Why hello there, neglected blog *hugs* Guess it’s just you and me, eh?
In case you’ve been living under a vacuum-sealed rock for the past three months, there’s been a worldwide outbreak of SARS-CoV-2 and its subsequent viral infection, COVID-19. Georgia’s stats haven’t looked great, and it’s still too soon to tell what kind of an effect the phased re-opening is having, but here we are for the foreseeable future.
Just before the country shut down sometime in March, I was busy training for the Savannah Women’s Half Marathon in early April, en route to–hopefully!–a second crack at the full marathon in as many years sometime later this year. Obviously the former didn’t happen–the race was postponed to November with virtual participation an option up to the physical November race date. I still haven’t decided exactly what I’m going to be doing, but suffice to say, immediate plans went up in smoke.
In the four weeks leading up to the shutdown, I was struggling a bit to find a rhythm in the new spring semester, but I was still pretty much universally killing the workouts and long runs–a clear sign that, while not perfect, training was definitely going well.
The next four weeks were, in retrospect, surprisingly productive on the running front, though I suspect pure inertia had more to do with it than anything: it was a plank of familiarity in a sea of unknowns. I managed a 36.7 mile week the first weekend of April, when I was supposed to have raced in Savannah.
And then the wheels really came loose.
Two workouts, two long runs, in four weeks. The end of a semester that felt like it had barely begun–courtesy of a total and near-instantaneous shift from in-person to completely online barely three weeks prior–hit like a freight train. Along with, y’know, the existential weight of surviving during a worldwide pandemic.
Running was burning the candle at both ends. I couldn’t pry myself out of bed in the mornings to get a run in, but neither could I fall asleep at night after an exhausting day of existing.
I wish I could say there was a silver bullet to maintaining a running regimen during a global pandemic: some kind of magic wand that consistently carves out time and energy to make runs happen and enjoyable. Instead, there was a lot of frustration, a lot of doubt, a lot of anger and resentment and questioning whether this was really something I should be putting my time and energy into trying to make happen.
Was I just being lazy? Or would getting out there do more harm than good? Was this something I should push through, training myself in the process and building my mental fortitude? Or was I priming myself for a massive burnout down the road? What about my physical fitness? What about how exercise positively affects brain function?
All questions without obvious answers. Also, all pointless spinning.
There is no silver bullet. But there are the following tenets:
Get enough sleep. I can’t emphasize this one enough. Loss of sleep is one of the first symptoms of a higher stress baseline, and it cascades into literally everything else. So this is the first thing to address. If you’re not getting enough sleep, the effectiveness of all other downstream mitigation strategies will be blunted at best, utterly negated at worst. Biggest bang for buck is right here.
Prioritize. And be honest about it. These two points go hand-in-hand, because what we sometimes think of in a single instant as our top priority actually has more leeway than we think. What really is your top priority right? What really needs to get done? And what else can wait?
Do what makes your heart sing. Those other high-priority things with some flex to them can wait until you’ve recharged a bit. Yes, you would do more harm than good by trying to get them done before you’ve rested. I’ve run on 1 hour of sleep before; it’s always utterly unproductive at best, and though this thankfully hasn’t happened to me, it could result in a devastating injury because of my fatigued state at worst. If a nap is going to be what helps in the long run, take a nap. If it’s playing a video game, play a video game. If it’s reading a book, read a book. The other stuff can wait.
My coach and I, in lieu of the half marathon, had planned on a 10K time trial on May 9 as a way to maintain some structure and keep up some motivation. Given the difficulty I had training through April, I asked to push the time trial back a week (see above: Prioritize). As a result, I got a complete week of training in last week–all 33 miles, including a solid workout and a crushed long run. This week, I’ve been on track, and we have a plan for tomorrow’s time trial. I won’t be setting any landspeed records–that 42-minute PR is going to be waiting awhile longer–but it’s giving me something to shoot for.
Wish me luck! And you can bet there’ll be a nap afterwards 🙂
In that both words have eight letters and start with “m”.
It was fairly early in 2019 when I made the decision to run my first marathon in over four years. In receiving an award notification for the NSF CAREER in late mid-December 2018, I was now reasonably confident I would sail through my tenure approval process and be given the chance to stick around for foreseeable and moderately unforeseeable future. With the 2015 Big Sur marathon retreating further into the rearview mirror, I wanted to get back into the long distance game before I completely forgot how to fuel for anything over 13 miles.
