Friday, September 13, 2013

Digging Out of The Grind and Starting to Feel Race Ready

When you're training for a marathon or any endurance event that causes you to create a large amount of fatigue, it seems logical to think about the workout you're executing and trying to correlate THAT workout to your race.  Often times, we seek instant gratification that what we are doing today will pay off tomorrow.  Unfortunately, training with this mindset often results in a constant war between your mind and your body to keep improving in the form of faster paces for every workout.  And while you should see a general progression toward faster paces as you get closer to race day, you can't simply force it.  The whole point of a training cycle is to stress the system appropriately so that you can improve your fitness and peak when it comes time to race.  Training is a process and an art, so it is never as simple as "If I do this workout, it means I'll be able to run my race in this time".  We know better than to turn a piece of art into a simple formula, but many of us do.  Those running calculators and predictors help guide you, but they will not guarantee you anything.  You have to work for it, day in and day out, over the course of a training cycle (or multiple training cycles) to teach yourself how to race.  And for those with ambitious goals, it is ever so important to do this a few times throughout the training cycle so you know you are on the right path.  However, the emphasis is on a few times, not every workout.  I've written before about feeling race ready and creating a confident athlete, both of which will help you get to where you need to be to know you are on the right path, so I won't delve back into that area. 

When I last posted, I was in "the grind", churning away those workouts, but a bit lost, as I was too far away from my race to feel the urgency, but close enough to know that every workout mattered.  Well I'm happy to say that I believe I am on my way toward exiting that feeling.  Some days, it really does feel tough to get out there.  Others, I'm hitting the pavement without thinking.  So how did I get there?

First, I've had a few runs that went extremely well, giving me the confidence I needed to know I'm moving in the right direction.  Second, the weather appears to be finally cooling off a bit, renewing my sense of enjoyment in being out in nature.  Its no surprise that these two things go hand in hand.  This is now the time to start reaping the reward for plowing through sweaty, humid miles all summer.  Our bodies have become efficient at dealing with the heat and humidity, so cooler weather brings more efficiency at the same paces or faster paces at the same effort, both of which are huge benefits. 

With a quick shot of cooler weather last weekend (of course, immediately followed by extreme heat, but I digress), I set out with some running buddies for a 22 miler.  Now these weren't just any running buddies.  They were some runners I admire for many reasons, the least of which for the fact that they are fast by anyone's definition.  They are all real people with real lives, and can make any long run feel like a short jog around the block.  This was just what I needed with a tough 22 miler planned.

Meghan, Jeff, and Jess (they were too cool for me and took a photo of themselves later)
 I knew we'd be running faster than what I'd typically be running if doing this solo, but had a race simulation workout in mind, where the bulk of my miles would be at or close to my goal marathon pace, which happens to be Meghan and Jeff's easy pace (and probably slower than they'd be running if they were running solo).  This run helped me not only to break the cycle of grinding out long runs, but also truly restore my confidence in my fitness.  I never pushed the effort on this run and simply felt strong the whole way, even with a few miles that might have happened to sneak a 6:xx in there.
Probably one of my best long runs ever
So while I hope to race at a bit faster paces, this was all done in the midst of some high mileage training.  My legs were nowhere close to fresh and I had only taken two days completely off in the previous 3 weeks.  I've been putting in the work, staying consistent, and getting it done.  I KNOW I am moving in the right direction and now it seems like race day is inching closer.  With only 5 more weeks of training, I've got some killer workouts planned, but nothing I don't think I can execute.  Just have to take it one workout at a time, and not read too much into the result of each or any of them.  I know where my fitness is, and it is exactly where I want it.

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