I kept my training cycle and schedule for this fall racing season pretty low key, mostly because I knew going in that it would be a rebuilding year. Rebuilding periods are mentally tough. Basically, “rebuilding” is a reframing of “not as fast as I know I can be” and learning to accept that. Rebuilding is realism. In fact, being overly optimistic about a rebuilding period is more likely than not a recipe for falling short of expectations and disappointment.
Yet it’s practically human nature to be optimistic. Optimism about our own capabilities is the stuff that compels us to tie up the laces to head out for a run hours before the sun even rises.
After taking the bulk of the 12-month period after November 2012 off of serious training for middle-distance races, 2014 started off with some skiing, yoga, and overtraining for the Broad Street Run in May. Whoops. By then, Michelle had persuaded me to run another half marathon, so I needed to get my act together and train. I took June easy and ran without a watch for the entire month before ramping back up to train for this past weekend’s race in Louisville, KY, the Urban Bourbon. I finished race, but the course kicked my butt.
|The swag kicked butt, too.|
But, before the course kicked my butt, I also had a feeling of dread. Unlike the Richmond Half in 2012, I didn’t run through the prior winter this year, and despite having run the Broad Street Run, my base was mediocre. I didn’t prioritize strength training because I wanted to do more standup paddle boarding, and I was, well, lazy. Coming off the Army 10-Miler in 2012, I distinctly remember thinking, “I can run another 3 miles.” This year, I finished a minute behind my 2012 time, which is inconsequential in a race as large as the ATM, but the thought as I crossed the finish line was definitely not “I can run another 3 miles.”
Then, ten minutes after the race, I had foot and low calf cramps. I’d never had any sort of running-related muscle cramps before, so these caught me off guard. And if I was getting cramps after a 10-mile race, what would happen to me during a half marathon??
Is it self doubt leading to a self-fulfilling prophecy or realism when you jog to the start on race day and just hope that you can stay loose the next 13.1 miles and that they won’t hurt too much?
And the first 5 miles did feel good. But then the hills came. I hate hills, and for that reason, I rarely hit more than 2 hills during a long training run. During the race, there was a spectator on one hill that I could have hugged. He was coaching people up the hill, telling us things we already knew but were buried in an oxygen-deprived corner of our brains: use your arms, let your upper body carry you up the hill, you can do it. Nevertheless, these hills took a lot of fight out of me, and by mile 9, even though there were no more hills, I had lost a lot of will. Sadly for me, the Urban Bourbon was not a 10-mile race. Even sadder, I didn’t really have a mantra planned or miles dedicated to anyone to carry me through the last three miles. Come to think of it, though, it’s probably good that no miles were dedicated to anyone, lest the quality of mile 12 reflect the quality of our relationship.
Here’s how my body felt: it was loose the first 5 miles. Then, both mentally and physically, I began to break down from miles 6 through 9. I took 3 walk breaks in mile 10 because my body tightened up. Hamstrings, calves, shoulders. My glutes would have tightened up if they still existed. I got my act together in mile 11 to run, but I took another 3 walk breaks in mile 12. Mile 13 was frustrating. I wanted to run the last 1.1 mile but made it only .6 of a mile before I needed to walk again. Strong finishes have always been my strength, but this was definitely not strong.
Even though my race plan was to survive the first 10 miles and then see what happened, I really wanted the race to go better than that. So, I was pretty crushed at hardly surviving the first 10 miles and how bad the last 4 miles felt in comparison to the first 5 miles. The foot cramps that first showed up at the Army 10-Miler reappeared within 15 to 20 minutes after finishing, and I don’t remember an endorphin (or any other) high. I’m pretty sure I told Michelle that I was never running another half marathon. Or hills. And if she wasn’t there waiting for me at the finish, I would have skulked back to the hotel room and curled up into a ball.
Now I’m two days post race. What do you do when the thing about yourself that you could always rely upon becomes unreliable? You try to figure out what went wrong and whether you can get it back. Onward.