Weeks 5 & 6: The New Normal
Sunday, July 18th, 2010
Training to run an ultra sometimes feels as shaky as my commitment to do more gardening and eat less meat. I want to be able to run double or more the distance I do now, just as I want to replant our flower box and eat lower on the food chain, but then I wonder if I like the idea of doing those things more than actually doing them.
On Thursday, I emailed some friends to find out about their weekend long-run plans, hoping to tag along and recharge in the company of others since my motivation to do a long run was wavering. I knew I needed a friend or an inspiring course to help me go the distance and remind me why the weekend long run is so crucial to training and ultimately so satisfying. Thankfully, I got both and unexpectedly found myself on the cliff-hugging Miwok and Coastal trails in Marin.
Jennifer Ray emailed me that she planned to do Pacific Coast Trail Runs’ marathon in the Marin Headlands, and she suggested I sign up too. At first I thought, no way, it’s less than 48 hours until the start and I haven’t prepared; I haven’t tapered or familiarized myself with the course or figured out the logistics of getting over there. But barely a second later, I thought, why not? And I have, in fact, prepared enough. I can go that distance for sure. I just probably couldn’t finish with a fast time — but so what? The point was to get in a solid training run of four to five hours. To do it on a foggy North Bay course (20 – 30 degrees cooler than the rest of the greater Bay Area) with aid stations and friendly people seemed like a gift.
Until about two months ago, doing a marathon felt to me like a psych-yourself-up big deal, as did running 40 miles a week. Part of crossing over to ultra territory, I’m learning, is doing marathon or longer distances in a low-key way, on legs tired from running all week, and viewing 40 miles per week as minimal. I feel myself adapting to this new normal and liking it.
The marathon itself was a blast. I ran steady and conservatively, never encountering any significant muscle, joint or stomach problems, never pushing the speed except on the downhills and in the final miles, and never feeling like I was racing to beat someone. I only wanted to meet my own challenges. I challenged myself, for example, to run my best on the tricky technical terrain — to float over all those loose, jagged rocks as smoothly and naturally as a stream of water. And I dared myself to run the whole double-hill stretch between miles 12 and 21, where the course steadily climbs 800 feet out of Tennessee Valley, drops down 900 feet to Rodeo Valley, and then turns around and goes back the same way so you gotta retrace your steps up the two-mile hill that you just bombed down. Runners all around me walked a great deal around there, but I ran every step and savored the meditative, little-engine-that-could state I found myself in.
I also challenged myself to be friendly to everyone around me, which isn’t always easy to do when I’m in road-race mode. I had on my nice face, not my game face. I chatted and got to know a few people. Sometimes I just listened and observed. I experienced the gift of unplugging and blissing out for more than four hours.
The experience makes me think of a recent column by Bob Herbert in the New York Times, in which he joins the chorus of voices criticizing our frenetic multitasking and encourages readers to put down the gadgets that are speeding up our lives and draining our happiness. That’s not an original point, but I like the way he put it:
“We need to reduce the speed limits of our lives. We need to savor the trip. Leave the cellphone at home every once in awhile. Try kissing more and tweeting less. And stop talking so much. Listen. Other people have something to say, too. And when they don’t, that glorious silence that you hear will have more to say to you than you ever imagined. That is when you will begin to hear your song. That’s when your best thoughts take hold, and you become really you.”
I finished in 4:35, not bad for a course with 5500 feet elevation gain. My Garmin says I actually went over 27 miles because I strayed off course at one point.
So, all in all, training is going well in spite of motivation wavering now and then. The previous week, I crossed over the 60-mile threshold for the first time and got back to the track for some speedwork (nothing super fast, just longer intervals at tempo-to-10K pace).
And I savored the trip.
(Check out the Week 1 post if you’re wondering what the following is about.)
Number of days and total time spent running: 6 days; 10 hours
Longest run: 25 miles, 4:40 total. Did an 8.5-mile loop solo around Redwood and then hooked up with Victoria for 16.5 more in Chabot. Nice & steady conversational pace. This distance felt surprisingly manageable, especially considering I did a 10-miler the previous day on Shell Ridge with the Diablo group, who pushed the pace along the way.
Speed workout? Yes, back to track for first time since trip. 1600, 3×1200 and 800 with quarter-mile recoveries. 1200s around 4:50. So I’m definitely slower, but at least I got back to the track. I’m going to do mostly longer intervals at tempo pace, and avoid short fast stuff; past experience tells me that increasing mileage significantly and doing fast track workouts leads to injury.
Cross training? To gym twice with focus on core and balance/stability. No cardio XT, just strength training and phys therapy.
What I did to prevent injury: Took a total rest day; really tired midweek after houseguests left. Focusing on exercises for ankle flexibility and strengthening.
Number of days and total time spent running: 5 days; 8 hours, 45 minutes
Longest run: 27+ — the Marin Headlands marathon described above.
Speed workout? Yes, on track did 2 x 3200, 1 x 1600, with quarter-mile recovery laps, plus some stair repeats at the end and extra miles for warm up/cool down.
Cross training? Two gym days, one with :30 bike and then upper body work; the other with all focus on arms, core, lower-leg balance and PT. Easy recovery Sunday after the marathon with walking and phys therapy exercises.
What I did to prevent injury: Day off for XT last Monday when tired after Sunday’s run; another day off for recovery after Saturday marathon. Lots of foam rolling and other PT for muscle recovery.