Saturday, November 6, 2010

Getting to the Pain

Growing up, my grandmother always told me, "Try something at least once.  That's the only way you know you won't like it."  She was referring to food, but today, I'm applying it to my running.

When she finally reached New York this week, some many days, months, and miles after deciding to take on what will become her first marathon tomorrow, Shalane Flanagan said in an interview with Flotrack that she had to learn patience in her marathon training.   And that patience meant stemming the inevitable pain and discomfort we all deal with when taking on those grueling 26.2 miles.  Let's be blunt: when you run a marathon, you're going to suffer.
But from what I've learned in recent races -- not just the marathon -- you can "get to the pain" as well.  I got a dose of this in the tuneup half marathon I ran back in March, and I'd say I got a full dose of it during the Army Ten Miler a few weeks ago.

This, to me, has become the physical difference between running a race and racing a race.  While it's still fun, and who doesn't love chalking up PRs, it's hard effing work.  I've read about elite runners and their coaches getting asked, "What's so and so's secret?"  Well, there's really no's the willingness to work.

What I haven't felt in my training perhaps, is that pain.  I don't mean to say that I shy away from my tough workouts.  I've spent many an evening after work, hands on knees, sucking air after a particularly merciless effort doing mile repeats or even 800s.

It's the long runs and the longish tempo runs that have proven cruel in these most recent training iterations.  My long runs have taken on a new form.  Or rather there are new elements to them.  Before, a long run was simply time on my feet.  Get out and just run for 14, 16, 20 miles.  And I still get those in.  However, in the last year, I've spiced things up with cut down runs (where the effort increases every 5K), interval long runs (run 60 mins comfortably then 20x1 min at 5K pace with a 1 min rest, wrapping up with 20 mins easy), and fast finish long runs (running the last 4-6 mi at marathon pace).  The purpose: learn to run fast while tired.

The cut down/fast finish long runs give me anxiety.  It's a mindset I need to break; otherwise, I'll put myself at a mental disadvantage during a race.  I can remember a couple of these runs in my Boston prep for this year that ended up being normal long runs because I psyched myself out of picking up the pace.

How do you know, though, unless you try it?  Today, the calendar called for a 12 mile cut down.  I spent the first 90 minutes of my morning eating oatmeal, drinking coffee, and watching NYC Marathon videos and interviews (I may have a problem).  That's when I came across the Flanagan interview.  That's when the light went off.  

So, I took off on my run this morning with the mindset that I've been through the ringer already.  I've gotten to the pain in races before and what do you know, I survived.  At each three mile checkpoint today, I spurred myself on, faster and faster, despite the terrain, despite the hills.  And you know what?  In some places it hurt.  In others the pace just flowed.  Similar to a race.  Some miles you're fighting it and you just want to turn in for the day.  Other miles, it comes on you miraculously, you're like the Traveling Wilburies and "just ridin' around in the breeze, feelin' all right."

While I won't run all of my runs this way because I don't want to leave my race out on a training run, I'm building up the mental (and physical) calluses to deal with the pain when I get to it.  Then it's not a surprise and I can call on those extra hard sessions to pull me through the tough spots.

Heeding my grandmother's advice, I'm now slurping down escargots...and attacking those runs head on, rather than stepping aside.

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