My marathon training is driving me completely bonkers.
I am not even close to quitting this, and until this point I have avoided dwelling on the whole thing, feeling that putting my hazy thoughts into silent or uttered words would be feeding the beast that does not need an extra meal.
At this point, however, I’m hoping that a brief venting session would be a cathartic and healing experience. I need to move forward; I keep finding myself overreacting, albeit quietly, to things that are small and irrelevant.
Here are the things that are driving me nuts about the last five months and the two that remain in front of me, before I run the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon, which will be my first, and perhaps my only, but maybe not, marathon. Note that the list is filled with counterpoints to every argument, and this is why it’s all so frustrating.
- The fact that I’m keeping my mind open to the idea that I won’t want to run another one – or my body will refuse. Every other new distance I’ve run hasn’t had this “what if” burden attached to it. I’m an endurance machine and if I could handle 11 years of playing rugby, and most of them playing a very strong pony, helping to push 1400+ pounds of scrum forward, repeatedly, in the second row, running for 4+ hours straight on pavement should be doable, if not a (relative) piece of cake.
- Except now I’m in my 40s, not my 20s.
- BAH! I’m feeling strong. 40s appears to be long-distance running prime for a lot of women.
- Except I’ve been doing high-impact sports for most of my life.
- BAH! All this weight-bearing activity in my life means I’ve made my bones as strong as Adamantium. My soft tissue… perhaps not so much.
- It’s been a year since I recovered from a battle with plantar fasciitis, and I’m pretty sure that it has not returned. However, that heel is more tender than it used to be, before that round with PF.
- I joined a running club, because it seemed like a good idea at the time. The knowledge and support of experienced marathoners was something I thought I’d need. The companionship on tough training runs sounded appealing, too, mostly as I would be abandoning my trail-running buddies for most of the season.
- And yet very few of the people in the club will follow their own coaches’ advice to run very slow on the long, slow runs. Some days, it has felt like I was the only one actively trying to run an 11 minute mile (or slower). I’m somewhat willing to believe that all of these people are crazy-fast runners and that a 9-minute mile is the recommended low-intensity pace for them… but is it?
Running an 11 minute mile pace (or slower) is really, really difficult, especially when it’s warm out. My body heats up quickly at anything above 50, so on some days, I have to repeatedly stop to walk, to lower my effort level, which lately I’ve been gauging with a heart-rate monitor. I’ve always run faster and been comfortable in that faster zone, but I think the coaches (and various articles I’ve read) are trying to slow us down on those long runs, to help speed us up in races.
- Apparently, I should not have a time goal for this first marathon. But if you don’t, how do you decide what pace at which to start running the darn race?
- Having some of idea of my marathon pace is supposed to help me figure out how to do the speed workouts that the club does. So, I signed up to do a half-marathon in June. However, it was cancelled due to an electrical storm that morning.
- So I did a 2-mile time trial on my own, a few weeks ago. I did it the week after I had a head cold. I had to stop a few times to cough, so it wasn’t all that useful as a race time or training paces predictor.
- So, I did a 5k last week. It was fun, though not a PR, but I was happy with my effort. My time on that race gives me a better idea, though not a great idea, of what my marathon pace will be.
- And it’s a bit slower than I had been thinking, due to the times I had for two 10-mile races I did 18 months & two years ago. So, I feel like I’m on a downhill slide. And feel like I am likely the slowest runner in the whole club.
- Which makes me feel like I’m in grade school again. Always the last one picked, the one who caught softballs with her face, the one who once kicked a basketball to keep it from going out of bounds and then got kicked off the court by the coach whose breath smelled like whiskey and cigarettes.
- I pay a reasonable membership fee to the club, which appears to defray costs of setting up a water/Gatorade stop on our long runs, reserve space in the rec center where we meet, get us gear tchotchkes once a season (I just got my hat!), fund a website and newsletter, and maybe also help pay for the coaches’ certification fees. Cool. When I registered – twice now – I had to indicate what race I was training for, and we did so again on posters at a recent potluck/meeting. And yet a newsletter came out today, listing what races people had signed up for, and my name wasn’t anywhere – though I had typed/printed clearly at least three times. I’m sensing that I have stumbled on that rare but real event in which someone reads my strange name and is incredulous that it is spelled that way, so they just ignore it. THIS HAPPENS. Sometimes the reader assumes that I misspelled my own name, and SARAH appears in resulting documentation.
These coaches are really nice, earnest people and I’m pretty sure they squeeze in these duties in addition to day jobs, raising kids, house and yard work, and/or plenty of other things, just like me. Worrying about my name on an monthly newsletter item is ephemeral and ridiculous.
- Early in the season, one of them told me that I needed to run more than the three days per week that I usually run. This will evidently help my body get ready for massive mileage.
- So I built up to running five days a week. Then the same coach told me to stop doing that; that I need to trade one or two of those running workouts for some other, less impactful, possibly more fun workout. Which is what I was inclined to do in the first place, to keep injury and boredom at bay.
