It has been a week (and change) now that I had the opportunity to run Sacramento’s inaugural Pony Express Marathon, and after drafting some thoughts now for about as long, I’m coming to the conclusion that, well, I have a lot of conclusions.
My Sac-based friend Chris led PEM’s inaugural ambassador group, and I’m never one to shy away from a free marathon entry or to helping a new race gain some traction, so I joined in the efforts last summer and committed to running the marathon. May in Sacramento can be hot – and usually, for as warm as SJ is, Sac is typically even warmer because it’s further inland – and truth be told, I kinda banked on PEM being a hot race. It was this predetermined notion of mine that led me (in part) to register for Modesto and run my first marathon at 7 months postpartum, instead of 8, because I figured the likelihood of a really warm day in late March wasn’t as guaranteed as a warm (or even really warm) day the first weekend in May. Plus, a bunch of friends I’ve met since moving here were also going to be PEM ambassadors, so the race weekend would be a little reunion of sorts. All things considered, I figured I’d be at least setting myself up for a fun weekend, regardless of how the race fared.
PEM training and goals/expectations
The Modesto to PEM turn-around was relatively tight, six weeks, and even though I felt aokay soon after Modesto, I wanted to respect the recovery process (and, admittedly, get some more sleep) and laid low on my mileage for those first two weeks immediately after. I decided somewhat early on that I wouldn’t incorporate any hard speed stuff in those interim six weeks – again, respecting the recovery process, which includes mental recovery as well – and that I’d just focus on maintaining fitness. Rationally, I knew that I wouldn’t lose everything in six weeks’ time, but I also wanted some peace of mind going into PEM that I was in a good place, physically; marathons are challenging any day of the week, so even if it’s a free race – and thus, I don’t feel like I’m on the hook for anything – I figure it still kinda behooves me to not put myself out there only to blow up.
As wonderful as my intentions were – to get in some good long runs, to do “speed lite” (fartleks, pickups, that sort of thing), habitual core work like I was doing before – as the few weeks I had between Modesto and PEM unfolded, my intentions remained just that: intentions. I wouldn’t blame any_one or any_thing for my abbreviated training volume – something like sub-20 miles, sub-20, about 30, about 50, about 30, and then race week that had about 40 and change, if memory serves, with only 2 10 milers (one while pushing a stroller) and one 18 miler as my “long runs” in all of those weeks – I will admit that I felt like I just needed a break after Modesto. I wanted to keep running and training, no doubt, but my sleep has been more unpredictable and harder to come by, as Spike’s needs and sleep both have changed in that short period between Modesto and PEM (read: teething, gah). On many days when I’d find myself awake at all hours of the night with the baby, the last thing I wanted to do was to stay up and just go do my run a little earlier than usual or, conversely, stay up extra-late and do it when the family was down for the night. My days (and nights, sometimes) are already long and full and wonderful, but sleep is critical.
I had momentum in my Modesto training because I was basically doing everything again for the first time – running big distances again for the first time in a year, running fast again, all that stuff – and thus, I felt like I absolutely needed to figure out a way to make all the speed and distance runs, in particular, happen. I absolutely needed the physiological training benefits and stimuli to get me ready for Modesto, but I also needed the mental and confidence sides, too. With the short time between Modesto and PEM, I think both my brain and body knew that if a run didn’t happen – because I absolutely needed to sleep, because I needed a mental reset, whatever – it wasn’t the end of the world. I could try to convince my body and my mind that I absolutely needed to figure out a way to make shit happen so that I could run, but it was no use; it’s like it just knew.
In my little notebook of scribbles that helps guide these posts, I have an entire page filled out for a post that I was going to write that’d explain what my training looked like for PEM, with all sorts of explanations for why things looked the way they did. With the previous few paragraphs in mind, suffice it to say that it wasn’t great or what I imagined it’d look like. It was enough to maintain fitness – which was what I wanted – and in a way, when I learned that race day would be warm, part of me couldn’t have been happier because suddenly, I was absolved of any guilt for not training as well as I could have in that six-week interim. I don’t enjoy hot-weather racing at all; I haven’t raced a hot marathon since moving here; and I haven’t done a tight-turnaround marathon since before I had the baby, probably sometime in early 2014, if I recall correctly. Come race weekend, then, I knew I’d be approaching the race as a supported long run – a rare opportunity to just go run, uninterruptedly, for a handful of hours and not worry about needing to take care of anyone or be anywhere – and that I’d have some great opportunities to catch-up with friends. If things felt great – which I doubted would happen, but you never know – maybe I’d try to negative split, but as was more likely the case, I’d just ride out the run and enjoy it.
I guess that’s the thing about marathons; as is often the case, you register for them months in advance, life intervenes, priorities change, whatever, and come race weekend, you aren’t always staring down the race as you might have originally envisioned you would. It has been a long time – years, probably since at least 2010 – where I haven’t toed the line at a marathon in an attempt to PR, and admittedly, sometimes I even discourage people from running marathons “just for fun” because I think that the inherent risks outweigh the benefits for many people.
Lo and behold, though, come the weekend of April 30, I drove over two hours each way to go run 26.2 miles “just for fun,” and even with a somewhat bizarre existential “crisis” over the course of the weekend (and mid-marathon!) about marathons, I couldn’t be happier that I decided to eat my words and go marathon (verb? sure) for the hell of it.
(sorry for the break. That sleep thing I mentioned earlier? Yup – need it).