Rebooting and restarting

This hasn’t exactly been a banner year for me with running.

Most of it is due to one big factor I don’t really have much control over: injury (metatarsalgia). That’s come under a bit more control lately, as I received the first of two sets of custom orthotics a few weeks back and can already tell they’re helping redistribute weight where it’s supposed to be and allowing the irritated joints to actually start healing.

That being said, I’m still injured, and my running mileage is still in the tank. I’ve logged barely 950 miles this year; I may yet break 1000, but I’m on track to set the lowest annual mileage since I started tracking it on Garmin Connect.

Of course, the flip side of the injury is the innumerable personal records I’ve set in cycling. This year alone, I’ve logged more cycling workouts, more cycling mileage, and simply more time on the bike than 2011-2014 combined. I have nearly 650 miles on the bike this year, and really that’s all been in the last 6 months. Not too shabby!

All this is to say: I’m hungry to get back into the mix.

The Lady ran an incredible marathon (go read about it!) under the direction of her coach. Given her goal of catching the unicorn this spring, there is absolutely no way I can expect her to help me get back on my feet with running. But I’ve been out of the game so long, I can tell my mental acumen is not nearly where it once was; while I’m still not 100% physically, my biggest weakness is far more mental than physical right now.

As such, I’ll also be hiring The Lady’s coach; not to catch a unicorn, but to get me back into fighting form. I’m going to need someone to help me set goals and to keep running when I want to quit. My mental game was my greatest Achilles’ heel even before I was injured; it’s likely a veritable sea monster now, and I’ll need help taming it once more.

Yes, I netted a sub-1:50 half marathon at Chickamauga last month, despite being injured and running a grand total of 90 miles over all of September, October, and November combined (including the race itself). I even managed to feel phenomenal while doing it. But while it’s pretty thrilling to be able to hit sub-1:50 while subsisting purely on long bike rides (50-mile rides are not trivial, bee tee dubs), it’s fleeting. It doesn’t stick with me. It doesn’t stoke the fire in my belly. The thought of a sub-1:50 half marathon is fun, but doesn’t make me bolt out of bed.

The thought of a sub-1:35 half, on the other hand, most certainly does.

I want to run with reckless abandon again. I want to race a half marathon, putting my heart and soul into it; feeling like I’m tearing to shreds in the final miles and the only thing holding it all together is sheer force of will. I want to race a full marathon, gritting my teeth through the final 10K while stubbornly putting one foot in front of the other in a staunch refusal to accept anything less than my first sub-4hour finish. I want to haul ass while feeling like death warmed up, confident that nothing and no one could coax a single rate constant’s worth more ATP reactions out of my muscles at this moment than I am right now.

I’m ready to get back to work.

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The marathon training cycle that wasn’t

Reports of my demise are some combination of exaggerated and premature.

But it’s been a rough go of things lately. Our November marathon is still a ways off, but my chances of participating–as in, even reaching the starting line–are looking pretty grim at this point. That nagging foot injury I mentioned in passing over the summer became a lot more than nagging. I’ve been making regular visits to the local physical therapist, and have gone so far as to order custom-built orthotics molded to my specific musculoskelature.

The punchline: I haven’t run a single mile since earlier this month, and I’m currently not planning an imminent return.

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Lots of biking! But no running since September began.

I’ve resigned myself to this fate. I fought it for a few months, attempting to keep a running base while also working on healing my foot, but it backfired. I have no realistic alternative aside from avoiding any and all activities that put strain on my foot, effectively ruling out running entirely for the foreseeable future (indeed, WebMD more or less insists on a cold-turkey approach).

Needless to say, I have a lot of mixed feelings.

  • On one hand, it really bums me out that I can’t run at all. I’m missing all the Monday evening group runs at Fleet Feet, the Saturday morning group runs with the Athens Road Runners, and all the training runs in between. I miss it. I miss zoning out over the course of a 10-20 mile run and just enjoying being alive.
  • On the other, I think I needed a break. I was getting way too deep inside my own head, too obsessed with performance metrics and improvement goals. And there’s something to be said for a full-stop, cold-turkey break from running: rather than struggling through sub-par runs–bleeding off speed, cutting mileage, and generally feeling unsatisfied with the few runs I’d go on, all the while risking additional injury–I’ve accepted my situation and am now seeking out cross-training in all its glory.

To that end, I’ve been logging monster mileage on Sybil, my trusty Talus from my summer at Google (she’s just over 4 years old now!).

All my rides!

All my rides!

I’ve been exploring the country roads outside the immediate Athens area and having a blast while at it. I’ve already seen my times improving: my 39.1-mile ride was only 2 minutes faster than my 43.5-mile ride the subsequent weekend, and both took the same route. The latter route is my longest ride to date, in which I biked all the way up to the picturesque city of Jefferson, a classic southern town that I took a few minutes to explore.

Part of my motivation has been simply to get back on the bike; I really do enjoy cycling. But I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t at least a small ulterior motive: while logging monster mileage is certainly a lot of fun for its own sake, as is using my newfound and growing cycling legs to explore an ever-wider radius around Athens, I want to log monster mileage on the bike as a way to minimize my loss of running fitness.

I’ll admit: in a sense, it’s freeing to just drop running entirely. That way, I’ve also dropped any expectations for performance when I inevitably get back in the game. Those first couple runs are going to suck, no two ways about it. But as a consequence of no expectations, I’ll get to see and experience the feeling of improving over each subsequent workout, observing my legs getting stronger again. I’ve already seen that in biking: in just one week, I extended the mileage of a really punishing route by 4 miles and finished in about the same time. The lower body workouts aren’t crushing me as much as they used to. I’m substantially upping the difficulty levels on the stationary bike.

The Lady and I are signed up for the Pittsburgh Great Race next weekend (yup, we’ll be visiting the ‘burgh next weekend, WOOT), and my participation will be on a game-time-decision basis. However, the weekend after is a half marathon in Atlanta, and I’m even less optimistic about my chances there. I’d probably have the fitness to finish, but it would be ugly…also, foot injury.

I suppose the long and short of this is: I miss running. I’m actually kind of glad for the break and reprieve, too. But I really miss running.