I also, genuinely, wanted to take another crack at the distance that has vexed me all three times I’ve attempted it: a slow-burn meltdown in 2012 at Philly, a lithium-ion crash at the 2013 Marine Corps, and a head cold at the aforementioned 2015 Big Sur that yielded a brilliant 20 miles followed by a final 10K march so miserable I literally don’t remember it.
That process was anything but smooth. As much as I would flail and rage against it, life still happened.
June was brutal, but relatively successful: with the exception of a missed race (just couldn’t make Rabun happen this year), I hit the mileage goals. The quality workouts, however, were another story: I was having to cut back on difficulty on almost every one–a sprint here, a rep there. The heat and humidity were already at their worst and I just wasn’t acclimated. A lovely trip to the mountains with dear friends helped break up the cycle a bit and generally relax while still acclimating.
By comparison, July knocked me on my ass. While I did manage to finally halt my four-year slide at the Peachtree Road Race and clock a faster time than last year, it was still comfortably above 50 minutes; the halcyon days of southern summer swelter had arrived in force, and simply stepping outside required Herculean strength and resolve. I also had to deal with a small twinge in my knee that took me out of running for a week. Certainly didn’t do my ability to acclimate any favors.
Flyover at the start of the 50th Peachtree Road Race.
Morning tempo workout at SciPy in Austin, TX.
Took a picture almost identical to this in February of 2017, also while out on a run.
Melting post-workout in the Athens, GA summer heat.
Nighttime in the Tucson, AZ desert is actually perfect for running.
It was raining and miserable on the morning of Rabun.
This nugget I’m carrying has hiking interleaved in her DNA.
In August, we started the formal 16-week marathon training program. By this time I had a “base”–that elusive concept referring to one’s baseline abilities and assumptions that we’re starting some epsilon away from scratch–and instead of maintaining weekly mileage while increasing difficulty, I could start alternating each week with increased mileage and increased workout difficulty. Of course, the start of fall classes did nothing to help the process go smoothly, and the fact that I was slated to teach the single course I was least prepared for (of the five I’ve ever taught before) ensured that this month felt completely chaotic.
…at least, until September rolled around and left no doubt that it would be perennial contender for Most F*#@ing Absurd Month. My quality workouts actually went well, but I had two spectacular blow-ups in long runs this month: one was entirely my fault (pro-tip, don’t drink margaritas the night before a long run) while the other I blame on the still-Venusian weather. Real life did a real number, too–The Lady and I traveled three of the four weekends in the month: one to West VA for a friend’s wedding (with a stop the night before at UNC Chapel Hill…not exactly “on the way”), one to Pittsburgh for my first-ever invited seminar and to visit The Lady’s brother and his family, and a third to D.C. to serve on my first-ever NSF review panel.
We may have been out in the middle of Nowhere, West VA, but they did have miles and miles of rails-to-trails that were perfect for a 16-mile long run.
I’ll always love Pittsburgh.
This ended up being a solid workout run through the D.C. suburbs, despite being at nearly the end of my physical rope.
Running through the UNC Chapel Hill campus early in the morning.
That last trip to D.C. was at the end of September and start of October, which was also supposed to coincide with my first 20-mile long run of the cycle, but I was so burned out at this point I ended up getting sick and not running a single mile of that 20. In the subsequent weeks of October my running improved considerably, but at this point we were solidly in Peak Month and everything was hard. The shortest long run was 18 miles, and the weekly mileage regularly topped 45. While the weather was slowly cooling off, we still had frequent mornings with temperatures over 70F and above 90% humidity. And despite out-of-town travel dropping to zero, I was now in perpetual catch-up mode at work.
Which brings us, at last, to November. The “Taper Tantrums” are in full swing: I can fall asleep anytime, anywhere; everything hurts, even parts which have no reason to hurt; short runs feel terrible, and longer runs slightly better. I feel completely tapped out at work, and when I get home it’s all I can do to keep from scarfing down literal pounds of leftover Halloween candy and avoiding egg nog like the plague, lest it turn my blood to lead and all but guarantee that my marathon will end within the first mile.
I honestly don’t know what to expect from this marathon, partly because I haven’t had a chance to discuss with Caitlin yet, but also because of the simple fact that it’s been 4.5 years since my last and life has been so life in the last six months that anything between Phawkes’ 3:20 predictions (“Phawkes” is the name of my Garmin Fēnix) and my standing 4:17 PR seems well within the realm of possible, even plausible.
FiveThirtyEight linked their marathon pace calculator from last year in time for this year’s NYC Marathon, and for giggles I punched in the information they wanted: 35 miles/week (average) training, a 1:44:52 half marathon time on a moderate course (Swamp Rabbit in Feb 2019), and a 51:29 10K on a hard course (Peachtree this past July). Here’s what they thought:
Seems as reasonable as any. But enough with reasonable.
