Friday, September 23, 2016

Berlin Marathon Training: A Season in Review

I'm a sucker for firsts. First love, first kiss, first time having, er, . . . So our culture loves to emphasize romantic firsts, but those aren't the only exciting kind. First time driving a car. First time living abroad. First time running one mile. Or two. Or 26.2.

Nothing will ever quite replicate the exhilaration and pride of finishing my first marathon. However, each marathon season has brought with it a number of other firsts, and this season has been no exception. Some of them have been good, some of them have been bad, but all of them have been memorable.


First time racing abroad. Technically this race hasn't happened yet, but I think it deserves to make the list. I've never even run a race in Canada, never mind on a different continent. After Sunday, I can check this feat off my bucket list!

First time running more than 70 miles in one week. I have a teammate who ran 80-100 training for her marathon, all while working (and traveling for) a full time job. I've decided she's superhuman. Meanwhile, I work from home and have fought the urge to nap so desperately in my life.

First time breaking the tape. Just to put this in perspective, I didn't WIN the race . . . but I did come in first in my age group heat at the Fifth Avenue Mile. The fact that I crossed the finish line first in a one-mile race was surprising enough, but what was even more astonishing (to me) was the fact that I did this at the end of a 70+ mile week of training. Bodies really can do amazing things.


First time worrying that my recovery runs were too slow. I never used to think twice about recovery runs (i.e., runs meant to accumulate "time on my feet," as opposed to structured, speed-based workouts). I'm a big believer in "running by feel," so what used to happen during my recovery runs is I'd step outside, feel like death for a mile or two, and then everything would loosen up and I'd start running at a "normal" pace again. This time around was different. I'd walk out the door, barely able to lift my legs, and for the entire run, my watch would read 8:15, 8:30, 8:45, 9:00 per mile. My body felt like it was fighting against giant, invisible rubber bands, and I had to learn to be okay with that feeling, put my head down, and trudge forward. Easier said than done.

70+ mile week foot. Gross.
First time looking backward to move forward. About midway through training, I suffered a crisis of confidence. I had a god-awful workout (was I getting slower?), started worrying that my prescribed workout paces were increasing (was I getting slower??), and couldn't seem to run a recovery mile under 8:30 (I was totally getting slower!!!). Also, for whatever reason, I was starting to feel neglected. Had Coach given up on me? Had I given up on me? Was I actually going to be in shape to run a PR at this upcoming marathon? My logical brain said, "Shut up, Allison. You ran a half marathon PR, just a few short months ago I might add, minutes faster than the last time you trained for a marathon. You're fine." Meanwhile, my emotional brain was still panicking. "Maybe you are mis-remembering everything. You have a terrible memory for numbers. Maybe you're not one step faster than the last time you trained for a marathon!" So I caved and looked back at my old training log. I just wanted to see: were my newer workouts harder? Was I running more mileage? Was I in better shape? Of course, the answer was yes. And then, as if he has a sixth sense (which he very well might), Coach called me two days later. So much for feeling neglected.


First time walking in a race. I like to think of myself as a decent racer. On most occasions, I can push through pain, not give up, and eke out a respectable performance. This particular half marathon was not one of those occasions.
I started off with my first mile already fifteen seconds behind pace, so I tried to be okay with that and stay in control as I waited for my body to loosen up, find its rhythm, do what it knows how to do. It never did. Instead, I went from mentally chanting "relax" to insisting "you're fine." When that failed, I started making deals with myself. If I could just get halfway, I could eat my Gu, and that would change things. Got halfway, ate the Gu, and nothing changed, except I started feeling sick. So then the goal became finishing without walking. Eventually, that goal also fell apart, making way for, "If you make it to the last 5k without walking, you can have one walking break," followed by, "If you make it to the last mile without walking more than once, you can have one more walking break." Never have I struggled so hard just to finish a race. And never have I felt so undeserving of an award–because, ironically enough, I was the first female to cross the finishing line (thankfully there was no tape to break). But sometimes life reminds you not to take these things so seriously. On the car ride home, I finally looked at the trophy I'd received, and what did I discover? They'd given me the "1st Place Male" by mistake. Go figure.

As you may be able to tell from the length of each item in this list, the "bad" items are weighing more heavily on my mind lately. But that is the curse of taper, right? You sit back, put your feet up, try to ignore the latest aches and pains, and hope that all the work you've put in for the many days and weeks and months leading up to the race will do its job.

So here's the bottom line, which I am writing as much for myself as for anyone who reads this: I know, in my heart of hearts, that I am not the same athlete now that I was eighteen months ago. Whether or not everything clicks on race day, and the clock and I emerge as friends, I've absolutely made progress. And that counts for something. It counts for a lot.