race training: the good, bad, and ugly


Over the last 12 months I’ve written regularly about my return to the world of running. At no point, however, have I said that I enjoy it. (In fact, I devoted two whole posts to how much I hate the activity.) And I continue to find running a life-sucking, misery-inducing slog even as I prepare for the 10 mile segment of CAF’s San Diego Triathlon Challenge in October.

That being said, I’m now just over 1 month into the 3 month corridor leading to the big day. And running for a specific goal (10 miles) on a specific date (October 21) definitely triggers a different mindset than hitting the streets simply for the sake of keeping in shape. Here are my central observations about the differences.

1. planet Garminike keeps calling

I find it somewhat bizarre that once I start training for a race, I feel this almost gravitational pull to acquire gear that will allow me to talk in pseudo-scientific terms about each run I take. When speaking with other people about my training, it’s somewhat embarrassing to stumble through the following:

Um, yeah, I’m running – oh, I don’t know – 3-4 time a week? Depends on my travel schedule. How far am I running? 3-5 miles, except when I run in a place that I don’t know that well, in which case I run for somewhere between 35 minutes and an hour. Don’t really know, since I don’t wear a watch when I run. How fast? Well … again, don’t really know that either. I guess anywhere from 10-13 minutes a mile, depending on how I feel and the course I choose. But that’s a guess. Nope, can’t tell you my heart rate either. No idea.

If only I acquired one of those super-cool Garmin, Nike, or Suunto GPS watches, I could instead transform that ode to ignorance into the following speech of certitude:

Last week I ran [checking my spreadsheet] 4 times. I logged a total of 19 miles, with a long of 6 and a short of 3. Fortunately, when I’m traveling, I can track my progress, so I’m able to log precise times and distances to ensure that I’m doing exactly what I have to. I’m averaging 10:24 miles, with a low of 9:45 and a high of 13:33. And my heart rate usually floats somewhere between 125 and 145 depending on the terrain.

Only a few hundred (gulp) dollars stand between me and this second mode of communication. I could then upload these numbers to the internet on sites that allow you to share this information with other runners. And then I’d be part of an online running community! I could share my highs and lows with people from around the country – nay, around the world! I could get feedback and support from people in Walla Walla and Nice. Wouldn’t that be just oh so awesome?

No.

It wouldn’t.

I will continue to run in ignorance. I will hold to my conviction that simply knowing (usually) the distance and listening to the feedback my ever-decaying body gives me is enough to bridge the gap between now and the end of October. And I will resist the siren call of planet Garminike.

2. an end date casts a long shadow

I’ve been told by people I trust that the SDTC course is no walk in the park. Not only is it 10 miles, it’s 10 miles of significant ups and downs. When I consider that and then realize that I have less than 90 days to be race-ready, I can feel the fear in the back of my mind. Specifically, I find myself worrying that I won’t be able to get myself consistently up to training distances that will leave me psychologically certain that I can handle those 10 miles. This affects me in two ways.

First, no matter how far I run right now – whether it’s 3, 4, or 5 miles – is never enough. I finish and always realize that, at best, I’ve only gone half as far as I’ll need to in just a few months. Before I had an end date, distance was something that would just come eventually, with no particular need to get to any magic number. Now, everything I do gets measured as a percentage of 10 miles.

Second, because I constantly seek mental reassurance that I’ll be able to easily complete the 10 miles, I find myself having to choke back the urge to run significantly longer distances now. I have no doubt that if I forced myself to, I could finish 10 miles tomorrow. However, I’m much less confident that I’d be in any condition to run at any time in the immediate future thereafter. Getting ramped up to complete 10 miles is a balancing act between gradually allowing my body to acclimate to increasingly longer distances on the one hand, and the reality that I have to achieve certain distances by certain dates.

So I plod forward in 3 to 5 mile increments. I reassure myself that 3 to 5 will become 4 to 6 and 5 to 7 in relatively short order. It’s an act of faith, but I try to remain a believer.

3. the race has led to new activities

The most positive thing that has come out of the long shadow of October 21 is my decision to integrate other, less overtly traumatic forms of exercise into my program. If I thought I could run 5-6 days a week without injury, I’d have already done it. However, my body has sent me pretty clear warning signs over the past 18 months that it will tolerate some abuse, but not an unending parade of it.

Last week, on what would have normally been an off day, I took to a stationary bike for the first time in years. While it reminded me why I don’t like stationary bikes – I wasn’t aware that there were different muscles in my legs that could hurt that badly – it was a workout on what would have historically been a day I did nothing.

Today, I’m going to attend my first yoga class ever. I know that it will help improve my flexibility (eventually). I’m hoping that it will improve my core strength. And failing either of those positive outcomes, I trust that it will provide me a new way to focus in on what’s going on with my body – the good and the bad.

I’ll continue to post on a regular basis about what I learn as I continue to prep for the SDTC. While I haven’t loved the first 30 days, I can at least say that I’ve done enough work to keep me on track for a successful outcome in October. At this point, that feels almost like a win.

One thought on “race training: the good, bad, and ugly

  1. Pingback: I have a body doing this decay-thing, too | It's a Dangerous Business

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s