I had flatlined.
Back in July, because of my arm injury, I switched up my long run schedule. What should have been 12-14-16-7-18-20 became 12-14-7-16-18-20. Yes, look at those last three. 16, 18, 20 in three consecutive weeks. We could debate all day if this was in my best interest, but in the end, ultimately I need the time on my feet. I hadn't completed a run over 15 miles since mid-March. Long runs are necessary for physical gains but also to strengthen mental toughness. Lord knows I need more of that.
The 12 and 14 happened while on vacation in the humid, mosquito/deer fly-infested lands of the Midwest. ::shudder:: Hot, sweaty and itchy, I rejoiced when they were done and applied more bug spray. The seven miler was, as expected, a breeze, spent happily chatting with Lulu runners while pulling on my arm bandages and trying not to think about chain-link fences.
The 16-er took place among the quiet pines of Mt. Charleston. That beauty is deceptive; with such an extreme slope, the first five miles flew by in a blink. I clicked off 7:20, 7:27 miles. These times were insane. I am Kenyan! Okay, Kenyan B-team, but this is amazing! I literally felt like I was flying down the slightly lopsided highway. It flattened out a bit around mile 10, but my average pace was still a ridiculous 7:42. Pride took over and I huffed out those last six, coming in at 2:06, a 7:54 average and twenty-seven minutes faster than the first half marathon I ever ran. Insane. That's my tempo pace, not my long run. I was a full minute-and-six-seconds faster per mile than I should have been. I limped to brunch later that morning, convinced I had broken my foot but deliriously happy with my performance.
Then I got out of bed the next morning. Like a baby deer learning to walk...
I could barely lift my legs. Going up the stairs - yeah, that wasn't going to happen. Down the stairs? Are you kidding me? By Monday, I managed to get out of bed and slog through a recovery run almost 45 seconds per mile slower, pain exploding in my dead legs or weary hips. It felt like someone had taken a baseball bat to my calf muscles. I was so tired, I actually skipped hill day that week. I could barely drive to the park, let alone run up hills. It's okay, I just had to run 18 miles in three short days. Sure...
This time, I started two miles down the hill to avoid the extreme down and intentionally went slower. Kenyan no more (the dream was fun while it lasted), I trotted through my 18 like a wounded but tenacious squirrel. I finished. 8:38 pace, legs tired, but I did it. I took a brief ice bath and nap Saturday afternoon then we went out for dinner. A few cocktails, high heels, and probably not enough water. It's okay, I could push through this. I wore compression socks under my clothing at a friend's baby shower on Sunday (half the people there were runners; they understood) and called it a day.
Until Monday morning when I felt like complete poop. My weight was up (as we all know) and I felt completely and utterly spent. And I was staring down the barrel of a 20 in just six short days, but first, let's complete a week of boot camp and speed training! YAY! No! By Thursday, the day of my zombie-coffee date, derailed by an easy four miler that morning, I knew something was way, way off. Blinking hurt. It was only week 6 of a 13-week program; there's no reason why I should be feeling this badly, so soon. What was I doing wrong?
This is probably the most frustrating part of any training program. Feeling like you are putting in the effort but not seeing results. Watching your pace (and weight) go up. It's maddening. To think I have seven more weeks of this...I wanted to quit. Clearly, I picked the wrong sport. Maybe running wasn't for me.
(for long-time readers, you'll note this happens during every training program. Like clock work, really).
Before I hung up my sneakers for good, I took stock of my actual behaviors. Taking an honest, hard look at yourself is probably one of the toughest things you can do. I started using My Fitness Pal again. I wrote daily food diaries, tracking food and hydration. I pledged to be much more thoughtful in those first 24 hours post-long run, knowing that it would set me up for a most successful week of running. Recovery is easily overlooked and I had been careless. The actual run is only several hours a day; my focus needed to be on what I was doing during the other 22 hours.
To everyone who responded about gaining weight during marathon training: thank you. That was illuminating. My friend Tanya posted this link and it was an eye-opener. It's helpful even if you aren't running and just trying to lose weight. It's so easy to fool yourself into believing you can eat more than you need. If the scale isn't moving, reexamine what's going in. I did, with surprising results.
After a rather gruesome 20 miles in the heat, made worse because I failed to bring enough water (my autobiography will be titled, "Thirsty: The Tale of One Desert Runner"), I logged my calories. While I did burn 2200 during the run, I consumed a whopping 850 during the run and directly after. This included my pre-run breakfast, 3 gels, 1L of coconut water, and post-run recovery shake. EIGHT HUNDRED AND FIFTY. I'm fooling myself if I think I can eat whatever I want during that critical 24-hour period. Those calories add up in a hurry, and despite the 2,000+ calorie deficiency, I was clearly having no problem putting in what I just took out. A few vegan treats here and there and I had more than made up for what I burned. Plus, I was waiting too long to eat, hence the cravings. Per the article, the longer I waited, the more likely I was to crave sugar and fats. My poor body thought it really was the zombie apocalypse and I was starving. Grab all the cookies before the walkers come! Sheesh.
Hydration was another giant piece of the puzzle. Those post-run cocktails on Saturday night? Not doing me any favors. Sure, I wanted to celebrate being down with yet another week of marathon training, but it was essentially compromising the next. Also, sitting out by the pool in 110 degree heat was turning me into beef jerky. I needed to break out the foam roller, spend more time in the ice bath, and log some serious shut-eye.
Though the 20 was ugly, I'm proud of what came next. I PR'd in the ice bath (a solid 12 minutes), wore my compression socks to bed (Brian, thankfully, remained mum on the subject), and ate way less than in previous weekends. Hyper-conscious about food, I forced myself to not become a remorseless eating machine. I also sought out different and more nutritious options. Instead of reaching for a handful of chocolate chips, I opted for a handful of raspberries. And you know what? I survived! It wasn't even that bad. Not surprisingly, my weight is down again. (whew!)
No alcohol meant better sleep, and I logged a full ten hours Saturday night. I spent Sunday in the temperature-controlled bliss of our living room, building Star War Legos with Scotty, sipping on 100 ounces of water. All in all, kind of a perfect way to recover.
**I wish I could take credit for all of these amazing recovery tips, but the bulk of them came from my friend Alex. Thanks for talking me off the ledge last week! Thankful for your running expertise and friendship. :-)