That late March marathon meltdown never materialized. I have yet to cry at the chiropractor's office. I haven't limped into Barnes and Noble, looking desperately for inspiration in various tomes from people who have run farther and faster than I could ever dream.
Unbelievably, I feel totally...fine.
My traditional roller coaster arc of training seems to be broken - and I couldn't be happier. We are sitting four weeks out from race day - four! - and this feels more like a merry-go-round. I've been pouring over my notes like a mad scientist, attempting to extract key variables that have caused me to turn this happy corner. Why has this cycle been different than previous ones? I like record-keeping, I like data, and I like patterns -- and this is what I came up with. This is what is working, so far...
Obviously. But more so than just running, it's been a question of running when I didn't want to. Tuesdays and Thursdays are track days, meaning, I go to boot camp at 6am and then the track around 9am. I cannot tell you the amount of effort it takes to will myself out the door at 8:35am. The siren song of my bed, the computer, the shower, scraping dried Cheerios off the floor, cleaning the cat litter -- anything sounds better than pounding out a bunch of interval repeats amid 60+ zombie-like high school boys. Anything. During that walk up the hill to the track, everything in my body feels off. "This is the day I blow out my IT band." "That PF in my left foot is acting up again." "I didn't eat enough breakfast; I'm totally going to hit a wall." I mean, such horrible thoughts. I have to push myself through the two-mile warmup, the whole time giving myself permission to opt out at any point. Thankfully, in those first few easy miles, my body actually settles down and my brain shuts up. And the workout almost always goes fine. The bottom line: it's easy to talk yourself out your run. Don't do it. If you keep at it, consistency breeds consistency and ultimately, you'll get stronger. Don't skip 'em.
The Right Tribe
Yes, the usual suspects are still around, and for that, I'm eternally grateful. Running may be an individual event, but you will not survive alone. Recently, two new faces have popped up and they are AWESOME.
On a track day, I had 6x1000m repeats. It was whatever - not my favorite workout, but doable. Nothing to stress over. When I got to the track, my friend Bailey, tiny, blond and a professional triathlete, was already pounding out her own set of 1000s. Except she had 15 (!) to my 6. I half expected her to do her own thing, since she's so much faster than I am, but she immediately offered to do the sets together, despite our different paces. I cannot tell you how helpful this was. Yes, I was 5-10 seconds behind her, but her speed pushed me to work on my turnover and breathing. Not to mention, watching her knock out each set, one faster than the other, was so inspiring. I didn't know you could actually do that. But she did - with very little perceived effort. That day helped re-frame my speed work efforts and taught me I should be pushing harder in the last sets. Crazy helpful insights.
And I happen to stumble upon a great long run friend -- also petite, just with slightly darker hair. Julie and I have been cranking out long runs on Saturdays for the past month, passing the miles chatting as we cruise down various highways in Southern Nevada. When I got super sick on our first 20, I told her to run ahead (I was overheating and really dehydrated). I limped through miles 16-17, mentally beating myself for being so dumb and not hydrating well the day before. Prepared to finish the run alone, I almost didn't believe my eyes when I saw her waiting at the stoplight for me. It reminded me of one of my favorite quotes -- "If you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together." She essentially saved my long run and didn't let me sink into the deep abscesses of my brain. That's a good long-run buddy.
During our next 20-miler two weeks later, we both crushed it. Easily. The right tribe is a critical piece of this puzzle.
Foam Rollers and Epsom Salt Baths
If I could marry my foam roller, I would.
I am also unsure of the benefits of the ice bath. I don't know if my blood has thinned or I'm just a big wimp, but I cannot tolerate the cold anymore. Maybe I'm just 37 going on 77. Either way, dunking my body into a freezing cold tub just ain't gonna happen. I made an executive decision that the sufferfest must end somewhere. So I switched out the cold for warmth and viola! My suffer-meter has gone down. I also found these amazing scented bath salts (eucalyptus! Lavender!) on Amazon Prime and oh my heavens. Not only does it smell divine, but I can feel my muscles loosening and relaxing. With all of the downhill running we have been doing, I'm think the warm baths have played a key role in reducing DOMS. Plus, I smell kinda good too. Well, until the next run.
It's easy to get overwhelmed by a training program. A few weeks ago, I was looking at mine thinking, "This is never going to happen. How am I going to get through this?" Cue Alex. In one of the most insightful comments ever, he told me I was approaching the big meaty weeks, with mileage in the low 50s, but it only lasted until mid-April. Really, just four tough weeks to get through. Then it's a smooth ride to the taper and the race. Four weeks sounded a lot better than seven scary weeks, and just like that, I felt better. Chopping up the weeks, the workouts, heck, even the mile splits -- it's all about perspective. Kind of like chewing. You can't cram your whole plate of food into your mouth at once, so don't try to take on your entire training program. I stopped looking ahead after he said this, and guess what? Life got a lot easier. I started breathing again.
...yet a Kick in the Pants is Good Too.
I vacillate between fear and overconfidence. It's a weird place to exist.
A few weeks ago, there was a local race that offered cash prizes for the first three finishers in each gender. I was pretty sure I could nab some of that prize money. Kat was running, and I knew there's no way I'd finish ahead of her (even if she had a cold, a broken leg, or a monkey strapped to her back). But second place...I could do second. As we went through our warm-up, I felt good. Great, even. The wind was insane, gusting up to 35mph in some areas, but we'd all have to face the same weather conditions. That $50 or $100 could pay off the money we spent on Scotty's Easter basket. A bigger question: if I earn money at a race, does that make me pro?
As Kat, Alex and I finished our warm-up, I watched one of the best short-distance runners in Las Vegas trot up. She pinned on a bib. Hmm...Interestingly, she brought her mom, who happens to be a retired professional runner (like a legit pro runner, not like me in my daydreams.) Okay Kim, let's try for fourth place. Then, the world record holder in the masters 1500m arrived. Um...fifth? As we lined up, I looked to my right and saw two tiny little girls, no more than 15 or 16 years old, clad in purple, and I realized with a sinking heart: high school track stars. Dammit.
Dude, just get in the top ten.
In the end, I finished eighth. All of the aforementioned ladies passed me, in addition to this fierce woman in a visor. It's okay. I didn't make any money but I learned not to count my eggs (or Easter baskets) before they hatch. And as Brian said later, it's probably best I retain my amateur status for now.
The Mighty Chick Pea
Food has played a critical role in this training cycle. I'm eating cleaner than ever, thanks to the book, "Thrive." A star player in my diet: behold, the might chick pea. It's everywhere. I freaking love chick peas. They are just so versatile. I just discovered a great new chocolate chip cookie recipe (vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, and no processed sugars) that uses the great and glorious garbanzo bean. Even my KID, my toughest critic, loved the cookies. I had to make Brian promise to never tell him the ingredients.
Beyond dessert, I feel like 30% of my daily conversations revolve around hummus. Who makes the best hummus in town? Do you make hummus? Do you boil the beans first? At a recent kid birthday party, the mom knew of my love of hummus and actually gave me a whole tub to take home. My sheepishness of taking it was overridden by my love (and hunger) of the bean, so I put it in my purse without a second thought. I ate the whole thing later that day with some red peppers and sliced cucumbers.
Since food is such a big part of training and recovery, I'll post some diet staples (and recipes!) next week in the blog. Stay tuned! I hope these tips are helpful (and if not, than at least humorous).
Cheers to many more miles!