Every fall it seems like the conceptual thunderdome of “which is a better metaphor for life: football or marathons” crops up. I spent a significant portion of my formative years having the football metaphor drilled into me: the gridiron as a stand-in for all the challenges and uphill battles you’ll fight on a daily basis, with the guarantee that you’ll get knocked down repeatedly, and the mark of a successful player is the ability to get back up to [likely] get knocked down again and [maybe] make a play.
16 years later (jfc I’m old), I embrace that metaphor with considerably less enthusiasm. While I don’t think it’s outright wrong, it’s definitely misleading: there are only so many times you can get back up before trying again could, literally as well as figuratively, be dangerous to your health. To that end, I’ve increasingly found the marathon to be the superior metaphor: it’s a long grind, especially with the training, and has its share of ups and downs. Sometimes it will feel great, other times you’ll wish you’d stayed in bed. There’s no shortcut–I’ve found one can “fake” their way through a half marathon without training, but with a full it’s just impossible unless you’ve put in the time and effort. Critically, you can’t put it all on the line at the very beginning; it’s not a sprint, so you better go out hard but make sure you’ve got something left for when the going gets really hard.
I may be training for a marathon, but I’m also actively running one. I nailed a huge PR last December and took some time to recuperate a bit. Unfortunately, this fall, I attacked the hills a bit before I was fully rested and it hurt like hell. It’ll make me stronger down the stretch, but only if I take care of myself now. But in that recover-while-training synchrony, I’ve been frustrated by what feels like simply treading water: workouts where I’ve had to cut out reps because it was just too humid out, or long runs I had to bag because I was under the weather. Meanwhile, I’ve yet to get further than a week ahead in my teaching, I’ve pushed a couple grant deadlines, and I outright canceled my appearance at a top conference in October. In isolation, these felt like misses in my training, milestones I should have been able to hit but didn’t. Was I not training hard enough? Did I need to push even more? Maybe I could make up for it by cramming in more later?
It’s crazy how often the same identical neuroses crop up in marathon training and everyday life, and are handled oppositely. I get a small tweak in my knee? Take a week off, no worries, especially since it’s early in training; Big grant deadline? Push through it, pull an all-nighter if you have to, then back to work first thing in the morning because I haven’t made the lecture slides yet. Conversely: three weeks in a row of travel, feeling sick, sure I’ll take a day off from work; three weeks in a row of travel, feeling sick, but if I skip this 20-mile run it’s the end of the f#@!ing world!
I love what I do; I also hate my job with every fiber of my being. So, too, do I love and hate running marathons. Maybe I’ll give marathons a slight edge in sum because I often run to escape work, but never the other way around. Also because I can eat a lot more donuts while running marathons than I can sitting at my desk.
This is all to say: I’ve really, really missed this grindy, miserable, wonderful event, and I’m excited and terrified to see what I can do on Saturday morning. But no matter what happens, I’ll feel better again, I’ll have fun, and I’ll have the world’s best cheering section the whole way.
Things have been chugging along at a good clip across the board, but mostly my absence has largely been due to burnout: I’ve been taking this summer to actually recoup and recover, rather than fill up my first non-teaching semester in 3 years with more-and-different-but-really-just-status-quo stuff.
I’ve still been active running–continuing my 100+ miles/month streak that started about this time in 2018:
Normally July is a beast month, but two weeks ago I noticed a pulling in my right knee. Since I’m really set on doing my first marathon in four years this November, and I’d had a pretty stellar June, I didn’t want to push things too hard too soon, so I took a full week off and then slowly built up again last week (without issue, thankfully!). Consequently the mileage was well under where it would have been, but I’m simply grateful for being able to keep running.
Speaking of the marathon! I’ve hired a coach–Caitlin Kowalke, who owns Fearless Feet Running. We’ve been working together since early May when we started base-building, and as of last week we are now officially in the 16-week marathon training cycle.
I can’t say enough–she’s been fantastic. She’s exactly the right combination of pushing-the-envelope with listen-to-your-body that I need. The Tuesday morning workouts have become almost infamous between The Lady and myself–“what fresh hell is on the docket for this week?”–and it always pushed me right to the edge, but always in a way that 1) I can finish, even if only barely, and 2) I learn something about myself in the process. The Lady pointed me to her late last spring, as she made a recruiting post around that time on Instagram that got circulated through the Oiselle community. I’d been pondering getting a coach (to get me under that brutal 4-hour mark on marathons) but hadn’t had any luck finding one, up until then.
