Monthly Archives: August 2010

War lost / Battles won

When we stepped out of the hotel this morning a cooled air I expected to greet us simply didn’t. I didn’t want to verbalize the demoralizing thought to the rest of the team, but it felt downright humid if you would have asked me. It wasn’t hot, hovering somewhere in the Upper 60’s at 6:30 am, but the humidity was apparent enough to give me concern for the race. “Oh well,” I thought to myself, and just carried on with normal race preparations leading up to the start call.

Groups of lean runners bunched behind the imaginary force field that is the start line and quickly shared goal times with each other. I heard a couple runners mention going for a Trials Qualifier (sub 1:05) and others go for less ambitious 71’s, 73’s and so on. It seemed I was going to be out near the front of the pack with only a handful of others as I aimed for a 68 finisher.

The airhorn filled the silenced air in the mall parking lot and we followed suit off the line onto a nearby street. Sure enough, 3 runners moved ahead out front and Poray and myself followed behind at a safe distance and conservative speed. Almost too conservative I wondered. The rest of the field swallowed the road behind us as we moved through the first mile and although my heart rate worked off the initial surge of adrenaline, I felt very smooth, very easy and almost very slow. My goal for the first mile was to ease into a 5:18/mile pace, but as Poray and I kicked down the road I feared we might go through around 5:25 or 5:30, so imagine my surprise when we hit the first marker at 5:18 on the dot. I was thrilled it felt that effortless and was bolstered with confidence. I won that battle solidly.

Rolling into the second mile the course took a turn downhill and we blasted down a quick decline into a flat stretch that gently continued at a net gain. I continued to feel solid just off Poray’s heels when a couple other runners moved up to join us. One of them moved past Poray and I, and when Poray followed I made the decision to hang back and conserve my efforts for later. The other runner pulled up next to me and we continued on exchanging efforts, crossing the 2nd mile clock at 5:09. Ok, that was a touch fast, but not with any deliberate strain on my part as the downhill had pulled us quickly into the distance.

Myself and the other runner were joined by yet another as we moved through a 3rd mile that started to climb gradually, but the course soon took another dive quickly and severely into the 3rd mile. The two runners dropped off behind me going down the hill and I passed the 3rd clock at 5:19, still right on pace for my final goal time.

The course took an inevitable turn upwards after the severe downhill, but rolled over a hilltop and back down yet again, quickening my pace ever more. All alone now I went through the fourth clock in 5:10, an encouragingly fast split considering how smooth I continued to feel despite the undulations.

At this point I was all alone and as Poray and the other runner continued to move far out ahead I realized this was probably going to be my position for quite some time…no man’s land. I hate that point. PR’s rarely come when you’re out on your own as it becomes increasingly difficult to convince yourself you have more gears, but when another runner is pressing at your back or pulling at your competitive strings, the ability to find speed is almost magical.

I continued to move quickly into the course, staying calm with the knowledge I still had a ways to go, but also noticing my singlet was already soaked in sweat and swinging with the weight across my back. The humidity had shown itself without reservation. I pushed through another mile of undulating roads that lay refreshingly shaded by trees and ran along a massive river, crossing the 5th clock at 5:18, still ahead of pace.

Although encouraged by my PR setting pace, the course started throwing obstacles into my path, laying down road that began to climb out of the downhill it set early in the race. Mile 6 climbed ever so gradually with only a few flat or downhill sections of relief, which showed when I crossed the mile 6 mark in 5:26, 33:00 minutes even. I did the calculation in my head and figured if I could repeat the first half tempo I’d be dead on for a 1:08 finish, but that confidence was quickly dashed as the course began unrelenting climbs upward. Adding insult to injury a speed sapping hill shot skyward where the mile 7 clock sat at the top, of which I maxed my systems out going through in 5:27.

