As I mentioned in my last post on Creating Marathon Fitness Building Blocks, training for an endurance event takes an equal amount of patience, persistence, and letting go of your ego. The day in day out consistency required for training eventually reaches a point, typically in the middle of a training cycle when you are close to the race but still far enough away that it isn't THAT close, where the training becomes a grind. I'll be the first to admit that I am at that point right now. The cumulative effect of training, both on the body and mind, have started to take their toll. Running is always enjoyable, but to reach new heights and achieve tough, but realistic goals takes an extra effort to go above and beyond what is comfortable. Training for a difficult goal should be hard. If it isn't, it probably isn't a difficult goal. As a result, I am working through a few tough spots, but I am ok with that. It means I am pushing myself and am close, but not over the edge.
I am now 11 weeks out from New York City with two of the most important blocks, the core of my marathon-specific training, sitting right in front of me. I am also battling what I like to call the grind. My motivation is still high to get the workouts in and my body is still cooperating to execute them, but the grind just makes things a little extra blah. For lack of a better term, "blah" simply means that it feels like you're going through the motions. Still executing, still improving fitness, but without that big fire.
However, there have certainly been moments of doubt where I let that blah feeling take over. Take this weekend for example. I was out of town officiating a few triathlons and had every intent on getting my long run done after the race. I had the motivation and even set out running immediately after getting back to my hotel room, but I could tell something was off. I knew it was a combination of spending all morning on my feet at the race and barely eating anything for 7 hours while working, but I still had it in my head that the run was going to happen. I started off and felt horrible, but I wanted to give my body a chance to respond. I've felt tired and off before, so sometimes it just takes a few miles to get that good feeling back. However, I wouldn't recommend running up and down mountains as a way to do that. Unfortunately, Luray, VA sits within the Shenandoah Mountains, right along Skyline Drive, so there is nothing but hills and mountains. After about 4 miles, I knew my long run wasn't going to happen, so I ended it. At the end of a recovery week with some serious weeks ahead of me, I found little reason to use that extra mental energy it would have required to finish the run. The purpose of the week was to recover so I can hit my next phase of training hard, so recover is what I did and I have no regrets. While a missed long run isn't ideal, it isn't going to determine the outcome of anything. It was simply one run out of hundreds that I'll complete before race day. So I've put it in my past and am ready to move on.
For me, this grind period usually lasts a week or two, when I finally get to the point where the race feels real. Fighting through the grind means you have to stay persistent and keep at it, even though you might not quite feel like it. But is also means being smart and knowing when it is ok to pull back a bit. Recovery is required in order to get stronger, so if I am going to miss a workout, I'd rather it be now as opposed to a key building week. The training that happens at this point has a direct impact on my ability to execute many of the simulation workouts that come toward the end of the training cycle, where I'll determine if my pace goals are realistic, so letting off the gas could mean that my goals for NYC might slip. With this recovery week and unexpected lower mileage behind me, I am putting my head down and going back to "work", taking it one day, one workout at a time. And before I know it, the grind will be over, race day will be here, and I'll be able to run the race I've trained for.
While we all love to run, every run is not always rainbows and unicorns. Anyone who tells you otherwise is naive or lying. But what we can all agree on is that there is no feeling quite like crossing the finish line of a goal race with a shiny new PR. And at the end of the day, that is what this is all about.