MCM Week 9: Bouncing back? Knock on wood?

The past month has been difficult. I’ve felt run down; even on easy runs that are only a couple of miles, I haven’t had any energy and couldn’t find a rhythm. They were struggles the whole way through. The long runs were a particularly nasty variety of grind: I’d have to stop a lot, I was burning through a ton of Gu, and my stomach was being particularly uncooperative. I attributed it to a delayed autonomic response from all the stress in the past couple months (moving twice, proposing a Ph.D. thesis, lots of traveling, and submitting two publications).

I also [finally] made the decision to scale waaaaay back on my paces. I’d keep the distance if at all possible, but I was going to stop caring about the paces I was running (even though I was hitting some pretty awesome tempo paces). This may seem like such a tiny thing, but for me it’s really hard. I’ve improved a ton in the last year, and after peaking at just the right time before the Pittsburgh half in May but then getting sidelined by an IT band injury, I really wanted Air Force in September to be a massive PR. I’ve had to mentally refocus, concentrating on rediscovering the fun in running, as opposed to the constant atmosphere of competition that is often invigorating but lately has been a dead weight.

Take this 18-mile long run, for example. Two weeks ago, I ran 18 miles (The Lady had a slight toe injury that healed quickly, but she had to sit out on this run) and met up with Devin for the last 6.

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The first 12 miles were rough. I averaged probably around an 8:40 (minus an emergency stop at mile 6, roughly 10 minutes). Devin’s pace is a lot slower, but by mile 15, even 10:00 was feeling too hard. We both crashed at mile 16; The Lady drove Devin home, and after a 15-minute rest, I finished the last two miles, feeling absolutely terrible and like I was about to fall apart.

That was when I decided it was time to stop being stubborn and listen to what my body was saying. From then on, I wore my Garmin, but ignored it on runs, going entirely by feel. I also stopped listening to music.

The first couple of runs were still really tough. Everything felt awful. My legs were tired all day every day, feeling like I’d just done squats. Every run was a struggle to keep going and get the mileage in. One of our mutual friends (who I affectionately refer to as “Cranberry Dude“) suggested I take a couple days off from running and up my protein intake. This all–thankfully!–coincided with a much-anticipated cutback week in our training.

I dusted off an old recipe and whipped up some protein bars.

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Peanut butter, chocolate chips, and lots and lots of healthy grains. Oh and protein powder for an added stomach-filling punch.

Two weeks later, following our cutback week, The Lady and I ventured out once more for an 18-mile long run. Once again, we were set to meet up with Devin about 2/3 of the way through.

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You’ll notice the “Time” at the top is actually about 2.5 minutes slower than the previous long run. But if you compare the “Elapsed Time” field in both, that’s where the biggest difference lies: 3:14:28 vs 3:06:24. This reflects the total amount of time the Garmin was on, disregarding all stop/start buttons. Basically, it’s how long we were really out there on our feet, from the moment we took the first step until we reached the very end (since we usually pause the running time at lights, when we met up with Devin, when we stopped for water, etc). This means we spent only about 18 minutes combined not actively running, as opposed to almost 30 from two weeks previous.

Even though I ran this 18 miles 2.5 minutes slower than two weeks ago, I felt really good for the last 10 miles. Miles 4-9 were a little bit iffy; my legs were tired, and I was feeling the same worn-down sentiment that had become so familiar over the last month. But something clicked around mile 9 and I started settling in. We met up with Devin, and as we kept running, my breathing became more and more comfortable, my legs felt stronger, and I actually felt a runner’s high. I haven’t felt one all month. At the end of the run I was tired–I’d just run 18 miles, yo!–but it was a happy tired. An accomplished tired, rather than a “holy shit thank God that’s over I can’t take another step” tired.

I still have a long way to go. But my easy 7-miler yesterday felt similar: another runner’s high, two in a row where previously I hadn’t felt one in a month. The Lady and I have a 9-mile 5×1600 track workout tomorrow morning, but my plan is to suck down my ego again and add 15-20 seconds per mile on top of where I was at the last track workout.

And when Air Force rolls around, hopefully my body will be ready to push itself again. But if it’s not, then I’ll listen. It has my attention now (took me long enough to actually start paying attention), and I love running too much to risk wrecking myself for MCM. I’ll get back to pushing sub-7 tempo runs soon enough!