Soon after, the course rolled downhill for a short stretch before ending all plans of a smooth run to the finish when it suddenly stretched out far before me…uphill. And didn’t quit. With an open line of sight I could continue to keep tabs on Poray and his competition as they repeatedly swapped places with each other, but I stayed back in no man’s land working hard up the ceaseless incline that comprised the rest of the course. I worked through mile 8 at 5:23, which deceptively ignored the continuous incline upwards.

I ran on periodically looking ahead for short, flat stretches or downhill that I could capitalize on to get back to PR pace, but the only thing I saw was the flat face of the road continuing to climb and climb and climb, not severely, but certainly consistently. This was not looking good and this was not going to change.

As the road stretched on I struggled to keep form, to keep my breathing rhythmic, to keep my legs pushing off the ground instead of turning over merely with memory, but this was an ever losing war. I had won some pacing battles early on, but those were fleeting and disappearing off into the distance. I continued to roll alone into mile 9 at 5:28, then mile 10 at 5:27, not able to make up any lost time from previously slowed miles, only consoled by the fact that I was soon to be 2 miles out from the finish when the course would hopefully let up and I could try to make one last unrestricted effort through the line.

Then finally, just as I hit mile 11 at 5:37, my worst pacing yet, another runner pulled up behind me and compelled me to push forward quicker, despite the continuously rising course. I felt him just off the back of me and we moved faster into mile 12 as the course began to even itself out. I was pretty spent at this point from the effort, so I wasn’t all that surprised when we crossed mile 12 at 5:33. I knew my PR was out of reach at this point, but hoped to just come through the line strong.

A mile out the finish area was in sight and we started rolling strong towards the end, this other runner taking the lead and pulling me along. It felt good to let my breathing go and just start pushing hard into the finish, back on the pace I wanted to hold earlier on. The finish area got closer and closer and about 800 out from the line another moved up and rolled on us hard. We both pushed to maintain pace, but he continued ahead as I started to fall off the back.

Then in a more comical moment of the race, all 3 of us ran towards the finish when the announcer informed the crowd of our coming. “Here they are ladies and gentleman! The first women finishers…I think on a course record! It’s going to be a 1,2,3 kick to the finish! Wait…I think it’s just the first woman in that group. Actually, hold on, these are all still men. I just got word our first woman is still 10 minutes back.”  I never got confirmation, but I do believe the gender mix-up was due to my long hair, which admittedly, is quite untypical of most male runners.

Then, to add insult to injury, the course took one last upward step into the finish, sapping any seconds saving sprint I might have had in me. The three non-women runners kicked to the line, myself unable to make any last competitive effort, crossing the line in a decent, but somewhat disappointing 1:10:38, securing 8th place overall.

Although initially disappointed in my performance, after so much post-race discussion with my teammates, we all came to the conclusion that the variables weren’t actually in our favor this day, as we all felt to be in much faster shape, but still failed to perform to our expectations. A number of other runners expressed the same. It’s hard to pinpoint what just wasn’t “on” today, whether that was the predominately uphill second half of the course, the humid weather, the lack of competition, etc. Who knows, the clock only reads them as excuses, and the overall war was lost without question.

But let’s not dwell on the negative variables of the day, for there were battles I wanted to win and did so concretely and it is these I will take forward into the buildup to Chicago.

First off, though coming in approximately 45 seconds slower than my PR (which I set on this course last year), I ran significantly stronger and endured further even more this year, which convinces me I’m still a stronger runner at this point now than I was last year. This is where I want to be and where I need to be.

Then there was my pacing, of which I often tragically fail at early in the race, but this time I ran conservatively, only spurred on strongly by the drops in elevation, yet still able to recover back to goal pacing before the course went upwards.  This is a battle I lose again and again, but I came in mentally prepared this time around and won this smashingly, holding back at the start to hit a conservative pace on the dot.