Training through the summer has not been easy, either. While it’s been a far better summer than, say, 2018 (Lily) or 2016 (new record for consecutive highs over 90–somewhere in the realm of 50+ straight days), I’ve been dealing with the consequences of going 9000mph in my job for the last four years straight. Having finally received my first federal grant last December, and in my first semester (including summers) since Spring 2016 where I haven’t had a course to teach, I’ve taken this summer to try and recover a bit from some very serious burnout, starting with our anniversary trip to Ireland in mid-May.
At the same time, this summer has been the hottest we’ve had since that brutal summer in 2016 with 50+ consecutive days with highs over 90 and lows above 70. It hasn’t quite reached that level, but evidently this past July was on par with July 2016, the standing record. That, plus the two weeks of travel in May to Ireland, a week of travel in June to Tucson AZ, and a week of travel in July to Austin TX–all of which was AWESOME, by the way–has been tough to maintain a regular base-building regimen through.
But Caitlin has been patient with my schedule, encouraging in my foibles, and supportive in my successes AND everything in between. I particularly want to point out how she’s gently (but firmly) turned me away from what I perceive as failures, and encouraged me to celebrate wins, even when I felt like a workout was a total bust. This is absolutely the part I have the most trouble with, and not just in running–I forsake the broader success to instead focus exclusively on the one thing that didn’t go as well as I’d hoped. She’s been great in keeping me focused on the bigger picture, and the progress I’ve been making over the weeks and months.
It’s been working. I didn’t break any landspeed records at Peachtree this year, but I did finally break a 4-year slide of consecutively-slower races, coming in right around 51:30 and beating last year’s time by over two full minutes (and under brutal conditions, too). I even felt like I had some gas left in the tank at the end!
The workouts have been equally encouraging, even just in the past few days: Saturday was my first long run (8 miles) since I started feeling that pull in my knee, so not only was I apprehensive about how my knee would hold up, but also about how I’d handle longer distance in the heat after nearly two weeks on the bench. I finished the run but the last 3 miles was a slog (just because of the weather–my knee held up great!).
Fast-forward all of three days later to a 5.25-mile tempo run, and I did it 1) at 11am, so the sun was already beating down pretty hard, and 2) with 8:20-pace segments in it, and I felt great!
I’m excited for what the next four months will bring. This summer has felt restorative, even though I accomplished almost none of what I’d had on a “list” of things that I could potentially do. At the end of the day, you can’t put a price tag on recovering from burnout; while three months of recuperating will never fully compensate for four years of mindless and endless hard work, and while I wasn’t able to pick up any of the personal projects that have languished for years now, this summer still fulfilled its role of restoration and self-care. And I got a solid marathon base to boot 🙂
I still haven’t set a PR in one of the four major categories (5K, 10K, Half, Full) since 2014. But man, am I racking up the mileage like it’s 2014!
This past week I hit a whopping 43.78 miles, which is 6th on my all-time list. Note that the 40-mile week from January is a little further down the list… and nowhere will you find anything from 2016 or 2017.
As for me? Honestly, no idea. I haven’t gone into a half marathon with a mind to set a PR (or even feeling like there was a chance of doing so) in literally years. Now, I doubt I could expect to go into this with any realistic shot of breaking my 1:41 from 2014, but I may very well have a realistic shot of running my best half since the Georgia Publix Half the first April we were in Athens; the last few half marathons (1:48, 1:53, 1:46, 1:48) have been consistently under 1:50 (and by a decent margin) after a year of being consistently over 1:50 (by an equally decent margin).
Patience–with both myself and others–has been a key component of my new job. Whereas a graduate student I felt constantly pulled in about 2-3 “major” directions, my tenure-track position feels as though I’m constantly pulled in about 200-300 directions. The result is often that I have to put certain things on hold–sometimes for long periods of time–in order to work on the absolutely time-critical items in front of me.
This year, more than any other, has felt particularly demanding in that regard.
I’ve focused my energies this year on grant proposals. An informal count puts the number of grants to be submitted this calendar year at 20, four in the month of October alone. Naturally this rate of submission has come at the expense of other things, like the actual research–I’ve had to almost exclusively rely on my students for that, and it’s been tough; after all, it was the research that got me this position in the first place.
