Sunday, April 24, 2016

Running lessons: Trust in the training

The thing about marathon training is that there are no guarantees. You can complete all the workouts on your training schedule, eat well, cross-train, plan every detail of your trip to the start line and things can still go wrong. You can catch flu, fall and break your leg, get buried by work projects or have a car accident en route. And that's just the obvious stuff.

Maybe you picked a training plan that was too ambitious given your current level of fitness. Or you picked on that wasn't ambitious enough. Or maybe those shoes you thought were perfect in the store make your feet cramp after 20k. Or maybe you chose the wrong outfit for the weather. Or maybe your luggage didn't arrive and you have to buy new shoes and running clothes at the last minute. Or maybe that old injury you thought was healed flares up again 37k into the race. It's crazy-making thinking of all the things that can go wrong when you've invested so much time and energy in training for a race.

I thought I'd have my anxiety under control this time around. After all, nothing about marathon training is new to me. This is the 10th time I've done it and I've experienced pretty much everything before - the long slow weekend runs, tough tempo workouts, gut-churning hill repeats, the careful orchestration of work and social commitments to make time to prepare for and recover from each workout, weather and travel challenges. So, with just five weeks to go, why do I feel so stressed?

In the first place, because it's been more than two years since I last trained for a marathon and it turns out I'd forgotten how hard it is. Or maybe it just feels harder because I'm that much older. Whatever the reason, I'm finding it tough to stick to my plan. A big part of me wants to forget it and run a half marathon instead - or skip Calgary all together. I'm tired of having sore legs, tired of having to pay such close attention to my diet and sleep schedule, and tired of feeling tired all the time. I just want it over already.

Second, I'm not certain the training's paying off. Sure, I've finished almost all my planned workouts, but it doesn't seem like I'm getting much stronger or faster. Yesterday, I did a 31k run - my third 30-ish km run in four weeks - and it felt every bit as hard as the previous two. Shouldn't my legs feel more comfortable running that distance by now? How in the hell am I going to run 42.2k in five weeks' time when 31k felt so hard yesterday? Even after a good night's sleep, running another 9k this morning felt brutal.

Third, I'm beginning to think the new shoes I bought a few weeks ago aren't going to work for me. I'm still breaking them in so it's hard to know for sure but it seems they may be causing my right foot cramp up. I hope I'm wrong. Time is running out to find new ones and get them nicely broken in before the race.

Finally, I'm anxious about running at altitude in temperatures I'm not used to. Calgary is 1000 metres above sea level and it's been unseasonably warm in recent weeks. If that trend continues, I'm in deep trouble. I've been overdressing for my runs in an effort to acclimatize to running in the heat but it's not the same and I know it.

So, here I am five weeks out and I'm a basket case. Last night, I woke up around 3:00 am, my legs sore and achy from my long run, mind spinning through all the stuff I need to do before I head west, and all I wanted was to give up on the whole idea and stay home. Never mind the hundreds of hours I've devoted to training. Never mind disappointing friends and family I planned to visit. Never mind the cost of cancelling my ticket and forfeiting my race registration. Never mind giving up my goal of completing 10 marathons before my 55th birthday. Fear and doubt overwhelmed me. "Sorry", I thought, "but I'm just too old, tired and scared for this."

As I sit by the fire tonight, thinking about the last few weeks of training and considering my options, the situation appears less grim. It's true that my long runs feel hard. They're supposed to. That's the point. To teach my body to run even when it's tired and hurting. The fact is I have gotten stronger over the past few months. This week I noted that my 8k midweek run is starting to feel relatively easy - certainly much easier than it did three months ago! - and hill repeats feel more satisfying than exhausting - signs that the hard work is starting to pay off.

For now, I need to relax, and stick to the program. With a few more weeks of intense training, my body should be ready to go the distance (albeit slowly), and I'll have plenty of time during my taper to sort out logistical details and come up with strategies for dealing with things that can go wrong before and during the race. I just have to trust in the training, and do what I can to arrive at the start line healthy and uninjured.

What about you? How do you know when your training is paying off? How do you manage fear and doubt in the weeks leading up to a goal race? What do you worry about most as race day approaches? How do you prepare mentally for a long race?

Happy running and writing, friends!

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Running lessons: Sometimes the best training is rest

I'm having trouble keeping up with everything these days. Between work, social commitments, chores and marathon training, there just aren't enough hours in the day - never mind finding time to write - so tonight's post will be brief.

On the running front, reducing the intensity of my workouts for a week seemed to pay off. After covering a mere 29 kms last weekend (19k on Saturday and 10k on Sunday), I ramped up again this past week and comfortably completed three "quality" workouts - an 8k hill training session Tuesday, a 7.5k tempo workout on Thursday and 30.5k long run yesterday.

I hoped to round out the week with an 8-10k recovery run today but ran out of time and energy. After sleeping in a bit, Husband and I went to church this morning, then cooked and ate a delicious brunch and headed to Risser's Beach for a walk (see photo at the top of this post), before dropping by my sister's place for a quick visit. When we finally arrived back at the house around 5:00, it was so lovely and warm that we opted for a beer on the deck rather than a run.

I'm disappointed I missed today's workout but suspect I needed the extra recovery time in any case. Yesterday's 30.5k felt remarkably good - much better than last weekend's 19k - but I slept for nearly 11 hours last night so it must have taken a toll. By tomorrow, I'll be in better shape to run an easy 7-8k to loosen up in preparation for the more challenging workouts I have on my schedule later in the week.