And most importantly, and somewhat unexpectedly, that first mile and subsequent 5:18 miles into the first half of the course…..felt easy. Real easy. 5:18 is the average I need to run at Chicago to qualify for the trials, and to be honest, I’ve struggled to hit this pacing consistently in my workouts leading up to this point, with a few notable exceptions. So, to be able to run 5:18 without excessive effort, without feeling like I’m over-stressing myself, without great concern that I won’t be able to maintain this pacing deeper into the course is a HUGE battle won. Of course, I hold no illusions that I could maintain 5:18 for a marathon right now, but still being 6 weeks out, I’m confident I’ll be able to build up to that or at least get really close. That small, but important, dynamic of this race made the effort entirely worth it and above all else this is what I’m taking with me into the coming weeks of workouts and one last race.

In the end I could easily sulk over missing a PR, over getting rolled by two runners in the last miles, over failing to push when I was all alone, but that will get me no closer to a successful run on October 10th. Today’s war is over, but I won enough battles to become that much more hardened for when it really, REALLY counts. That’s the only war I HAVE to win right now. The rest are merely flesh wounds.

13.1 miles
8th place

Columbus 1/2 – Pre race

At the running store where we picked up our pre-race bags the clerk asked me, “So, are you ready for the race?”

Trying to retain some humility I answered, “I think so.”

Honestly though, I’m a good dose more confident than just, “I think so.” I’m certainly ready, if only because I’ve been consistently training for months now, but the question is what I’m ready for. A PR? A smart race? Avoiding a DNF? My hopes are that I’m ready for a PR as I hope for this every race. It’s been so difficult to tell where I am fitness-wise, but with a few strong workouts this past week, it seems like I’m on track to run a fast race today. And I really need this too. Chicago is coming up and having a solid 1/2 time is a good indicator of what can be run during the marathon.

Still, until the 13.1 miles are covered, you just don’t know where you stand. Regardless, I’ve got a couple things in my favor to run a PR.

My fitness is on track with the last couple weeks of strong workouts, but this doesn’t guarantee I’m ready to run faster than last year’s 1:09:46 showing, even though most runner’s expectations hinge on their assumed fitness. My strength this time around is my experience. I expressed my concerns to Michelle this week, telling her I am not convinced I’m a better runner now as I was last year, but she offered me the assurance that I certainly am. What I relented to was that if I’m not a better runner, I’m at least a WISER runner.

I’ve continuously battled the adrenaline surge that fills me every race and compels me to shoot off the starting line like my shorts are on fire. Time and time again I refused to learn the lesson I’d bluntly experience when further into the race I’d start to die..and die terribly. I consistently blew my fitness in the first 3 miles and this race last year was no exception. Yes, I ran a PR, but it should have been so much faster than the 45 second decrease I managed. I wanted to walk so bad at mile 11 last year that it took all my mental strength to keep pushing through. This time around, I plan to correct that overzealous race method.

Then there is the knowledge I’ve gained regarding training, which I hope translates into a strong race tomorrow. It’s A knowledge I’ve really only come to understand in the past couple weeks. It’s a touch embarrassing to admit, but it took me a full 3 years to accept this little nugget of training wisdom, one which I’ve read over and over again in basically every running magazine I’ve picked up….effective recovery. The magazines say it. The elites say it. My coach says it.

Run slow.

Well, on recovery days anyways. It’s a hard component of training to accept, that in order to get faster, one must run slower. I wanted to believe that being able to run at a quickened pace on days reserved for recovery meant that I was only increasing my capacity to run faster further down the line, but recently I’ve missed some of my workout times. Part of this was directly related to the weather, but it wasn’t all that. Finally, after a week of unscheduled high mileage and some difficult workouts where my legs felt heavy from the start, my coach finally laid the smack down. He wrote to me on my running log,

“Scott, you can’t run 13 moderately paced miles on a recovery day and expect to be ready to put in an effective workout the next day. I appreciate your attempt to accumulate mileage, but if you want to be worth anything on the quality days, you need to take the easy days EASY.”

