Last Saturday was our group’s last 20-miler at Waterfall Glen, a real running treat for Chicagoland runners, and last night was our hardest speed work-out of the season: 10 Yasso 800s with 2 minutes of active recovery in between each 800. Saturday went pretty well, considering some obstacles (I’ll explain momentarily), but last night, eh, not so much. Let’s just say last night’s session gave me a healthy dose of humility and a reminder to listen to my body when it’s trying to tell me something because if I don’t, I’ll crash and burn… and my, how I will burn!
About Saturday. Some marathon training programs I’ve read or done suggest that only 1 20-miler is sufficient, given the cost-benefit risk that you take by doing such a long run before your LONG long run (hello, 26.2!). Others say that you should actually do 3 or 4, or hell, even a 22-miler, just to give yourself that mental edge. FF’s BB program had us do 3 20s in 6 weeks, all on hilly terrains, probably with the thinking that the hills would be good prep for Boston’s topography (right on) or that running 3 20s in 6 weeks would be comparable to fatigue our legs may be feeling in the final throes of the race. Who knows. I’ve done 3 or 4 20s before a marathon before, so it wasn’t too onerous… it just ate up most of my Saturdays for the past 6 weeks.
Anyway, last Saturday gave us some most excellent running weather — think shorts and a long-sleeve, once you’re warmed up — and as always, WFG provided the beautiful scenery. My buddies and I (hi!) decided not to don the hydration belts, seeing as how none of us like to haul our own fluids, because our group assured us that we’d have fluids on the course 3 times, thereby giving us 6 times to get fluids throughout our 20 mile training run. Sweet. As the run wore on, circa mile 8 or 9, we learned that because of some logistical issue, we were only going to have fluids at the trailhead, a good 10.5 miles into the run and then again once we finished. Needless to say, this threw a wrench in my hydration and gel plans, so Saturday became the “guts run” — just sucking up the guts to finish the darn thing. (That, and the fact that my run quickly devolved into “Erin vs. her GI” so I communed with nature about 5 times over the course of 20 miles).
(Thanks, Erin, for bestowing upon me the Aggro Crag… we all should have gotten it after the guts run!) Thus, while Saturday wasn’t great, thanks to the fluid predicament or my GI challenges, it was fine. Just a training run. Better to have a shitty (pun intended) training run than one on race day, right?
As the week progressed, Chicago’s weather has been warming bit by bit, and on Wednesday night, nearly everyone in the FF BB group sported shorts and shirts, if not tanks or skin only. I had been looking forward to this super challenging work-out all week in part because I’m a bit of a sadist but also because I wanted to see how I’d fare.
Well, Her Holiness Humility had some other plans for me. Five repeats into the workout, I was feeling pretty good, but I couldn’t shake the lead-like feelings my legs had managed to form. Repeat six, and I slowed down (enough to lose the folks with whom I had been running), but it was ok. Then BAM – Her Holiness decided that I didn’t heed her sufficiently earlier so she was going to put me on my ass for repeats seven, eight, and nine … to the extent of running anywhere from 30 seconds-1 minute slower than I had all night (or all season!). Wowza. I managed to pull it together a bit more for my final repeat — thank you, ego — but still ran more slowly than my first 5 repeats but not as slowly as repeats 7-9. A very slow, very leisurely cool-down later, and once I returned home for the night, I think I realized that my legs had never felt so shot before. Ever. I have a million theories as to how or why my legs had it in for me last night, but it’s probably unhealthy to overanalyze the situation. Instead, I should just take it for what it is and move on. Remember my story, folks, and take it as a reminder that when Her Holiness comes a-knockin’, you better be a-listenin’.
I tend not to overly-lament my shortcomings or egregiously celebrate my successes on this blog because I want it to be a resource to other runners out there. I recounted these recent crash-and-burn episodes as a reminder to all of us out there, myself included: if you expect every single run to be better than the last, or if you think you’ll set a PR in every single race you enter, you will undoubtedly be disappointed about 99% of the time. Some days are amazing “on” days because our bodies are feeling great; the weather’s perfect; or we just have a spring in our step for no apparent reason. The same can be said for our “off” days. Just because a few “off” days happen does not mean that our race performance is doomed, that we are poor, inferior runners, or that we should consider another sport.
Far from it.
What matters is that we learn from these “off” days–as much as we can, anyway–and perhaps more importantly, that we get back at it with as much enthusiasm and zeal that we bring to the sport on our “on” days.
If this stuff were easy, everyone would do it, right?