It’s also come somewhat at the expense of my mental and emotional being, creating an almost-perpetual state of panic about all the writing and idea-having that needs to happen before the next deadline, somehow expertly interleaved with all the teaching. Oh right–did I mention I taught a brand-new course in the spring, and am teaching another brand-new course right now? Both are (if I do say so m’self) awesome courses that I wish I’d been able to take as a student, but there’s no getting around the “brand-new” part and its intense time demands.
But despite the fast-paced balancing act that has been 2017 thus far, I seem to have gravitated toward a take-no-prisoners approach to running. I was so busy over last year’s holiday season preparing for the spring course that I never formulated actual resolutions, but realize now have somewhat informally adopted one: make running happen.
Of course this has other implications: by making running a top priority, I’m also carving out time for sleep (can’t have a run without a recovery). And running tends to be the bulk of my social life, which means I’m still interacting with people (even though I’m an introvert, I have to have social interaction to stay anchored to reality). And most importantly, it means I’m spending time with The Lady, because she’s most likely also running–training for the next BQ race, or just stepping back a little before taking the next plunge.
Without any conscious goal-setting on my part, I’ve consequently set all kinds of mileage milestones:
Crossed 1,000 miles on the year a few weeks back; 2016 and 2015 were barely over 1,000 total
Logged 150.34 miles in September; I had to go back to March 2015 for a higher-mileage month, and that was a peak month for Big Sur training
Broke 100 miles 6 out of 9 months this year; only did that for 5 months in 2016
Of course none of this has been particularly fast; my PRs are still getting dusty (all from 2013 and 2014). I think I’ve run 3 or 4 races total this year, where in years past I’d run 3 or 4 races in a month. But it does nonetheless mean I’ve been taking the time to run.
Gorgeous fall-ish morning runs in Athens.
Long runs in the ‘burgh!
A paradise right alongside the Thames!
And that’s required patience! Patience with my work, knowing that I’d have to put even more things on hold to carve out time to run. Patience with my body, given the deleterious effects of work stress combined with decent running mileage. Patience with circumstances outside my control, particularly the oppressive heat and humidity of the summer months. Patience with myself, knowing I can’t do everything I want to as well as I know I can but still accepting that I did the best I could with what I had.
This is not to say I’ve always been patient with myself, or been able to accept the circumstances in front of me. Quite the opposite; I still struggle with this on a daily basis, and some days are decidedly worse than others. The month of October is particularly heinous given the aforementioned tetra-series of grant deadlines.
But for better or worse, running is an an important part of who I am, a part I’m unwilling to sacrifice no matter how busy life gets. It keeps me sane, even when it’s brutal and challenging and feels awful and I’d rather be blob-ifying on the couch or fast asleep instead of outside at 5am doing tempo miles. It keeps me grounded, chatting with friends on easy runs or even silently enjoying the atmosphere of running in a group of lovely people. It keeps me healthy and strong, sharp for the next challenge in my job or in shape for some random pick-up game. And it keeps me connected with The Lady, since no matter how busy our professional lives may get, we have an almost-daily routine of time we spend together.
Plus, I’m a stress-eater, so the only way to avoid the tenure-track-twenty is to keep running 🙂
I’m currently sitting in the enormous Oregon Conference Center in Portland, OR for the weeklong PyCon 2016 (where I’ll be speaking later this afternoon, w00t!). However, I wanted to take the brief reprieve–there’s a career fair going on in the main exhibit hall right now, which I arguably don’t need to worry about for at least the next 6 years–to discuss something completely unrelated to Python or science in general (ok, maybe it’s grounded entirely in science, just not in the sort of research I do).
The thought that’s been slowly crystallizing in my mind for the past several months (yes, months) is this idea of “starting over” with running. It’s a tough idea to fully wrap one’s mind around; we certainly remember when we first started running, and we often look fondly at what we once thought of as “long” runs or “fast” runs compared to what we do now. But it never occurs to us–at least, it never occurred to me–that at some point before realities of aging set in, we may essentially have to start from scratch.
Start over. As in, among other things:
3-mile easy-pace runs aren’t hard, but they’re not easy either.
Tempo pace feels hard after the first mile.
Hitting double-digit mileage in one run is really long.
Every single run feels at least a little bit grind-y.
(corollary to the previous point:) I have no idea what this “runner’s high” thing is you keep mentioning.
There are plenty of other little points, and I’m sure everyone could name a few from their own experiences (e.g. coming back from an injury), but the real kicker I want to emphasize in all this: these are things new runners don’t think about. They don’t have the experience or the context to remember previous easy runs that were trulyeasy, or tempo runs that got hard once you were a few miles into the tempo pace, or that it was the 20-milers that were lengthy (10 miles was a cutback run).