Looking ahead, I'm planning just two more really long runs before Calgary - a 31k next weekend and a 34k two weeks after that, with a 16-20k run on the weekend in between - hopefully in warmer temperatures. The weather in Calgary has been positively summery lately, which is worrying. If things don't cool off before the end of May, I'm in serious trouble. There's no way I'll be ready to run 42.2k at altitude in temperatures in the 25C range.

Today was the warmest day we've had in awhile but I still had to bundle up in a jacket and wool sweater for our beach walk.

As comparatively cool as the weather was this weekend, it was a big improvement over last Sunday, when we got hit with another blast of winter...

...after a gloriously spring-like day on Saturday, when these little guys dropped by for a visit. I don't recall seeing cedar waxwings on our property before so I was thrilled to spot them and get a few photos before they flew off.

Speaking of photos, I spent more time than usual with my camera last weekend. I had forgotten how much I like my big zoom. The images it captures have much more warmth and depth than those I get with my other lenses - which likely says more about skills as a photographer than the lenses. In any case, I really like how this photo of the last of my birthday flowers turned out. 

In closing, a note to self: Sometimes the "training" I need most (now that I'm a runner of a certain age) is a little more rest to give my body and heart time to catch up with my head. It's a lesson I learned years ago but have trouble remembering sometimes. In any case, it paid off big time this weekend so I'll try to get as much rest as possible in the 6 weeks remaining before race day.

Happy running!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Running lessons: Training well sometimes means running less

The big news last week was that I turned 54. How the heck did that happen? It feels like only yesterday I was 25. On the upside, at least I'm still running regularly - something I could never have imagined when I was 40 years old and 25 pounds overweight. It seems some things really do get better with age. :-)

I was more than usually busy at work and at home last week so there wasn't much time for celebrating. However, Husband made one of my favourite meals - homemade pizza - and gave me a huge bouquet of flowers (so huge, it filled three vases!) and friends and family from all over the world sent messages so it was a nice day, all in all.

Even Her Highness got in on the act - deigning to let me take her picture without being too grumpy about it.

I'd hoped to do a little more celebrating on the weekend but, as it turned out, I was too pooped to do much besides prepare to go running, go running and recover from running. :-)  I'm only half kidding. If fact, I slept in until 10:30 Saturday morning - a sure sign I was tired. By the time I awoke, the sky was filled with dark, threatening clouds so I rescheduled my long run to Sunday and opted to do an 8k with Husband instead.

I used Saturday afternoon and evening to rest up for my long run. By the next morning, the weather had cleared somewhat so I hit the road early and managed to finish most of the run before the rain started again - just ahead of the polar vortex that roared in late that afternoon bringing high winds and snow. Ugh. Needless to say, I was glad I finished before the weather turned truly nasty.

It took a little under 3.5 hours to run 28k so I had plenty of time to think about what more I need to do to prepare for the Calgary Marathon. Since I'm already logging long distances, I feel good about my chances of completing 42.2k, though there's still lots to do.

First, in order to get to the start line healthy and uninjured, I need to avoid viruses and over-training. My resting heart rate's too high at the moment, which likely means I've been pushing too hard and making myself vulnerable to both. Given that, I've altered my training plan for this week so that I can run less and get more rest in anticipation of returning to more intensive training next week.

Second, I need to do more work on strength, flexibility and form. Hill training is helping to improve strength and form, but my legs and hips are still too tight so it's clear I need more time on my yoga mat. I also plan to do this core workout once or twice a week. I completed it once last week and was surprised at how challenging it was. I had no trouble doing the exercises but my shoulders and hamstrings were unexpectedly sore the next day. Fortunately, I felt much better following my first session this week.

Third, I need to do more runs on flatter routes. It may sound strange but I've always found hilly courses easier than flat ones. My personal best marathon time is the 4:36 I clocked in San Francisco! The problem with flat courses is that, since there's no variation in terrain, the muscles in my legs don't get to much chance to change things up. Calgary appears to be the flattest course I've ever run so I want to do what I can to prepare for it.

Finally, I need to work on mental preparation. Anyone who's ever run a marathon can tell you that running 42.2k is as much a mental feat as a physical one.  The confidence that comes from training hard and consistently is a big part of it, but you also need strategies to deal with all the things that can happen on race day - illness, bad weather, lost gear, you name it. Something won't go as planned - guaranteed - so the goal is to be ready to handle whatever that is.

For me, the biggest part of my mental preparation for Calgary will be setting reasonable expectations and focusing on enjoying the event as much as possible. As a friend reminded me yesterday, Calgary is a little over 1000 metres above sea level, and it's very possible I'll find running at altitude harder than I expect, so it will be more important than ever to listen to my body and focus on having fun rather than finishing in a particular time.

In closing, here are a few photos from my long run last Sunday. The trail by the river has been extended 2.5kms past Cookville Bridge now. I hadn't been that far up the river in a couple of years so enjoyed checking it out. The views were lovely and peaceful - even on a grey day.

I finished my run with a loop through Peace Park, one of my all time favourite places. Though the day was so grey, the subdued colours reflecting on the river had their own appeal

Hope everyone has a great week! If you have marathon training tips to share, I'd love to hear them.

Happy running and writing!