So, I figured I’d try his theory…a theory I’ve read over and over and over again. Run slow. The first recovery day my legs were so shot that I really had no option but to run 8:00 miles, however, after feeling just how strong and loose my legs felt after that run and then how they felt the next day for the workout, of which I nailed, I was sold. So, no matter how decent I’ve felt on my non-workout days these past couple weeks, I’ve deliberately taken it easy on my recovery days…and the difference is stunning. I’m so less fatigued after the run and so ready for the workout days that I’ve been able to lay down confidence building efforts when they really matter, which is the whole point of the recovery days in the first place.

And for that I’m much wiser and much fitter than I would have been had I kept to my old plan of running machismo.

The question now, which will be resolved tomorrow if I put my expected racing plan into action, is will I be fit enough and wise enough to lay down a solid PR?The course is in my favor, the competition is in my favor, the weather seems to be in my favor and the only variable left is whether and I can run wisely and use my rested legs and built fitness to put down the performance I hope for.

So, am I ready? Yeah, I’m ready in theory….now it’s just a matter of practice.

I hope to follow this with a positive race report. For now, it’s bad TV at the hotel and continued rest for my legs. Until tomorrow.


The running stars align

Which is really to say, the weather finally broke.

I’m not about to say we are out of the thick (air) of it just yet as we still have some high 80s temperatures raising the mercury this week, but we have enough consistent low to mid 80s temperatures and a 78 thrown in to offer a sense of relief blowing in on a breeze. Yesterday’s “Tuesday Night Terror” workout was evidence of this.

For weeks now we’ve been struggling desperately to hit the goal times our coach has been throwing at us, which this late in the game shouldn’t be that difficult. Whether it was half-marathon pace (5:10 – 5:13) or marathon goal pace (5:18) didn’t matter, we were off every time. It was easy to blame the weather, the choking blanket of air stuffed down our throats and wrapped around our legs, but after so many failed runs we started to question whether it was just a compromised level of fitness. Then finally, after a relative break in the weather, when the sun looked the other way and the air temperature fluxuated with the breezes, we were able to throw down a speed workout that was defined more by the speed and not the workout.

With a 1/2 marathon race coming up this weekend we have a week of scaled back mileage and a workout of 4 miles at 1/2 marathon pace. We discussed potential goal times during our warmup, but none of us were confident we would get close or even hang on for marathon pace. Our confidence has been beat so much this summer that it was hard to stay hopeful, but then we started the run.

Our first mile and a half was on a gradual incline with the next going down before ending on a flat stretch. After some nervous pre-workout discussion we gave into the task ahead of us and took off up the rail trail. And something was different.

Poray and I were off quick and our breathing stayed under control. The trail climbed upwards ever so slightly, but where I often felt the incline and my legs noticeably worked to push harder, this time I felt smooth and controlled. Fast even. Farther up the first mile when normally my heartrate would increase and my breathing would become forceful and sounded, I became aware that this WASN’T happening. I was actually still breathing easy and in control, still running smooth and still feeling fast. We went through the uphill mile at 5:10. On the dot.

Continuing upwards Poray and I ran together, only slightly gaining a quarter-step on each other, helping keep pace by way of not going lazy in our own heads, giving in to the increasing effort stretching out on the trail before us. Blowing by groups of other runners we hit the 1/2 way point of mile two at 2:35 before turning around to head towards the declining miles. Still feeling strong and only encouraged by the assistance of the decline we pushed past mile 2 at 5:07.

Personally, I didn’t feel out of the clear of an ever worsening effort as the run wore on, but despite my more rapid breathing at this pace, I wasn’t quite yet out of control, still running smooth and breathing rhythmically. The 5:07 mile was an assurance that this run was truly different than our past runs where we would have struggled to stay in the 5:20s.

Pushing further down mile 3 Poray started to make a small gap on me that drug me onward. The start of mile 3 felt difficult as my breathing became more labored and the snap in my legs gave way to a more concentrated effort to push off the ground and stay smooth instead of pounding back down. Poray looked as if he was running effortlessly and although I felt a change in my form, I was surprised at how I felt knowing the speed at which we were running, with another gear or two if we needed it. We glided through mile 3, myself at 5:08.