Maybe it’s just me and my superhumanly-overactive frontal cortex that runs every little thought into the ground before beating it ad nauseum, but it’s tough to shake the feeling of “this is where I should be in my running” when I don’t perform to my internal expectations.
It was about this time a year ago when I first started seeing a physical therapist in Athens about my nagging metatarsalgia in my left foot. The problem never really improved until months later when I invested in some custom orthotics. Even now, though, it can still be problematic depending on how tired I am and, ultimately, how hard my foot slams into the ground while I’m running.
This injury has resulted not only in a slew of secondary injuries from “compensating” while running (Achilles’ tendonitis, IT band warnings, foot pain)–DON’T DO IT, KIDS; DON’T ALTER YOUR RUNNING FORM–but it’s necessitated a huge pullback in the total mileage I’ve logged. I barely crossed 1000 miles last year after logging nearly 1600 the previous year, and right now I’m on track to do about the same as last year. Only in the last several weeks have I managed a sustained training regimen in the 20+ weekly mileage range.
The thought bouncing around my head for months but which I’ve only just started fully elucidating is this: I’m essentially starting over.
My paces and average mileage hearken back to an era nearly half a decade ago, when I was just getting into running and had no frame of reference for any of these concepts. In some sense, particularly given the context of this post so far, that certainly made the process easier: nothing against which to compare myself. Just pure reckless abandon.
But as The Lady has pointed out numerous times, it doesn’t necessarily have to function as a weight, a reminder of what you once were, and how far you’ve fallen. Instead, it can serve as foundational experience, a guide for how to do things the right way. How many times have we said that if we could do it all again, we’d do it differently?
Of course, this comes with the caveat that we first have to accept that we’re starting from scratch. That’s the part that’s been months in the making for me. All this time, I’ve been implicitly assuming it would take only a short time (weeks? days? who knows) to work out the kinks and get back into fighting form.
If only any part of life were that simple!
No, this is a much more sustained effort; I took months off from running. Yes, I increased my cross-training, throwing down hours upon miles upon hours upon miles on the stationary bike and, weather permitting, my beastly Raleigh Talus, Sybil. But you can’t leave something for months at a time and just jump back in without skipping a beat.
So here I am. I’m not fully healed yet–metatarsalgia requires constant vigilance, and I have to keep up with my PT exercises to hold tendonitis at bay–but the last several weeks have demonstrated more promise than the months before that. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that those same past several weeks have overlapped with the time where the idea that I really was starting over began to consciously take hold.
Hi. I’m Shannon, and I’m a newbie runner looking to build my mileage and crush my PRs.
A few months ago, I finally picked up some custom orthotics for my ongoing metatarsalgia. A couple more weeks’ rest seemed to do the trick: I started running again (under Mark’s direction) and the mileage started ramping up nicely.
Too nicely, of course. My right Achilles tendon started bugging me, and from what I know of Achilles injuries, that’s not something to mess around with. I stopped by the local PT shop again, and sure enough he urged me to stop running immediately and let it cool down.
Fast forward a couple weeks, and I started running again without any pain. For awhile. Then, my left foot–the metatarsalgic foot–started hurting in the exact same spot again, in spite of my still wearing the custom orthotics. In response, my right Achilles heel has flared up. Again.
So now I’m just trying to get to the Albany starting line in one semi-functional piece. I successfully logged a 10-mile this past weekend, and while it didn’t feel great (and was pretty slow) it felt solid. At the very least, I have the physical fitness to survive the Albany half marathon.
But I’m getting really, really frustrated by this. Previous injuries–even bad ones, like the infamous IT band of 2013–didn’t take any longer than a few months. This metatarsalgia started up ten months ago. The Achilles pain is newer and seems a bit more under control (eccentric calf raises seem to be doing the trick…when I remember to do them), but I cannot seem to kick the metatarsalgia. Months of PT hardly put a dent in it, and while custom orthotics (expensive ones, I might add) kept it at bay for several weeks, it seems now like the orthotics have shot their bolt.
The Lady has been kicking serious ass in her workouts–she’s chasing the Unicorn this weekend!–and I was hoping I’d be able to start building back to the point of being able to run at least a few miles here and there with her. No such luck, it would seem.
I can’t describe how insanely frustrating and rage-inducing this is becoming. I barely eked out 1000 miles last year and am on pace for a dismal 2016: barely 100 miles total over the first two months. Running has been my release, my preferred method of relaxing for the past six years, but I can’t seem to log more than a mile or two every few days, if that.
