Like most of the Western world, I’ve spent a lot of the last few weeks eating nothing but cheese and sugar and drinking many, many adult beverages. I’ve managed to break a sweat a few times, but that’s mostly because summer decided it wanted to stick around through December down here in Florida. I’ve gained some weight but that’s what yoga pants are for, right? Right.
Basically I’m out of shape and a bit fluffy, so what better time to kick off training for the Boston Marathon?
My self-imposed period of downtime actually did its job and got me all ready to get after it again. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve totally enjoyed spending entire days eating chips and queso while watching Ant Man and playing Animal Crossing and never once getting out of my pajamas, but I also love the way I feel when I’m in the thick of training, how I’m both somehow tired and energetic all at the same time. Plus I was starting to feel restless and antsy, so when I woke up this morning, I was ready to get my ass out the door.
Once again I’m following the Run Less, Run Faster program. I had a lot of success with that last year (obvs) and so I decided I’d try it again this year. I have three main reasons why I like RLRF:
- The plan calls for lots of cross-training, so ideally I won’t end up in a hole when triathlon season starts. (Also, I may or may not have signed up to do Chattanooga 70.3 a month after Boston…oh, who am I kidding, I totally did. The peer pressure from Keara, et. al., was too much to resist, and I caved.)
- My body can only seem to handle about four days a week of running before it goes NOPE NOPE NOPE octopus gif. However! I’ve learned my body also can handle hard workouts. I may not be super-fast but I’m strong and sturdy, so for me, three hard running workouts a week > six days of running a week.
- I love that all of the workouts are tough, even the long runs. I know the value of long, slow miles, and I have put in my share of them, but I also love tempo runs and speed workouts and basically anything that leaves me feeling like I’m gonna barf when it’s done. I mean, it’s Type 2 fun, but it’s still fun. For me, anyway.
As this is my sixth marathon, I’ve decided that it’s time for me to leave behind the beginner marathon programs and dip my toes into the more advanced stuff. Not gonna lie, the plan is actually really intimidating, with five – FIVE! – 20-mile runs. I’ve only managed to complete one 20-mile run during marathon training – and that was during my last cycle – so I figure that I might shoot for something more realistic, like two or three.
I also took the advice of Elle at A Fast Paced Life and downloaded the RLRF app for my phone. Now, the app is not fancy and it’s actually a little buggy, but it does what I need it to, which is take my goal time – which for me is sub 3:30 – and generate the workouts I need for that given day. It’s a lot more efficient than what I was doing, which was flipping back and forth between a pair of bookmarks in my book so I could figure out my target paces for the day’s workout.
On this day, the day after I spent the last two weeks basically face-first in a vat of sodium and gin, the RLRF program decided to kick things off with the following workout:
- 10-20 minutes of warming up
- 3 x 1600 at 6:39 with 400 recovery
- 10 minutes of cooling down
For those of you who do not speak run-dork-ese, “3 x 1600 at 6:39 with 400 recovery” basically means run a mile in 6:39, then recover with a jog or a walk for a quarter-mile. Repeat two more times, then vomit.
I laced up my shoes and ate my half-bagel with peanut butter and figured I’d give it my best shot.
I warmed up for about a mile and a half and then went through this whole series of stretches that I do for my IT band/emo knee that may or may not be totally psychosomatic (but who cares, because it works), and then I was off for the first mile.
The first mile was actually….okay. I mean, it was hard but I finished it in 6:42, which was considerably faster than I expected. I jogged for a bit then started on my second mile. And that’s when things got hard. Like, let’s talk about wind. What the hell is up with wind? I mean, it’s just moving air, right? Air is super-light! I can wave my hands around in it like nbd! But make that air move and suddenly it’s like being smashed in the face by a brick wall.
So I’m sure the fact that I was suddenly running into wind didn’t help, but if I’m being honest, the more salient point is probably that I’m out of shape and have been eating like crap for a month. Even so, I finished that mile in 6:59, but only because I managed to find a little extra something for the last tenth of a mile.
I jogged – okay, I bent over and panted, and then walked – for the recovery period, and then set off on the third mile. This time it was ugly. I’m pretty sure I scared the elderly couple out for their stroll when I came up galumphing behind them, grunting like a humpback whale with every exhalation. With a half-mile to go, my feet started scuffing against the asphalt, which was my sign to take some deep breaths, fix my form and re-focus my business. I somehow managed to get myself through that last mile in 7:04.
So that was my first training run for Project Boston, and it wasn’t pretty. But! I am also very encouraged by it, and I’ll tell you why. I took part in a clinic at the Top Gun Triathlon Shop earlier this month called “Mastering the Off Season,” which was held by Spencer Smith, who won two ITU World Championships back in the 1990s and now works as a coach.
Spencer had a lot of interesting things to say, but one of the things he talked about that resonated most with me is how a lot of athletes tend to overtrain because they lack confidence. They lack confidence in themselves, in their bodies, in their abilities, in their training plans. And so they treat every workout like a test: Do I still have it? Is it still there? Or is it all gone?
I will freely admit to having done this many, many, many times, especially in the past year and a half, as I’ve seen my athletic performances reach levels that had previously been unthinkable. There’s this part of me that’s always worried that it’s all a fluke, that it was just random happenstance and that I’m going to wake up one day and it’s going to be all gone. Literally, for an entire year, every time I went for a run and my legs felt tight, my mind immediately was like, “Well, that’s it, you’re never going to be able to run fast again, it was good while it lasted.” As I listened to Spencer, I realized this is entirely due to a lack of confidence in myself and my abilities.
And regarding the fact that I’m a little out of shape from the off-season? It’s not a big deal. My friend Lindsay commented on a recent post of mine about this, pointing out that elite athletes all have off-seasons like this. I think the fear among a lot of amateurs is that we think we’ll lose all of our fitness if we take a couple of months to just kick it on the couch, but I was doing some reading and I found a Runners Connect article that addresses exactly this concern.
The bummer is that you do lose your fitness after about two weeks, but the upside is that you only lose about 20 percent and the double-upside is that it comes back quickly, so it’s not the painful slog it was when we were first getting into shape. But again, as Spencer said, you have to trust your body and your training. You have to have a little confidence. You have to embrace the process and not focus so damn much on the outcome.
I kept these two things in mind this morning, particularly when things got tough. That’s why I felt great about my workout even though I didn’t hit my target paces. I’m not running like I know I can, but I know that with time and consistency (and Maude willing, some COOLER TEMPERATURES – it was in the mid-70s this morning!) I’ll be ready to run Boston and maybe knock down some PRs along the way. But for now, I’m just enjoying the process of getting my butt back in shape.