Soon after that marker we came upon a busy intersection with cars stopped in the far lane and a steady stream coming off the turn. Poray, a couple seconds ahead of me, had to pull up and wait for a gap to continue on, but I didn’t want to lose momentum. Pulling out my experience as a bike messenger I slowed up ever so slightly to time a crossing, looked a driver in the eye and blasted between the front and rear bumper of two large vehicles before stepping up momentum and transitioning back to my previous pace. Poray threw up his hands in frustration when I sprinted ahead (I promise I wasn’t racing you Poray) before making the crossing and then blowing by me in the first 400. We hit the flattened trail stretching out towards the finishing mile and continued to push. I don’t know if it was the adrenaline rush of brazenly braving the traffic line or another indicator that I really am in a heightened state of fitness, but I didn’t slow the last mile and STILL felt fast and smooth. My watch ticked off 2:33 at the half, even with the brief slowing and I focused on staying within a few paces of Poray’s rotating legs.  Leading into the last 400 we continued to blow by everyone else moving down the trail in various paces and began the finishing effort staying in control and refraining from opening up into another gear. I hit the watch at the line and it read 5:07, which I estimated to be around 5:05 from the frogger challenge in the last mile.

I was stoked.

Finally. Finally we were able to really put down a fast workout, hit our times and even surpass them without any unavoidable obstacle. With this weekend’s race coming up it was imperative to have that confidence builder, knowing that our fitness has been smothered under a blanket of air all this time, no matter how hard we tried to drag it into the open. The wet air was just too heavy, but now that the seasons are finding their rightful place on the calendar, we are able to really gauge just where we stand and just where we need to be in about 6 months.

Let’s hope this seasonal shift is legit and lasting. We are going to need every workout we can get leading up to October 10th to really count. Regardless, it was nice to finally have this first one.

Don’t worry, go vegan.

Recently a running partner of mine questioned me, somewhat presumptively, about my diet and the supplements I take for it. He certainly wasn’t the first and, for the record, I don’t mind the line of questioning as it has never come from a point of reactionary defense, but really just genuine interest. I don’t mind answering questions like that, even if they are a bit presumptive.

Specifically he asked, “So, because of your diet, you take an iron pill for your running right?”

Taken back a little I paused, then quickly responded in the negative. “No. Not at all. Actually I don’t take anything except a sublingual B12 supplement. I’ve never felt I needed to take anything, never felt fatigued, weak or overly sore, so I never bothered considering it.” And I didn’t.

I think most vegans get this line of questioning in some form or another. I’ve had others ask me about my protein intake, calcium, etc. etc. There is always some nutrient that people feel is inherently lacking in the vegan diet and so they have great interest in finding out where I get that specific nutrient. They assume that if I am surviving and thriving, especially as an athlete, that I must supplement heavily in one way or another, as simply eating whole foods would be insufficient.

The line of questioning doesn’t bother me, but it has me considering why it’s so prevalent and I’ve come to a couple conclusions.

First off, the assumptions that the vegan diet is lacking in one nutrient or another is based in a very skewed and deliberate cultural perception, a perception that I believe is propagated by those that profit from it, namely animal food industries. We are told from such a young age that “calcium comes from cow’s milk” and “protein comes from animal flesh” and we are told it so often that people grow up believing that there are no other sources for these nutrients or that if there are, they are not sufficient to live on. It’s why people continually ask, “But where do you get your protein?” and never stop to consider where cows, chickens and other vegetarian animals get THEIR protein. It’s plants and grains by the way…unless they are factory farmed animals where their protein comes from other ground up animals in their feed.

Anyways, what this leads to is a skewed perception on how vegans eat. The idea is that protein or calcium or iron comes from animal sources and so if you eat vegan then you don’t get those nutrients. The perception is that vegans simply remove nutrient sources from their diet….and never replace them with something else. as a further example, I come across this logic in discussions about the validity of anarchism when others ask, “But if you get rid of the police, everyone will just kill each other!”, which for one, isn’t true, but also ignores the notion that we might just have ideas of what to replace the police with. And that’s the same perception with veganism, that we simply remove foods from our diet and have nothing to replace them with. We effectively STOP EATING. This is, of course, ridiculous.