I see friends running halves and fulls, going through the training, doing the work, and notching spectacular accomplishments; The Lady’s meteoric improvements have been nothing short of astounding. But I’ve been relegated fully to the sidelines, unable to even run them into the finish lines or see them off from the starting line. I’ve skipped more Saturday morning long runs and Monday evening group runs than I care to count, and given the rigors of my professional life those are pretty much the only times I have to see and socialize with friends in a relaxed setting, to say nothing of letting much-needed endorphins saturate my tissues.
I know I’m supposed to throw out an “aw shucks, I’m keeping my chin up” line somewhere but honestly I’m just not feeling it. I’ve had enough work lately to keep me distracted for a hundred lifetimes (conferences in New York and Las Vegas in consecutive weeks; posts forthcoming), but I’m a runner, dammit. When I don’t run, I get angry. That’s just kind of how it works for me. Ellipticals and stationary bikes, while wonderful inventions whose praises I sing every single day, can never be anything more than temporary stopgap measures, not permanent training strategies.
So here I am, four days out from Albany. My left foot is niggling, my right heel is questionable, and my fitness is “merely sufficient” for the task. Not exactly the lights-out dominating aura I’d hoped to exude upon arrival, but given the circumstances I suppose just making it to the starting line is a plus.
Here’s hoping something breaks my way. In the meantime, everyone send The Lady some good vibes! She’s done the work and has endured a lot of crazy ups and downs, but she’s ready. More than ready.
To play off one of my all-time favorite cartoons, training has been…interesting. The Lady and I raced our hearts out at the Georgia Half Marathon this past weekend, and while I will say that we seriously kicked ass, I’m going to hold off for a bit on a race report (basically until I have more time to do it justice; this will just be a quick training update).
The past few weeks of training haven’t made a whole lot of sense from a bird’s eye view:
Reasonable questions to ask after looking this over include
Why does the mileage drop for two consecutive weeks?
Where’s the long run for the week of Mar 9-15?
What’s with all the runs of 2.9, 5.9, and 9.9 miles?
The answer to the third question is short and sweet: “because Strava is a unfathomably frustrating when it comes to manually specifying treadmill workouts.” The first two questions require a little more prior knowledge.
Simply put, The Lady and I were hitting walls, with the end result being that we both felt completely strung out. That 3.2-miler (+XT) at the end of the Mar 9-15 week was supposed to be 10-12 miles; we knew very early on it just wasn’t going to happen. Even though we’d logged an absolutely kick-ass 10M ladder workout only two days before, our hearts, bodies, and souls just weren’t into more mileage. Furthermore, with the following week already scheduled to be a cutback week, we had to further silence our inner critics that demanded we push the mileage we were skipping into the next week.
In retrospect, while the physical ramifications are still somewhat up in the air, at least from mental and emotional perspectives we absolutely needed the mileage drawbacks: skipping 75% of the scheduled long run and sticking to the original cutback week plan were essential. For the first time in awhile, this last week of training didn’t feel terrible. There were numerous runs which, at their end, I actually felt good, a far cry from the feeling of “thank God I got through yet another workout.”
I’m certainly not going to say we’re settled in. There’s still lots to do, personally and professionally, and I’m having a hard time figuring out which direction is up (see my research blog for some perspective into the professional side of things). And then there’s April, which features 1) our (The Lady and I) first wedding anniversary, 2) Easter, 3) Ragnar, and 4) Big Sur. It’ll be a whirlwind month, notwithstanding anything that has to do with settling into our day-to-day lives.
tl;dr Things have been mixed lately, but at the moment I’m cautiously optimistic; there’s been a definite upswing of late, and I’m hopeful it will continue.
I’m hoping to post the Georgia Half race report sometime in the next week or so. Stay tuned!
As we near the halfway point in our Big Sur marathon training cycle, it’s worth stopping to take a look at how things are going and make an honest assessment.
Honestly? Hard not to be disappointed. It doesn’t feel like there’s been a whole lot to be proud of.
Of course that’s objectively false. I logged my first 100+ mile month since November (127.35 miles, to be exact). While my IT band still stiffens up at times, it seems more than capable now of carrying the marathon training load as long as I’m diligent in rolling it out on a regular basis. My quality workouts (track work, tempo runs) have been solid; not outstanding, but steady. Weightlifting has been going well. Our latest long run–16 miles–while a strangely disjoint route due to a strange afternoon running schedule, clocked in at an 8:47 min/mi average.
