Todd says, the training is even more important than the end goal.

Side note: After having gone through a spell where I felt like I wasn’t recovering well, where I was consistently over-tired and cranky, not able to put my heart into my runs, I did some research.  Many signs and the fact that I am a vegetarian made me a prime candidate for iron deficiency.  I started supplementing with Floradix.  I put 1 tablespoon in a glass of orange juice every morning before I drink coffee (caffeine lessens the body’s ability to absorb iron) or eat anything.  I’ve tried a variety of supplements in my life time to help a variety of symptoms; none have had such a clear effect as supplementing iron has.  It didn’t happen overnight.  It took about 4 weeks for me to notice anything, but it was clear to me then that iron is a very important part of my diet when I am training so hard.

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1 comment:

  1. This was a great story. Thanks for sharing! And hope the race went well - can't wait to hear how it went.