While reading my rant from yesterday, an alert relative picked up on my mention of a fall marathon. Yes it’s true, I am back to marathon training. Some of you may recall that I did marathons for several seasons, back-to-back, resulting in being in some stage of marathon training for three straight years. While I loved it, I was feeling the need to switch it up. I decided to take a year off from marathon training (resulting in roughly 18 months between races) and do something different.
To be more specific, I thought I would spend some time focussing on speed. While training for marathons, I found the endurance training took away from my ability to do focussed speed work. Some of that may have been my base and level of experience, but whatever the reason, I wasn’t getting any faster.
My plan to actually focus on speed was a dismal failure. I didn’t set up a schedule or adhere to a regimen; I did hills when I felt like it, intervals maybe half a dozen times, and some fartleks because they’re fun. The only things I did anything near consistently were tempo runs, and probably because you don’t really have to think. Concentrate, yes; work, for sure. But think? Not so much. Anyway, all this to say: I really enjoyed just playing for a year.
An interesting side effect has been that, despite my lack of actual structured speed work, I have gotten faster. Not fast, by any means, but definitely faster. In the past year I have maintained my fitness roughly around half-marathon level – that is, I could run a half marathon, even if I wasn’t ready to race it, at a moment’s notice – by doing nearly-weekly long runs ranging from 16-24 km, with my weekly mileage sitting around 45-50 km. I ran a lot of races over that time period – more races than in any other 12-month period in my life. And, I watched my PBs fall, one after another, throughout that time.
I have speculated on why that would be, and here’s what I have come up with:
– Not spending as much time recovering from my long runs has meant that my everyday casual pace has just gotten faster because it didn’t feel as taxing on rested legs
– Generally having a higher level of fitness from all of that marathon training than I had when I last attempted many of the other distances at which I have shown improvement
– I surprised myself at the first race where I wasn’t watching my time; that little taste gave me more confidence
– More races = more race experience with less at stake – that is, I was more willing to take risks when it wasn’t “the only race” I was doing that season, so it wouldn’t be that big of a deal if I blew up, which gave me…
– A better idea of where my redline is – pushing harder, tolerating more discomfort than before, and not dying fed back into the cycle of confidence
All of this together combines into what might be one of the most – I won’t say THE most important, because without the base, the recovery, the race experience, etc., this alone wouldn’t be enough – but one of the most important points is: I have came to the startling conclusion that maybe, just maybe, I am not “a slow runner.”
Not to say that I am “a fast runner,” however, the application of “slow” as a label – an identity even – rather than a speed on any particular day, was allowing me to stay in my comfort zone. My lack of confidence, my need to be self-deprecating, my irritating habit of comparing myself to others despite constantly preaching how useless and inappropriate it is to do so, had all been holding me back more than I could fathom. It was permission to stay at the back, to let up when the going got tough, to believe that my genetics or whatever factors beyond my control were limiting me, when really, it was my own brain the whole time.
The kicker was that, deep down somewhere, I kind of knew that the whole time, but had to prove it before I would even look at it on a conscious level.
So now, even though I always knew it, I have a deep and intimate understanding, a verstehen if you will, of how one’s level of fitness and ability is not an end-state, but a process, and one that is not necessarily linear. That is, if I do the work, push the boundaries, and accept the challenges, I can get faster, while if I back off, change priorities, or drop it entirely, I can slow down. The labels are fleeting, so one can choose not allow oneself to be limited by them.
With all that said, I am ready to take my newfound-easy pace into marathon training, hopefully maintaining it while I work on building my endurance back up. It’s too early to set a time-goal for my fall marathon, however, suffice it to say that I hope it will be one more PB that falls by a significant margin.