- So! I have a day/evening or two free to climb each week! It’s summer, the best/only season for rock climbing in Minnesota, and I love to rock climb outside, and inside, for that matter. Every year I vow to get out more in the summer. However, all my climbing buddies are out of town, injured, or busy with lives that are just as action-packed as mine, and we end up almost never going climbing.
- The above schedule vacancy –sometimes– allows a weekly time slot to do some other kind of strength training. Maybe just a routine I can do in my backyard or basement (this Neila Rey routine was fun, while attempting to also watch an episode of Burn Notice, and it took the whole 42 minutes). Last weekend, a trail running buddy offered me a free session at the strength center where he goes, weekly. It was fun, and I think I want to do it again. After many years of going it alone, assembling circuits, battling the noise demons at BodyPump classes and similar, all I had to do was show up and do what the trainer told me to do. And yet, it’s kind of expensive, takes more time away from house & husband, is frightening, and the sales pitch, delivered over the screaming of my quads, was suspiciously strong. I worry that weight machines aren’t functional training for running (or anything else, aside from body building).
I was so tired/sore the next day –Monday– that I had to skip a run. For the third Monday in a row (the prior two were attributable to other Sunday adventures: an outdoor rock-climbing day –yay!– and a 25-mile bike ride around town). I think this is fine, especially as the activities were fun and I must have a rest day, each week. But that rest day, for three weeks, has demanded to happen on specific days. This is not how I normally take my rest days, like nasty-tasting cough syrup. That is, unless there is a movie or art show I want to see, but Mondays are 11-hour work days and museums close on Mondays.
- I am feeling better about this today, as my “loose” shorts actually felt loose (can you tell, in the photo at top of this post?) and my skinny jeans are fitting well again, but initially in this training season, I gained weight and girth. I build muscle like a boss, in fact after some hill workouts I feel like the Incredible Hulk. So, it should never be too surprising or upsetting to see numbers on the scale go up, but I had really been thinking, hoping, that those long, slow runs and the accumulating mileage would burn down an inch or a couple pounds, in places. But it did the opposite. I seem to have found a sweet spot: by avoiding sweets. Or rather, avoiding processed foods, as much as I can. No crackers, cookies, and less bread and pasta. More veggies. Fewer gels. More probiotics, more greens at breakfast.
- Sometimes it really makes me mad, how stuck I am in the mentality that svelte-skinny is more important than strong, muscled and confident. I have mostly stopped even bothering to pick up women’s fashion or fitness magazines, but man, they did a number on me in the 1980s-2000s. I recently had a brief conversation on this topic with a much younger woman, and her attitude about women, bodies, and strength was refreshing and astonishing to me.
- My dad, a retired cardio-thoracic surgeon who is also a runner (of shorter distances), worries that marathon is a dangerous endeavor to undertake. I worry that he worries. And that he may be right.
- I really love trail running. I’m glad I could swap in trails one day, this week! I miss it, and I miss my super fun trail running friends.
- The running club is sponsoring a trail race on an upcoming Sunday, and they are encouraging us to run in it. However, a couple months ago, one of the coaches convinced me that I had to choose road or trail for this race prep, and aside from a few exceptions, most of my runs, especially my longer weekend ones, would need to stay on road. So I’m conflicted about this upcoming 10-mile race, which falls on the day right after a long, slow, training run on roads.
- I’m still trying to figure out hydration and electrolyte replacement. How the heck do you put a Nuun tablet in your bottle mid-run, and not have the pressure from the fizz cause the bottle in your waist pack to leak down your leg? Should you resort to using only a hand-held bottle? Will the fizzy stuff be a bad idea in a Camelbak? Should you bail on fizzies and try electrolyte pills?
- A few weeks ago I read a column by Kristin Armstrong that was very insightful for me. I know that I need to be careful about assuming the advice given her for myself, especially as I’ve taken no such blood tests recently, have no idea if she’s even training for a marathon at this time, and I don’t know if a “day with wine” infers more than one glass. But, I read it right about when I got other advice to dial back my running days (see #19), and I felt like I had a few things in common with her –chiefly in that I noticed weight gain, and I tend to overdo it, sometimes until I easily catch the nearest flu bug and it takes me down, hard. Her story gives me a little solace, when I need two days of non-running, after a long run. And it helps me try and cut back on alcohol, a little more. I drink moderately – on most days, zero to one glass, though on some weekend days, two drinks – but it’s extra sugar that, if I could skip it, would be a good idea to skip.
- But a daily glass of wine is good for my cholesterol! And my husband is really getting into his new beer-brewing hobby. I like to be supportive (and it tastes good).
The list will likely continue to grow if I continue to sit here, typing. This is probably enough, for this exercise. I am really pleased that I’ve recently found a friend in the run club who runs a pace similar to mine. It makes so much difference on those Saturday mornings, and for the whole week. She’s great, and it helps me just let all these list items … go.
Thank you for reading!