Wednesday, October 8, 2008

System Fail

A week and a half to go and I find my body falling apart. Everyone who has done this a few times will tell you that the taper period before a marathon is when you'll feel all sorts of aches and twinges, but not to worry. But this isn't just the normal aches of taper.

I'm officially worried.

Many times I have described endurance running as the ability to tolerate pain. Along with that goes the ability to distinguish between good pain and bad pain.  Good pain is muscle fibers being torn and rebuilt again into stronger legs, lungs aching with the exertion of aerobic exercise, getting stronger, growing in capacity, becoming more efficient. Bad pain is injury. With experience, a runner learns to recognize the bad pain, and stop. Stretch, recover, get different shoes, take a week off, whatever it takes to combat the problem and get back to running.

This logic goes right out the window when a race is imminent. Even really smart, really experienced runners do outright stupid things to their bodies for a race. A young woman from my running group, who had trained long, hard, and smart for a marathon last fall, hurt her back weeks before the race. She was not even close to being fully recovered come race day, and yet she started anyway and was forced to give up miles from the finish. We all told her she shouldn't, and we all understood when she did anyway. Once you spend months getting up early, going out in the dark and the weather and giving most of your free time over to mile after mile of training, not running the race is just not an option. We feel the pain and try to ignore it, even though we know better. We bargain with our bodies, forgetting that while 90% of endurance running is mental, the other 10% is cold hard physical fact. 

My yassos this morning were a complete bust, and after a week of being in denial about my hamstring, I was forced to face the fact that I'm hurt. I hate it. I want to scream and kick and throw a tantrum over it. It's just not fair not fair NOT FAIR!

Instead, I am not going to run tomorrow. And maybe not the next day. I'll pay attention to the pain and hope that a week of recovery is more than enough.

Because there is no way I'm not running the race.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

new marathon world record

In Berlin this weekend, Haile Gebrselassie set a new world record for the marathon. His own record, actually. His time was 2:03:59.

Holy alien imposter, Batman, that's fast!

I'm going to break it down a little, to show just how fast that is.

A marathon is 26.2 miles. That's an average of 4:44 for each mile. 4:44. The current world record for ONE mile is 3:43.13, one minute faster than every mile run in this marathon. Running Times reports that a "two-year study of more than four million high school students during the early 1980s found that the average boy took 7:40 to run a mile. The average girl took 9:51." I bet the girls have caught up a bit since then. In my most recent 5K, I averaged a 6:35 mile, and in my best marathon, I averaged 7:52 for all 26.2 miles. That's only a little over 3 minutes per mile slower than the best!

If this still sounds like the difference between saying that the sun is 93000000 miles away or 93000000000 miles away, then just take it from me; that guy is really, really fast.

Friday, September 26, 2008

ants in my pants

Fridays are rest days. So, not only did I not run this morning, but I slept in, too. Now I feel hyper-restless and want to do somersaults or cartwheels. Where can I stash this excess energy for later?

I am taking some classes this semester, and one of them is infringing on the mental space reserved for running. It was announced this week that the exam previously scheduled for October 15th is being moved to October 22nd. The problem here is that I have a marathon on October 19th. One major ingredient of a good race is mental focus. Having an exam behind me leaves lots of space for that focus, but now I will be distracted by the stress of an upcoming test, plus the added pressure of being away for a week beforehand, unable to participate in study groups and without the time to really review.

Color me unhappy. This might sound like whining over something trivial, but it really does matter. Ugh.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

the pit of despair

Eight and a half miles of hell this morning. I haven't felt this bad during a run in a long time. My legs felt like piano strings. My stomach both cramped and sloshed, like a full balloon that someone with long fingernails has clutched in a fist. My intent was to get up early and do my long run today, since I will be away for the weekend and unable to follow the normal schedule, but it was not to be. I'll have to try again Monday.

Days like these are normal; not every run can be a great one. Still, it is hard not to let a bad run take root in my mind as worry or fear.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

22 miles

Saturday's workout of 22 miles covered most of the Baltimore Marathon route. I joined hundreds of other runners on this course run, supported by Falls Road Running Store. Check out the route below, from This service is awesome! It uses Google maps to calculate distance, is interactive (zoom, pan, etc, just like Google Maps) and even shows elevation. By getting an account, you can save routes and record them under your training log. Better yet, you can find routes that other people have saved. I love it!

View Interactive Map on


This morning I ran yassos on the track with a partner down in Fulton. Yassos, named for Bart Yasso, are just repeats of 800 meters, or two laps around the track. The idea of yassos is that they can be a predictor for marathon times, if used in training. If one's goal marathon time, for example, is 3:25, then one should work her way up to 10 repeats of 800 meters each, at 3m25s. Supposedly if someone can do that, then she will be able to meet her marathon goal time.

More information can be found in this Runner's World article.

This morning, I ran 8 yassos in 3:25. Two more to go.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

45 mile week

This week I ran 45 miles. That's not only high mileage, but most of them have been high quality miles, including a 5K race. My bones are tired. I've been through this before, so I recognize the conflicting feelings. On the one foot, I am in great shape. The summer of hard training is resulting in strong runs, fast times, consistent effort. On the other foot, everything hurts a little and I feel the extra miles of the late season training schedule in my muscles and joints. I know that right now, I could run a great race with a time to be proud of. I feel strong. But, the marathon isn't for another month, and I worry that by then I'll be an exhausted, injured wreck unable to follow through to the finish. The training has built me up, but now it might wear me down.

Just like the running which has gotten longer and harder all summer, my mental battles are tougher a month out from the race than earlier in the year. I keep reminding myself that this is all expected and normal. I will get tired, but in another week I will start to taper. The taper will allow me time to rest and recover. On race day, the weather will be cooler, my muscles and my mind will be fresh, and the adrenaline will kick start the day and send me flying. I just have to be patient, stick to my plan, and just keep running.