To get past this perception though we must first debunk the idea that some nutrients only come from animals. Again, let’s reiterate that strong vegetarian animals that humans often eat have to eat something to become strong and healthy. They, of course, eat plants. They obviously get nutrients from plants, grains, etc. just as we do the same. One could argue that we try to get those nutrients in a more efficient manner by simply eating the flesh of the animals that have already eaten the plants and grains, but however true that may be, we can’t deny that we are also ingesting a number of other products that we would do better not to, especially at the levels that most do in the standard american diet. Simply put though, plants, grains and legumes contain all the nutrients we need to thrive with one or two that take a little more awareness.

With that in mind, let’s address the next concern, whether we need to supplement our diets. The quick answer is No and Yes. On the whole, supplementation through pills, powders and other concoctions is for people who eat like crap in the first place. The vegan diet, just like ANY diet (vegetarian, omnivorous), will not be sufficient if you don’t eat properly from the start. If you choose to eat processed foods stripped of their nutrients, over sugared junk and primarily packaged and preserved foods….then yes, you will probably be lacking something here or there. On the other hand, if you eat a variety of foods (put a rainbow on your plate), eat them close to their “whole” state and prepare them more often then nuking them, you’ll do just fine. You won’t need supplements because you’ll already be getting everything from your foods.

And that brings me back to the original point. I don’t need to take iron pills, or calcium pills or drink protein shakes because I get enough of those nutrients in the foods I eat. And contrary to popular belief, plant foods offer sufficient amounts of nutrients even in comparison to animal flesh foods. Take Iron for instance. There is actually more iron per 100 calories in spinach than there is in red meat. The same goes for broccoli and lentils. Calorie for calorie plant foods are often more nutrient dense than their animal flesh counterparts.

Here…here’s a table specifically on Iron to show you.

I will concede though, there are some nutrients to be aware of, but these are nutrients that everybody should be aware of, no matter how you choose to eat. B12 is of the greatest concern, primarily because it isn’t readily available in anyone’s diet. Both human and non-human animals as well as plants are unable to create B12 in their systems. B12 is a product of bacteria and non-human animals absorb it in their system by food contaminated by bacteria, whether that is from feces or other sources. Humans then eat the animals and absorb that bacteria. There were once arguments that humans got enough B12 through traces of bacteria in the dirt when we didn’t oversterilize and overpasturize our foods, but that isn’t the case anymore.

Because of this, I do supplement with B12 drops. The good thing is that B12 is stored in the body for long periods of time and so the depletion rate isn’t as quick as other nutrients, so if you pay attention to the foods you eat and make sure you are eating some B12 fortified foods (cereal, soymilk, margarines, juices, nutritional yeast) and taking an oral supplement every week, you’ll be just fine.

The ultimate point here is that the vegan diet is a sufficient diet to thrive on, even as an athlete, and that most supplements are only necessary when we fail to eat a diversity of whole and nutrient dense foods, save the rare exceptions where individuals are unable to absorb one thing or another.

So no, don’t be worried about what you eat, but be aware of what you eat. Eat well and expect to live well. You’ll get your protein. You’ll get your iron. You’ll get your calcium. You’ll get your vitamin D. And in the process you’ll leave out so much other junk, like saturated fat, sugars, cholesterol, etc. etc. The greater dietary concerns should not be in our court, but theirs.

The swarm

“Hi Scott,
We have received your entry for the 2010 Bank of America Chicago Marathon Elite Development Program.  Your entry will be processed and you should see yourself listed on the Registration Confirmation page in a few days.  You can check your status here:

Good luck with the rest of your training.

