Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Countdown: Worrying

It's unavoidable to worry before a marathon. Runners worry about phantom injuries, possible illnesses, lack of training, everything. The ideal for me has always been a relaxing week before the race, without job stress. It never works out this way. That's why I'm typing this going on hour 12 at the office, with a "jumbo cheddar turkey burger" (albeit with a baked potato) on the way. I don't think the Ethiopians are in drab office buildings scarfing down food from Cozy Burger four days before races. But there's not much that can be done. I had to make a quick trip to Minneapolis on Monday and Tuesday, with lots of screwed up sleep because of early flights and/or late nights. I'm tired and feeling the taper depression.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Mind of a Marathoner

Out at dinner last weekend, a woman found out I was running a marathon and asked the inevitable: "What do you think about all that time?" I never know the answer to that question. During the average long run, there's time to think about lots of stuff, zone out, consider breathing and plan for fueling. But the marathon is different. It's about a high-level of effort for three hours and more. That takes a lot of mental energy. Trying to stay relaxed but not slough off is kinda hard. It gets worse when the shit goes down around mile 20. At that point, the mind races to all sorts of things. I've found that after a marathon, I have the craziest dream sequences: my mind races through all sorts of dreams on fast forward. The interesting thing is the elite runners go through the same stuff as regular marathoners. Ryan Hall, the best U.S. marathoner alive, has a fascinating article about his recent marathon in London, where he ran a 2:05. He talks about taking in the sights -- at a 4:35 pace -- along the way, trying to stay relaxed, wondering if the pace was right, and trying to find his rhythm. His description of the end is fitting -- even the best in the world suffer along with the rest of us mortals.
The fatigue I feel in a marathon is unlike any sensation I have felt. The last couple of miles I felt totally numb. Its like what I picture an out of body experience to be like. My legs don’t feel like they are mine anymore. No matter what I say or how hard I pumped my arms they just kept going at the same rhythm.
Let's hope for the out-of-body experience in Cincy.

5 miles, 36:40

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Ten Signs You're Tapering

I'm in the tapering period for the Flying Pig. It's two weeks away. The neverending taper debate is two weeks or three. I've gone both ways, with mixed results. Before one of my fastest marathons, a 3:02 in Chicago in 2002, I ran in a 100-mile relay race two weeks before the marathon. All told, my portions were about 20 miles of hard running. I was no worse for the wear. Other times, I went with two weeks and felt stale. Who knows? One thing is for sure, the taper is the worst part of preparing for a marathon, for me at least. Some people look forward to the relaxation, but I don't find it relaxing. My body finds it disconcerting that all of a sudden it's not exerting itself as much. As one message board poster put it, "We're in the barn now." During my run today, I thought up some signs a runner is tapering.
1. You say things like, "I'm only running 12 miles today."
2. Meetings at work seem even longer.
3. You are absolutely positive you've hurt your hamstring, calf, IT band and back.
4. You register to post on Runners World message boards.
5. Maniacally checking weather forecasts 10 days in advance.
6. Running feel sluggish until four miles, but you're only going five.
7. A treat is not eating pasta.
8. Hours are spent debating the right socks.
9. Trying to sleep, you resemble a hot dog at 7-11 turning around and around.
10. Chariots of Fire winds up in the NetFlix queue.

12.2 miles, 1:26:14

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Running Alone

Earlier this week, one of my Twitter friends asked me if I trained alone. I felt a little awkward replying nobody. It's not that I'm opposed to the camaraderie of running, but I don't have any friends here to run with on a regular basis. It hasn't always been that way. I have great memories of long runs with Stroh of Arabia, particularly when we'd head north and explore the top bits of Manhattan. We even ran two 50Ks together, which are among my fondest running memories.

It got me thinking during my long run about running alone. One of the things I like most about running, particularly long distances, is it's disarmingly personal and solitary. Anyone who has run over 20 miles knows this. Go to a marathon, set up shop around mile 22, and look into the eyes of the people going past you. While the cheering and crowds might help, the real battle is personal. They're totally alone, in many ways, confronting uncomfortable truths, like the overwhelming fatigue that inevitably makes them want to quit. But most don't. That's overcoming the Internal Pigdog. Today, I set off for Central Park by myself to run 20 miles. I've done this literally dozens of times, yet it unnerves me each time starting out. I wonder how I'll deal with the discomfort and fatigue. The marathon only heightens this, with the fear of failure always lurking in the background. Tim Noakes wrote some very true (if overly wrought) words about this in his awesome Lore of Running:
Running provides complete solitude. Even in the most crowded races, we reach points where fatigue drives each of us back into ourselves, into those secluded parts of our spirit that we discover only during times of durress and from we we emerge with clearer perspectives of who we truly are.
20.2 miles, 2:27

Monday, April 7, 2008

Marathon Countdown: Four Weeks

Quite amazingly, there are only four weeks until the marathon. These things always sneak up on me. My friend Tom is trying to get me to sleep in a smoking room at the Ramada Inn in northern Kentucky. I'm resisting that option. Despite my grand plans, I haven't been structured about my training at all. Coming down with the flu didn't help. Here's my evaluation of where I'm at:

1. Miles per week: I'm peaking at about 43. That's not a lot of miles. In previous marathons, I'd get up to 60 miles per week. Right now, I'm just working too much for that. Running six days a week isn't happening, and my regular runs are 6.2 miles.
2. Speed: Here, I'm doing alright. Early in the winter, I was doing really well, regularly doing my daily runs right at the 7-minute pace. Since then, I've actually regressed, for a variety of reasons, and now my runs are closer to 7:15.
3. Long runs: So far, so good. I've done three 20 mile runs, including a 20.2-miler on Saturday in 2:29. I also ran a couple 18s. I'll probably do two more 20s the next two weekends.
4. Races: Again, not so great. I've only run two half marathons. The Manhattan Half went quite well; the Bronx, not so much. I wish I'd done a few more to get used to suffering.
5. Speedwork: Nope. I don't know what it is, but I just can't get myself to do speedwork. This is troubling, because I won't get better at this point doing the same training I've done for years. My body has reached where it can go with that. I can see that with the consistency of my run times. They're all pretty much the same. I'm not happy with myself over my inability to get into speedwork. It's why I need to join a running club.

Overall, I'm OK with my training. I've come to grips with the face that the 2:59 Project will have to wait for the fall. I'm just not there yet. But I'm there to run a sub 3:10 marathon, I think. We'll see how the last few weeks of training go.