For me, running a 100 mile week is like living (and aging) through four seasons. The beginning of each week brings, as George Costanza would say, “rejuvenation, rebirth…all that crap.” But two easy Monday runs (because yeah, you have to do two-a-days to fit all that juicy mileage in) does not a week make. Each subsequent run edges me closer to the next season, deeper into exhaustion, ultimately plunging me into the depths of winter. At this stage I long for the thaw to come, balancing on the knife’s edge of fatigue, hunger, and madness until the sweet spring of a rest day arrives. In this kinder, gentler season I resemble a human being again, and wonder just what was I complaining about in winter? My coach calls this good tired. By Wednesday night, I call it madness. Here’s a glimpse:
Tuesday Morning (Workout Day, e.g. 14mi total; 4mi warmup + 7x1mile w/ 60s rest + 3mi cool):
Awake. Not in the “lazily coming to” kind of way. This is alert, as though I haven’t been asleep for god knows how long. Which gets me thinking, “Just how long have I been asleep?” My eyes search the darkness. Darkness. That’s a good sign. It means that the dawn hasn’t begun to break yet. Which means that I have at least another hour left. In addition to “awake,” I am also “drenched,” i.e. in my own sweat. Apparently I’ve interrupted my body rigorously repairing itself from the 16 miles the day before and preparing itself for the 19 mile day coming entirely too soon – either that or I’ve peed. And speaking of…
I take the opportunity to let the cool air in the bedroom dry my perspiration. I totter gingerly to the bathroom and empty out the tea I drank prior to bed. I favor the tightness in my right heel from an angry plantar fascia, and a taut-like-a-bow-string IT band that hasn’t released as much as I would have liked. But, hey, it isn’t morning yet.
When I slip back into the damp sheets, it is time for truth. I peek at our clock and see 3:10 staring back. A little less than two hours. I’d like to say that I fall back into a deep, restorative sleep, but instead I lay uneasily thinking about the workout to come. I eventually nod off, but it brings anxious, vivid dreams. The kind where I’ve overslept and scramble to get the very run in that I’m preparing for in t-minus however many minutes. Or I’m in the middle of a hockey game and can’t pull on my goalie gloves in time for the faceoff. Normal stuff.
If the alarm does finally go off – the alternative being preemptively turning it off and just “getting on with it” – I leap from bed, pull on the shorts waiting for me on the dresser, attend to some basic hygiene, lace up, and am out the door before the sweat can even dry on the sheets.
Tuesday Evening (5mi easy + core): The morning is most like the beginning of summer, with the proverbial dog days languishing into evening. Fatigue lingers in my muscles from the morning, but once I’m actually running, I’m pleasantly surprised how my stride unspools. This brief optimism is a combination of summer hanging on, and the crisp fall air. I fall into a deep, dreamless sleep that night, feeling that as I close my eyes, that crispness has a frigid edge to it. As the Starks would say, “Winter is coming.”
Wednesday Morning (11mi easy): Exhaustion creeps in and settles like a heavy fog. Instead of “awake!” I sleep nearly to the alarm, i.e. 5-7 minutes before it’s due to go off. When I look at the clock, I am shaken at how tired I still am and how little I have left to sleep. I push the enormity of the run out of my head, “being rather than becoming,” I tell myself. My form eventually takes over, the run comes to me, and somehow I’m back in front of my house again. While I sit at the top of the stairs and unlace my shoes, it hits me: I have to run six more tonight.
I don’t eat during the day, I consume. My lunchbox is bulging with Tupperware and I wrestle with whether or not to go to the PotBelly across the street for an “emergency salad,” at 10:00 a.m. so no one gets hurt. Mentally this is post-holidays, bleak, nothing to look forward to winter.
Wednesday Night (6mi easy + core): Last double of the week. I trudge up the stairs to my car in the parking garage and wonder how – and if – I will rally. The first few strides are awkward and the word that passes through my head over and over is “galunking.” As in, I’m galunking along the street with barely any semblance of form. I’m trapped in a heatless cabin, “Trapped!” dripping down the panes.
Thursday Morning (12mi easy): The alarm buzzes. Who am I? I feel I have just closed my eyes. Suddenly I’m two miles into my run, drifting. Large segments of the route disappear from my conscious. It’s peaceful and startling all at once. When I come to, I try to force a return to this zen-like state, but of course forcing it is not zen-like at all. I think about work (boo), about the upcoming weekend with Mrs. OTBR (yay), about some childhood memory (aww).
Thursday Night (0mi): I am worthless. A zombie. My dog and I hit the far reaches of our afternoon walk loop (a half mile out) and pause at the crosswalk and, nearly in tears, I wonder how we’re going to get back to the house because I could curl up right here and fall asleep. “Save yourself, Mattie. Or better yet, go bring me food.” At night, I prepare to get into bed, but before I do, I pause, look lovingly at it, and say aloud, “I missed you.”
Friday & Saturday morning (11 and 20mi, respectively): I’m not dead yet! I think I’ll go for a run. With 24 hours of rest, my body has been busy stitching itself back together. It’s like I woke up and the birds started singing, the bees buzzed, and yes, those are buds on the trees. I’m hitting 6:30 pace and not giving it a second thought.
Sunday Morning (6mi easy): Ten hours of sleep. I swing my legs from the bed and pull on shorts and shoes. I start at an easy trot and wonder, “What was the deal with Tuesday-Thursday Brad? What a complainer.”