The Beginning of the End.

Today was the first run of the last set of “build up” weeks of the marathon training program I’m in.  The schedule has consisted of four, month-long sets, each consisting of three weeks of building up mileage and intensity, followed by a recovery week where we lower the mileage and intensity.

To give you an idea of the progression, the first tempo run we did was three miles total with 10 minutes at our tempo pace, which is slightly faster than our goal pace for the marathon.  Today’s tempo run was 8 miles with 35 minutes at the tempo pace — the tempo portion was longer than the whole first run!

All in all I am feeling great.  I replaced my running shoes a couple of weeks ago and this pair definitely feels better than the last — even though they are the same shoe.  Though the shoes have stayed the same, I’ve changed a lot as a runner.  For starters, I call myself a runner now without a hint of doubt whether I qualify.  I figure if you run 17 miles, no matter how slow, you’re a damn runner!  I definitely have runner’s feet — three toenails in various stages of falling off, new calluses and blisters everywhere.  I’ve added body glide and Vaseline to the box of running stuff I keep on the nightstand and have developed a fixation on the perfect running sock.

The main thing is the change in my confidence.  I don’t wonder whether I can complete the distance anymore.  I know I can.  Having that confidence allows me to relax more, before and during the run.  I’ve unplugged.  I’m running without the iPod and loving it.  Initially I used it to distract me from things like the distance, to fill my head with noise to keep myself from filling my head with doubts and endless sessions of bargaining with myself over when to walk and for how long.  I actually did Sunday’s long run without my Garmin – so I had no idea what my pace or distance was.  At first I was a bit panicked by the data deprivation but within a few minutes I was over it and ended up having more fun on that fun than I have in a long time.  I just ran.  I found a comfortable stride, enjoyed the scenery and company of the other runners and trainers.

I’ve reached the point where instead of walking when I feel fatigued, I just run slower and where 4miles seems like a “home stretch.”  I don’t worry about stopping or walking though during a run.  It used to be that slowing to walk, or stopping for water was the top of the slippery slope toward quitting — now it’s just a quick break to catch my breath, eat a Gu, or refill a water bottle…nothing more.  I guess my major challenge at this point is that I’ve grown to love the longer distance runs, but also to hate carrying stuff with me or having to wear a fuel belt…but I know that I run better when I’m constantly hydrating so I’m kind of stuck.  I don’t know how some of these guys do it, only drinking every three miles or so at water fountains…of course they cover that distance a hell of a lot faster than me.

The next three weeks are going to be tough, long tempos, mile repeats in intervals, and long runs of 18-22 miles but I am excited.  My nervousness at this point extends just to avoiding germs — I don’t want to catch anything.  I didn’t realize I’d crossed that threshold until we went to church Sunday…won’t be doing that again before the marathon I can tell you!  No offense baby Jesus, but I want to move into a bubble.

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