Saturday, September 12, 2015

Marathon Training, and What Has Become of Me

There (probably) comes a time in every runner's life where they get cocky and decide that, having done a handful of half-marathons, they might as well run a full one because really, how much worse can it be?  Okay, so maybe that only happened to me, and it happened right around the time I was putting together my list of 30 things to accomplish by the time I'm 30 - a list that I plan to modify based on a new idea I've had.  So, with the ambition and confidence of a person who has never run longer than 21 kilometres, I signed up for the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, and will be running it (if I survive the remaining weeks of training) on October 18th, 2015!

At about this time last year, I went to Val’s high school graduation and accidentally spent three hours talking to her friend’s dad about running. It was the sort of thing where everyone leaves, and these two incongruous people (“Hey, isn’t that your dad, with…your friend's sister?”) are yelling things like “But have you felt the inclines of the Toronto terrain?!” and “I thought I’d never beat my PB but it’s all about dedication!” while waiters delicately rolled up the tablecloth around us. What I remember most about that conversation was Mr.Dad’s warning: “You think you’re ready for a marathon, but even running ten extra kilometres is insane for your body.”  I think it was at that point that I really knew I had to try, and while he suggested I start with a 30k race, I decided to go big or go home. That’s what she said.

For my training, frequent marathon-runner and general life enthusiast Anais suggested that I try the Hansons Marathon Method, (that's a link to a sassy article written in Runner's World) and over wine and fancy charcuterie, we discussed its benefits:

The idea behind this method is that you run more often, but shorter distances.  In fact, the longest distance you run is 16 miles or about 26km, and train your body to not just run a long distance, but to run when it's tired. You run 6 days, with one of them being your long distance day, and one day devoted to speed running where you basically sprint for specific periods of time, each week extending the speed runs. On the 7th day, you lie down in your refrigerator and sob into a sock. Then you start over.

Before starting the training, I pictured what life would be like running almost every day, and I figured I would just get used to waking up early and getting 'er done. I flipped through the Hansons book and, carefully considering my potential, chose my goal finish time.

"Okay, so 42k  is like one half marathon, then like...ten kilometres, then another ten, then just two more, and that's it. I should be able to finish in just under four hours. Let's say...3:55. Perfect." -Alisa, May 2015

"Okay, is it? sleep? Are these your hands around me, satan?"  -Alisa, September 2015

The book warned me that I would eventually be extremely tired, that it's just as much of a mental challenge as it is physical, and that I would likely have to work hard at fitting the schedule into my week. Now, on week 13 of 18, I know what they mean.  This summer has been so hot that, often, even waking up at 5:30 to run, I'd still struggle against the 26 degree heat. It's been humid, which makes it very hard to breathe, and my eyes burn every day from the stinging of the sweat pouring down my face. In short, these days, I am very attractive.  Other things that have happened on my training journey:
  • Ordering a celebratory coffee post long run and watching the cashier’s eyes widen, only to later discover that the sweat that had been pouring and pouring and pouring had dried up and crystallized into abstract designs all over my face until I inadvertently looked like Rorschach from Watchmen.

  • Running down the ever-busy Rideau street, clutching a bag of groceries because when your running takes up so much of your time you have no choice but to multi-task.  Here: an actual day of grocery running. Pictured: raggedy t-shirt, dish detergent, pack of 2 contact solution bottles, bar of dark chocolate, 9 kilometre run.  Not pictured: various heckling.

  • Attempting to run 16 kilometres on the most humid day of the century without hydration, staggering into a Tim Horton’s casually asking for a glass of tap water please, and hearing “You okay? Yo lips look  green, or white or somethin'” from the very sweet cashier who immediately helped bring me back to life. Side note: another reason to love Tim’s…they will not let you die!
  • Deciding that I had to have a spaghetti squash for dinner. Running to buy squash. Running back home clutching squash.  This was okay while I was on the running path, but when I had to take the main pedestrian roads I looked like a squash shoplifter. Cool.
Some of the less pleasant additions to my training ‘scrapbook’ have included a broken toe (actually a lot more painful than I thought it would be), a pulled thigh muscle which feels like basically one leg is shorter than the other and makes it very hard to fall asleep at night, a torn tendon in my pinky (pinkie?)  on account of holding my enormous phone in my hand while running for extended periods of time (like, HOW is that even a thing??), and generally, my feet being a complete mess. Almost every toenail is purple, almost every toe is a weird shade of greyish-blue, and, my heel was so cracked at one point that it bled all day, every day. Here is a picture of a squirrel eating a napkin. 

