Monday, March 26, 2012

Countdown: 20 days. "Hanging on by my fingernails"

Date: March 26
20 Days until the Boston Marathon

Three weeks out from Boston and I'm back at this difficult, yet familiar place: the "I'm really tired - is it over yet?" place.

With fatigue setting in from week after week of heavy training, my mind and spirit are beginning to feel the strain.  Yes, I recognize this feeling well.  Legendary ultra-runner Bruce Fordyce refers to this state as "the Fordyce Prima Donna Syndrome".  It's a place that many endurance athletes arrive at after weeks of pushing their body further and harder to strengthen it for race day.  It's can be summed up in two words: total exhaustion.  

There are many challenges associated with the fatigue that comes from heavy training.  Sleep becomes more illusive as my "restless legs" keep me awake through the dark hours of the night.  I've lost the patience and attention span for normal social interaction, and crave quite time to myself.  I dread my training schedule, and drag myself through workouts that my body is just too tired to do.  Grumpiness overtakes me as, day after day, I convince my lactic acid laden legs to keep moving through short runs and long rides on the bike.  

How does one keep going when everything in their body is screaming to just go to bed and stay there for about two days straight?  The first time I went through this, I worried a lot.   I would lay my head down at night wondering how the hell I was going to run a marathon feeling as weak and tired as I was feeling.  I still recall that rainy day in 2010 when I was 15 days out from race day and on my final long run before my two week taper.  I had 34 kms on deck that day, and about 28kms into the run, I crumbled.  Feeling utterly spent in every way, I sat down on the side of the road and cried in the cold, spring rain.  After 10 minutes of sobbing, I picked myself off of the curb and pushed myself to complete the 6 kms home.  

I had a similar experience this weekend.   I set out on Sunday for one of the long bike rides that I do on the weekend to replace the long runs that I WOULD be doing if I wasn't injured.  With 100kms as my goal distance, I was already entertaining thoughts of quiting by 15 kms into the ride.  With more than two and a half hours of cycling left to do, I came face to face with the difficult question: how bad do you want it?  Sure - you could go home and sit on the couch and pretend it doesn't matter...or does it?  

The difference between last weekend and that rainy, spring day in 2010 is that today I know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and I can muscle through the tough times knowing that this is all part of the process, and that my perseverance will be rewarded.  Sometimes, in running and in life, we feel like we're just hanging on by our finger nails.  Sometimes we need to dig deep and ask ourselves "how bad do you want it?".  Training for marathons has helped me see that, just when I think I'm at my limit, I have "6 more kms" in me.  I think we all do - if we want it bad enough.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

27 days till Boston: "How to train for a marathon WITHOUT running."

March 19, 2012
27 days till the Boston Marathon.

I've been training for the Boston Marathon for a little over two months now, and I'm in the midst of the heaviest training I will do in preparation for marathon day.  The catch is: even now in the peak of my training, I'm not running more than 6 kms at any one time.  Are you scratching your head?  Yeah, I don't blame you.

When I was training for the Boston Marathon last year, I didn't think I could possibly experience more drama in the training process.  I was suffering from a pesky (and concerning) pain in my groin that was causing the same symptoms as a bone fracture.  With only six weeks left to go until race day 2011, I was told to stop running, and had to complete all of my heaviest training exercises on the bike and in the gym.  I was ecstatic when, come marathon day, I was able to not only complete the marathon, but run a personal best and qualify for Boston 2012.

Fast forward a year, and I find myself suffering from the same injury once again, only this year I know the reason for the pesky pain.  My "pain in the butt" (literally) is caused by bursitis and calcification on my hamstring and adductor.  Sounds complicated, no?  All that needs to be said is that I have experienced pain with every strike of my left foot since my training began in January.  

With a diagnosis in hand, the prognosis was inevitable: stop running!  Stop running?  Are you kidding me?  But I NEED to run this marathon!  I WILL run this marathon!  With more than 10 weeks left in my training plan, the doctors advised me that I need to stop running or find myself in unbearable pain come race day.  I'm lucky to have a small team of medical Jedi's on my side - directing me to a variety of treatments designed to get me in "better" shape for the race.  I've had shock wave therapy shot into my adductor to break up the calcium deposits, and deep tissue massage that has brought tears to my eyes.  I've even had cortisone injections in my hamstring. (you know you're serious about a race when you'll face a three inch long needle in the toosh to relieve some pain.)  I've been replacing all of my runs with cross-training ever since mid-January.  Hour after mind-numbing hour spent on spin bikes, ellipticals and stair machines to try to build my endurance in preparation for the day I need to run 42 kms.  

Yes, I am the marathon runner who doesn't run.  What an unenviable moniker that is...

Ain't no mountain high enough!  I have always subscribed to this doctrine when it comes to my running - even when the obstacle is not to run at all.  It takes a lot of faith to train for a marathon without running.  I would be lying if I said that I haven't doubted my progress on more than one occasion.  But here I am: 27 days until race day, and I'm STILL keeping the faith.  Luckily spring has arrived early, and I have been able to get some great workouts in on the bike, but there is still much to do...and only 27 days left to do it in.

Tomorrow brings another day of faith, determination and sore legs.  One more day closer to the big test.  I guarantee I'll make it to the start line, but will I make it to the finish?