When I said I was running a 20-miler this past weekend, most people were a little surprised that I'd have a training run of that distance so early on in the plan. But if I hadn't taken two weeks off, I'd be 5 weeks into the plan, which makes it slightly less surprising. And if you factor in the really strong base I had built up prior to the hip flexor issue arising, with long runs around 13 miles most weekends, it's even less surprising.
So yes, I ran 20 miles. And not only did I run 20 miles, but I absolutely crushed my pace goals, and felt great doing it.
Backing up a bit, though, it was a big week overall, with my first speed workout since August, and a really tough tempo run, also.
The speedwork was mile repeats, and I did them on the bike path on a very chilly day, and there is nothing quite like mile repeats to warm you up when the temperature is hovering around 20 degrees. By the time I started the third mile, I was wishing I had short sleeves on!
Even when I'm in the thick of training and doing speedwork once a week, I still get nervous before every workout. So heading out to do my first speedwork in months increased those nerves tenfold. But once I got warmed up, my head got in the game and I got to work. First mile in 6:52. Whew. Second mile in 6:49. Getting tired, but I know I can do the last one faster - 6:42.
And when I finished, I felt like I wanted to do one more - three didn't seem like enough. But I reminded myself that I hadn't done speedwork in several months, and I am still technically coming off an injury, so three was probably plenty. I had hoped I could do all of the repeats in under 6:40, but I'm happy with how the workout went, and I know if I continue to work hard, my times will drop.
Later in the week I tackled my first real tempo run, and it went better than expected. A one-mile warmup and one-mile cooldown, and 6 miles at an average 7:15 pace. I've long felt like those tempo runs are so instrumental in preparing for a marathon, and although I know speedwork is important, too, I feel like the tempo runs help me more mentally, as I'm forced to keep working hard without breaks - a skill that comes in really handy when you're running 26.2 miles :-)
Friday was an easy 7-mile run at sunrise, for which I was very grateful, and then a day of rest Saturday before the real test - the 20-miler on Sunday.
I had planned to run with friends from the beach, but life intervened and I ended up just running solo from home, but I think it worked out better in the end, as the route from home is the one I ran so many times while training for Boston 2013, and it is mostly downhill in the early miles and mostly uphill in the final miles, so it's a great Boston training route.
My goal was 5 miles at 8:40, 5 at 8:20, 5 at 8:00, and 5 at 7:50. What I did was 5 at 8:30, 5 at 8:15, 5 at 8:00 or just below, and the final 5 in 7:52, 7:48, 7:45, 7:36, 7:32. The last two miles were a struggle, but those were the only two miles where I felt really and truly challenged to hold the pace.
Finishing that run felt beyond amazing. I completely surpassed my goal, and I felt pretty great doing it. To know that I can run an effort like that so early in the training cycle gives me so much confidence that I can make some serious progress in the coming weeks, and I'm feeling much more optimistic about getting the PR I'm hoping for.
And thankfully, my hip responded incredibly well to such a tough week of training. I'm being extra diligent about foam rolling and stretching and strengthening, and keeping up with yoga a few times a week, and it has made all the difference in the world. My hip was tight and stiff after the 20, but by the next day, it felt fine. And thanks to all the extra recovery efforts, the rest of my legs felt great post-run, too. I could barely tell that I had run 20 miles the previous day.
So the body seems to be ok with going along for this ride, and after this week, I can safely say that the mind is stepping up to the plate, too. My fight is back, my resolve is back, and my passion is back. As I ran the mile repeats on Tuesday, I started thinking about how tired my legs were, and then I remembered that my legs are supposed to be tired. That's what marathon training is - teaching your legs to push through no matter how tired they are.
And when I ran the tempo miles Thursday, I had a moment of panic around mile 4, certain that there was no way I'd be able to hold the pace, and that I was too warm and I had to take my mittens off and unzip my vest and then I had a hill coming up in the next mile, and how was I possibly going to get this done???
And that's when the yoga creeped in - in a good way. I took a breath and the words that popped into my head were "Be here now." Instantly the panic vanished, and I knew that I needed to just focus on what I was doing right there at that very moment. One thing at a time. One step at a time. One mile at a time.
I can't say that the rest of the run was easy, because it wasn't - it was very challenging. But my head was in the right place to handle it, so even when it got tough, I kept going. And that is the final piece of the puzzle, and I'm so glad it's finally in place.
It takes a lot of physical training to prepare for a marathon, and that takes a lot out of you, but the mental training takes even more. And I think that dedicating myself to yoga and mini meditation sessions a few times a week is giving me an edge I've never had before. I've always been able to call up the mental toughness when I really needed it, but I feel like now there's more of a clarity and focus to it. It's not just the means to an end - it's engaging in the process and appreciating it for what it is.
So much of being a runner, and pushing yourself to improve, is all about movement. The running itself, the post-run recovery, the planning of your training schedule - it's all about action. But now I'm seeing that it can and should also be about the stillness in between the movement. I've never been the type of person who likes to be still. I have a hard time relaxing, and am very good at finding things to do even when there's really nothing that needs to be done.
But I'm learning that there are so many things to be found in stillness - joy, power, strength, solace, peace, clarity - but mostly joy. I still like to be busy, but I have a newfound appreciation and a newfound need to find times where I'm not busy - times to hit the pause button and recenter myself.
I feel very certain it's helping my running, and it's also helping my life. I find more reserves of patience with the kids (don't get me wrong - there are still plenty of times where they drive me completely insane and I lose it, but not as many times as there used to be), and I'm finding way more patience for and appreciation of winter.
Winter has thrown me for a loop the past few years, to the point where I've dreaded the arrival of the shorter days and colder air and seemingly endless snow and ice. But this year - aided by an unusually long, beautiful fall season, I have to add - I'm coping much better, and have even found myself truly enjoying running in the cold temperatures.
It's only January, though, and this is when the worst of the weather hit last year, and it didn't let up for nearly two months, so we'll see how I feel in March. I'm optimistic, though, and having a good attitude is half the battle.
So that's where I'm at - 3 weeks down, 13 to go. All In.