Six days out and I'm happily clad in compression pants, enjoying my Philz' coffee and the taper. In the strangest of circumstances, I don't feel stressed about the race at all. The last eight weeks have been...awesome. Rejuvenating. Almost inspiring. It's odd to say, but a reboot exactly what I needed. I rediscovered my love of running over the past two months. I have no idea how or why, but I realize now how burnt-out I was in late September.
Last week was an interesting one. Three distinct events happened that really brought it home for me. First, I had a recovery run early Monday. Seven miles before 6am. Pretty standard. I love my Monday miles; those recovery runs are at a comfortable pace and I almost always run alone. It's a chance to look at the city lights, warm up the legs, and reflect. I decided to do the Beltway Trail, which is pitch black at that time of day. I had my headlamp, but I could barely see my own hand in front of my face (may be time to change the batteries). I spent a solid three miles simply concentrating on not turning into Beltway roadkill; I didn't wipe out though I did crash into quite a few low-hanging tree branches. (I literally had to pick out the leaves from my hair later that morning). Regardless, by the time I got back to the park, I realized I had gone way faster than I should have. That blackness prevented me from looking at my watch (mainly because my arms were over my head, swatting branches). Out of curiosity, I compared the pace of those seven miles to several seven milers I did last year. What was once speed work is now a recovery run. Seriously. I used to do seven miles on the treadmill in about an hour (two 10 min warm-up miles, 5 miles at an 8 min pace). Now that was my post-16 miler pre-boot camp shakeout.
I'm not breaking any land-speed records here, but it was a nice mental win.
Then, on Thanksgiving, seated at the dinner table of a friend's house, was a former professional triathlete. He just happens to be friends with our friends. We must have talked for at least an hour about running and racing. I tried very hard to not pepper him with questions but I couldn't control how fast the words were flying out of my mouth. Thankfully, he seemed equally excited to share wisdom about his former profession, and somehow, we ended up on the subject of negative splitting (running the second half the race faster than the first). I watched as others milled in and out of the family room, their eyes glazing over upon hearing our conversation (I can't help it if they don't find the subject as fascinating as we did). He made so, so many good points - like why the world record for a half is around 56 minutes, but the WR for a full is 2:02. Technically, at the half pace, the full should be around 1:54. But there's a full 8 minute fade. And the few men in the world that can hit those numbers? Even they do the first half slower, around 1:03, then negative split the second. He must have said 15 times, "You have to go out slowly. You have to. You have to go out slowly." This made me think. Negative splitting is like the holy grail of running, a true sign of discipline, patience, and belief in your fitness ability and training. I don't think I've negative split a race in my whole life, including my shiny little gem, the Cedar City half. Then he commented on how "time in the bank" (i.e. running fast out of the gate to bank time) almost always blows up in the runner's face. One minute of banked time in the first twenty miles can equate to an extra five in the last 10K. "What about going out five seconds under marathon pace?" I pressed. "Not even one second. Stay on pace," he cautioned. "You want to race that last 10K like you just started running. The first twenty is nothing more than a warm-up. A walk in the park. Use as little effort as possible." Then he said something I'll never forget: "Imagine if you can run that last mile the fastest you've ever run. That's how you race a marathon."
Mind = blown.
Finally, with that conversation was still swirling through my brain, I tackled speed work on Friday afternoon (which was, ironically, set in the park. It wasn't a walk in the park but a run around the park.) It was a tough set - 4x1600m at tempo pace (for me, that's 7:42), 3x1000m at interval pace (4:31). The purpose was to mimic the lactic acid buildup at the end of the marathon and learn to push through it. I took off as I usually do, at full speed, ready for the inevitable pain. My watch read 7:08 and I groaned. Ow. But then I heard my new friend's advice and backed off significantly. I slowed down, easing into a 7:33 pace and found myself...comfortable. Like, really comfortable. (again, there are about 3 million people in this world faster than I am. If you are guffawing at your computer screen or phone, please keep it to yourself. I'm using my times as an example only. Comparisons are no bueno for anyone involved). I could run this speed for a long time. I got through my four sets with ease. Gas still in the tank. I had three 1000m to do at a faster clip (interval is faster than tempo) but my legs felt fresh. I wasn't slumping into the Sad Runner's Shuffle. By not banking time, I was actually going to get through this workout - like a boss. And I did, with my last 1000m coming in the fastest, at a lovely 4:27, a full four seconds under pace.
Mind you, I did this exact workout 10 days before St. George. I was so cashed I didn't even get to the three 1000m. My last two mile repeats were way over pace since I faded so quickly. I limped off the track that day.
What have I learned from all of this? I'm going to go out slowly. Also, I don't know if this is my race to BQ. I know, I know, it sounds like I'm hedging now that it's race week. But I'm not backing off because I'm scared or nervous. I'm backing off because 1) I know what I'm capable of and 2) I want to run my best race. BQ'ing would mean I need to hit the half at 1:45. I can do that - but that will be at near-maximum effort. Hitting the half at 1:50, giving myself an additional five minutes, is a far more conservative approach and will set me up for a stronger second half. To BQ, I would have to negative split and run 1:47. That's the hiccup. I just don't think it's going to happen. But that's okay! Really. I would be absolutely delighted to come in under four hours at this point, but mostly, I want to finish strong. I'm okay if I need another marathon or two to get to Boston 2017.
Enough with boring numbers. Just this morning, I happen to catch the end of Kobe Bryant's press conference about his retirement. He said that he appreciates all of the struggles in his career, almost more than the good things, because it got him to where he needed to be. I am not much of a Kobe fan (or basketball in general), but that statement hit home. In some ways, DNF'ing may be one of the best things that ever happened. Had I finished St. George, I would have gotten a medal but would have missed so much more. Eight weeks of gorgeous fall miles and Vegas sunrises. I would have missed conquering my almost-paralyzing fear on that first post-George 20-miler. I was so nervous that morning, I was shaking when I got out of my car. I would have given anything to get back in my car and crawl under the covers of my safe, warm bed. Instead, I put on my hydration pack and tried not to think. Getting through the yucky emotions like disappointment, confusion and shame was as simple as putting one foot in front of the other, over and over again. Like I realized last year, I'm no longer running away from anything. Instead, I'm running toward all kinds of good things - joy, accomplishment, wonder. Bliss.
I feel good. I feel thankful. I feel ready. :-)
Full race recap in the blog next Monday.
(cue the thoughtfully selected quote from Pinterest)