Best Regards,
Eric Lesch
Bank of America Chicago Marathon
Elite Development Program”

And all of a sudden I have my first case of pre-marathon butterflies. It’s a tickle for now, but will build to a swarm.

All in due time

A friend at work asked me today, “Isn’t the Chicago Marathon pretty soon?”

As if I wasn’t already starting to feel pangs of anxiety about the looming date and my assumed fitness, this question struck me rather pointedly.

“Yeah,” I responded, “just under 2 months from now.”

I try to tell myself that 2 months is a long time to get ready for the race, but when something this big is approaching, 2 months goes by reeeeeeeeal quick. And I want to be ready. And right now I’m still not.

For instance, today was a tough workout. 15 miles total with the middle 6 starting at Marathon Goal Pace (5:18) and ending at Half-Marathon Pace (5:10). Starting out into the warmup my legs were heavy and actually my legs were heavy all day. I was just damn tired. I hoped the warmup would shake them out, but that didn’t happen. I launched into the first mile and felt myself struggling, but trying not to run too hard. I went through at 5:21…ehh, I’ll take it. I then continued on and found myself struggling even harder, only to pass the mile marker at 5:24….eh, I won’t take it. Then as I tried to push hard into the 3rd mile, hoping something would click and I’d start rolling smooth, everything started to get worse. I was struggling to get my breath and my legs just wouldn’t push off the ground, still feeling like gravity was kicked up a couple notches. I blew up halfway into the mile. From then on I tried to recover and then run fast for a mile or so, but could never get going. I finally threw in the towel and just worked to drag my ass back home to complete the 15 miles. Granted, it didn’t help that it was 90 degrees out, but at least it wasn’t humid!

This was a big blow to my confidence. It’s weird to run 5:10 miles for 5 miles straight two weeks earlier and then come back and struggle to run a 5:21 mile for 2 consecutive miles. Obviously, something is off. It could be a number of things, but I don’t want to offer excuses. I just want to take this and move on.

But that question looms….”Isn’t Chicago coming pretty soon?” Yes. Yes it is. But let’s not get carried away. Let’s break down the timeline and see what’s really going to happen before October 10th.

We’ve got approximately 7 weeks of training left. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but even with a 2 week taper, we’re looking at about 5 to 6 long runs, now with speed and quality added. That’s at least another hundred miles of long and fast running. Beyond that, we have approximately 12 to 14 more speed workouts, the very foundation of our speed and endurance. That’s a LOT of quality and a LOT of miles still…probably around 210 miles of strong, strong efforts. Those workouts are going to undeniably have a big effect on our fitness come race day, no matter where we are at right now. Then add to those workouts, 4 more recovery days a week at a minimum of 10 miles a day, and right there we still have at least 280 more miles to add to our legs…probably more. In all, that’s another 600 or so miles leading up to race day. That’s significant. That’s a lot of room for improvement.

Now “less than 2 months” doesn’t seem so close and gives me hope that my fitness will continue to grow as the final date grows near.

For all of us, at our respective levels, no matter what our goals are, we still have a sufficient amount of time to get where we want to go. Try not to get too discouraged just yet…the weather is going to turn over and our legs will do the same, quicker and quicker. Onward friends.

Running in perspective

Elite runners often feel inadequate as runners. It sounds silly, but I think it’s one of the characteristics that make us elite runners. We feel inadequate because we are never satisfied with where we are at, never satisfied with falling short of our goals. And it is having those lofty goals that create this situation. We reach far in front of us and although we are all aware of the long work and significant time it takes to reach those goals, until we actually get there, we feel inadequate. From time to time we may taste some satisfaction, maybe hitting a projected time in a race along the way or nailing a difficult workout, but until we reach that pie in the sky goal that often lies months and months away, we feel inadequate.

This is ok, it’s what drives us. We don’t WANT to feel this way so we put in more and more work when we fall short. When those marathon goal pace runs come up short, we don’t feel like throwing in the towel, but rather using it to wipe our sweat drenched faces and figure out how to hit it next time. The important thing is to always keep this in mind, to keep perspective, to remember it’s where we are going not where we are.