My dad calls me almost every evening now to tell me that I am doing a bad, bad thing and need to stop immediately and get into weight-training and take up boxing and drink raw eggs.  It’s getting to the point where I might take him up on the suggestion. But despite whining about it as I just did, I really have to say it’s been an incredible experience. I’ve never pushed myself this hard before, and didn’t know how persistent and stubborn my brain can be while my entire body is crying.

keep drinking dat haterade

an actual statue of Rocky that we saw in Philadelphia!

And speaking of the brain, an amazing thing happened on one of my long runs. As I often whine about in running posts, I am usually really sick after a half-marathon.  Like, almost dying, borderline puking, unable to walk, wanting to never run ever, ever again. The other day, however, I had a 26k run and after finishing it, I felt completely fine.  I stretched a bit, watched a couple of shows, then went out dancing with the girls.  The next day, I ran another 11 kilometres, and went on with my life.  It’s incredible how much of your physical perception of an experience is really just your mental perception.  When a 21k run is part of a race with a set beginning and end, my body let itself fall apart.  But, throw in a casual 26k run in the middle of training for a much greater goal, and my body was too busy with bigger ambitions to worry about feeling sick. I still can’t believe it. Super casual, no big deal, 26k, just like that.

On that note, I’m running the Army Run Half Marathon again this year, and just realized that it’s coming up next week, on September 20th! Last year, I was absolutely moved by my wonderful ex-boss who, seeing in what bad shape I was, ran beside me for nearly the entire race. This year, I won't be dehydrated and will run the race in his honour.

I still have a few weeks of training before the big race, but so far, I've learned a few things that I just have to share:

  • If you are training for a marathon and you are seriously committed to the training, be prepared for spending a lot of nights in, just sleeping. See you later, Mr.Vodka. You will be legit exhausted...often.

  • It's really, really important that you not only have the right running attire, but that it fits you properly as well.  After wearing an old top that had some threading come out, I ended up with a piece of skin missing from my body.  Not realizing that my long distance running shoes should be at least a half size bigger than my regular size, I injured two toes and turned my toenails purple (as I've already described, for your imagining pleasure).
  • If you have a group of people in your life who support your running, never take that for granted. Thank them at every chance you get, because whether you realize it or not, they're a huge part of every single one of your runs.

  • It's really, really important that you eat properly for energy and recovery from your running. There's nothing quite like that jittery, hollow feeling when you realize your brain is pushing your body but your body can no longer move (a sign that you haven't taken in enough calories to create that essential energy). I crave peanut butter 24/7 and while I give into this ridiculous craving, there also needs to be a ton of focus on complex carbs - don't just drink raw eggs please. Eat a really long banana, okay?

  • It's really, really important to have good music to run to.  One time, on a really long run on a really hot day, I got really moody and hated every song on my playlist.  I had no other music but an old Enya album. It was a dark, dark rest of the run.  Always have backup playlists, ugh.
  • Don't be afraid to instil a little competitive edge, if you're running with a group of friends. A little sass never hurt nobody, I always say.

  • If you see something funny along your run, take a picture. Eventually, you'll have an album of hilarious things that will make your running memories that much more rewarding.

(By the way, I'll post another piece on things I recommend for training and running, in the coming weeks!! )

I still remember the day, many years ago, when I told a guy I was dating that I wanted to try running. His response: "No you don't. Running sucks."  Shortly after, he was out of my life, and running was in.  I remember when I would leave the gym glowing because I was able to run non-stop for four minutes. I remember when I couldn't sleep the night before my first race, shaking from the nervousness I felt at running a 10k. I remember clutching my first medal and thinking, wow, I'm proud of myself.  Of course, the feeling of pride isn't something I experience often or for very long, so it faded in like seven minutes, but I think the pursuit of its elusive nature is a huge part of what drives me to try for longer and longer distances.  For most of my life, the idea of running a marathon was tucked away in my wildest dreams, like riding a dragon, or playing saxophone for the Swedish delegation. I never imagined myself training for a race like this, and now, here I am.

Will I even be able to finish the race? If my longest run during training is 26k, I really have no way to ever know how capable I am of running that remaining 16. My new goal is just to get to the finish line before they send out the slow-moving ambulance to escort the very ill/ill-prepared. I'd love to have a great finish time, but I really have no idea how I'm gonna do, and amazingly enough, I'm okay with that. See you soon Toronto!

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