Overall, not too shabby. But it’s nonetheless difficult to shake off an overall feeling of disappointment. The Lady and I have discussed this, and while we’re both certainly having a tough time settling into our new lives here in Athens, there has been an unexpected (though perhaps it should have been anticipated) side effect: I’ve forgotten how to suffer.
Somewhere along the line, my training switched from trying to push my limits and make myself better and stronger to simply trying not to crash and burn. Trying not to suffer. Making the goal of my workouts that of avoiding pain.
It clicked earlier this week with something I’d said to The Lady several weeks ago: that I felt like I was holding back. I’m tired seemingly all the time (work stress, unpacking, a general feeling of floating in limbo), consequently I’m not pushing myself as hard as I should be in a bid to “go easy on myself.” It wasn’t a conscious decision, but the result of a constant grind wearing down my psyche. I told one of the Fleet Feet folks here that I felt as though I was having to re-train myself how to run “from scratch,” as though I was starting over at 0. One could argue for the truth of that, honestly. But it’s not the full story.
I’ve written here before about how I need to run as though I have nothing to lose, to leave it all out on the course, to run with reckless abandon. It’s a good thing to remind oneself of from time to time. Forgive my cringe-worthy triteness, but my high school football coaches were right: when you hold back in an attempt to protect yourself, you actually make yourself more injury-prone.
Plus, making your goal “to avoid pain” is boring. What can possibly be accomplished without pain?
It’s something I objectively know, but which has nonetheless crept into my habits when I wasn’t paying attention; believe me, there have been plenty of distractions of late. To some extent, I do indeed have to re-train myself. In particular, I need to learn how to embrace the inevitable pain, rather than try to avoid it.
I made some strides this week. Our Thursday tempo run went decently well; the last mile was a struggle for me, as the pain really started caving in and I couldn’t manage it. This Saturday’s long run went better; it was the first time in quite awhile I posted 16 miles. I felt like crap the whole time, but I actually managed it. I sucked it up and kept putting one foot in front of the other. It felt awful but it proved [to me] I can re-train myself how to do this.
So here it is: I’m disappointed an 8-mile tempo run at 7:30-7:40 feels so difficult, when I used to pound out sub-7 minute tempo runs at the same distance. I’m disappointed I let the pain get to me so easily. I’m disappointed that I can’t seem to let go and just enjoy the run. I’m disappointed all of this feels so bloody hard all the time.
Most of all, I miss our friends in Pittsburgh. I like Athens and its folks, but moving really sucks. It’ll take some more time, I know. I guess I’m just impatient. 🙂
At the very least, I can say we haven’t been skimping on our carbo-loading–
Wait, we’re six weeks into this thing already? Jeez.
I’m proud to say that things have improved dramatically since early January: my IT band is most definitely on the mend, and I finally seem to be settling into the ebbs and flows of training.
It’s still tough going, though. Life in Athens thus far has been a whirlwind, to put it concisely. Work has been nuts, and all our available not-working time has lately been spent running errands or unpacking. And oh yeah, training for Big Sur and trying to make friends in the process.
Last week I had a bit of a meltdown as a result. Just couldn’t keep up with the pace of things; consequently, I slept in both Wednesday and Friday, breaking our usual routine of hitting the gym Monday-Thursday mornings and doing yoga Friday mornings.
And then there was Exhibit B: Thursday morning was our first track session in I-can’t-even-remember-how-long. The goal was 6x800s with 400 rests in between, with warm-up and cool-down to make the total 6 miles.
It was…very meh.
Splits 1-4 were ok (3:15, 3:31, 3:24, 3:24). After that I was absolutely dying. It seems like I have some speed, but stamina is still severely lacking. Which, given how run down I’d felt all week, probably makes a lot of sense.
The weekend’s long run was a lot better. We were scheduled for 14 but wanted to meet up with the local running group, Athens Road Runners, for their 6-mile run at 8am. So we did what any completely sane, pulled-together runner would do: woke up at 5:30am on a Saturday morning to run 8 miles before 8am, so we could then finish up the last 6 with the group! Logical, right?
We had a blast. We had to run some of the same brutal hills twice, but we met a handful of lovely folks and chatted with them both on the run and for a solid hour afterward at the local coffee shop / bar / music venue Hendershot’s afterwards.
I’m getting there. There’s still a lot of hectic, swirling chaos: my office furniture still hasn’t arrived, there’s still more unpacking to be done at home, and work is pretty stressful. But I feel more refreshed after this past weekend than I have in awhile, and my running has been noticeably improving of late. I’ve even upped the weights on most of my lifts at Ramsey for the first time.
Here’s to continuing the difficult but worthy process of settling in!