Today was our Tuesday night workout and with a break in the relentless humidity that has been sucking us dry, we had the opportunity to really put in an honest effort. And we were going to need it as coach had 10 x 800’s with 200 meter recovery jogs in between on our docket. This is never an easy workout. It’s fast and it’s repetitive. There isn’t much relaxing or coming back, but just trying to hold on repetition after repetition as the body breaks down further and further until the workout is over.

Often referred to as Yasso 800’s, the goal is to run your projected marathon goal time (so 2 minutes and 18 seconds for a 2:18 marathon), then recover and do it again and again and again. In the original version the recovery is the same time as your 800, but our coach says its much better to cut the recovery significantly and work to tax your system. A recovery like the original calls for is just too long and the benefits of the workout get lost in the downtime. Our recovery distance was 200 meters, which should have been 1 minute 30 seconds, but being the type of runners we are, we accidently found ourselves cutting the recovery down to a minute….which is not advisable.

So we started out deliberately slow, running through our first 800 at 2:29, which was slower than we were hoping, then following that up with a 2:22 and another. Then the effort started to take its toll as each 800 completion added another second or two onto my total time and I struggled to stay smooth and quick with each pass around the track. I went 2:23, 2:25, 2:26, 2:27, 2:29, 2:32, 2:33.

This is where perspective comes in. Well, actually perspective came in somewhere around the 7th repetition when I was dropping deeper and deeper into the upper 20’s and low 30’s. I began doubting myself and my goal of qualifying for the US Marathon Trials, but knew I had to block those thoughts out if I was going to keep pushing to the end of the workout. Even more, I needed to find a silver lining to keep me going hard. And that’s when the perspective hit me.

I’m not running the Chicago Marathon for approximately another 2 months.

What that means is that, although I would like to be consistently running 2:18’s for each of those 800’s, I shouldn’t have expected to. If I could nail that workout and run 2:18’s RIGHT NOW, then in theory I should be ready to run Chicago RIGHT NOW. But I’m not and Chicago is a number of difficult workouts away, as it should be. I’m not at Chicago right now and I needed to understand that I’m in training, which denotes a significant amount of time to build up to the big race. That’s what these workouts are for, not to necessarily show me that I can’t run 2:18, but to make me a better and better run to do so.

Just before we launched into the first 800 a teammate expressed his dread of doing this workout, knowing it was “going to hurt”. And he was right and I understand the sentiment, but like a tattoo, where you’re like, “This is going to kill…why in the hell am I doing this again?”, subconsciously you know there is a purpose to it and the reward is greater and more lasting than the pain will ever be. It’s a forgotten memory when all is said and done, but what you walk away with is a great reward, in this case a greater sense of fitness. And that’s the other necessary perspective to desperately hold onto, that these workouts should be looked at with enthusiasm, knowing these are the crucial runs that, no matter how much they hurt, are going to make you better, make you faster and pull that projected goal time closer and closer. These are the workouts that make those goals tangible and worthwhile. That shouldn’t be faced with dread.

Then during the workout I got one more dose of perspective. Although feeling a little concerned that I was only getting worse and worse during the effort and further and further away from not only my projected goal time, but also last year’s finishing marathon time, it was then brought up that we were doing those recovery jogs way too fast. Our coach even said that with such a shortened recovery time our 800’s were really good. Of course, I’d like mine to be better, but keeping the perspective that we made that workout even harder than it was originally supposed to be gave me a new perspective on the success of that effort.

Suddenly things didn’t seem like they went so poorly today. I’m one level faster than I was before, I did it with enthusiasm and I did it in a way more difficult than originally planned.

Running isn’t easy and setting goals for yourself makes not only the efforts seem desperate and crucial, but also lends to getting down on yourself as do or die time approaches and you’re not where you want to be. That’s ok, this is an uphill battle that will ultimately peak and start rolling unstoppably downhill to the finish line. Keep that in perspective and run with it.