When I finish a big race the first thing I want to do is start planning my training for the next race. This happens regardless of how successful my race was. If all went well, I will be on a high for days and like all addicts will be searching for my next hit. If the race fell apart I will be desperate to prove to myself that I can do better. Despite post race fatigue I will find myself agitated, my mind desperately wanting to be back out on a course.
My body of course is a different matter. I am 47 years old and I came to running late. Recovery time isn’t a luxury, it is a must. As my mind starts looking ahead to training plans, my muscles and joints are happy to move at a pace no faster than a walk .
Like so many other runners I have talked to, after a week or two of rest I start to get worried about losing fitness. Logically we all know that months of training does not disappear in a matter of weeks. That said we also all know how quickly a slow 5k can feel like a marathon after some time off. But if I were honest, what scares me even more is that sometimes after a break even my mind starts to get used to a more lazy lifestyle. Not having to schedule running into my day seems like a holiday. Not worrying about clean tech gear and whether the Garmin is charged becomes somewhat freeing. Watching hourly forecasts becomes a thing of the past. The days seem a little longer and productivity sometimes even increases – sometimes. But then there is that schedule that you started looking in the days after the race. It is sitting there on your computer, or posted on your fridge, or on your bedside table, reminding you that this is what you do. Being a runner is part of who you are, during the highs and of course through the lows. Without the direction of a goal, without the daily push, something is missing and it is time to start again.
So here I am, back trying to get my mileage up to ultra marathon standards. A couple of easy single digit runs will once again no longer be enough. I’m not even starting at the beginning of a schedule, but instead starting 7 or 8 weeks into one. Somehow, there are only 11 weeks until my next ultra. In my non-running life, 11 weeks feels like the distant future. On a training schedule though it seems like a blink of an eye. Add to it the fact that I think I am now training for what will truly be my toughest race so far, The Run for the Toad 50k.
The Niagara Ultra, despite being my first 50k, felt familiar to me. Paved paths, minimal hills… I went into it knowing that if I didn’t get injured I would finish. Now though my mind is playing games with me. Sure I have proven that I can run 50k but that little voice keeps reminding me that the Toad is on trails where I am notoriously slow. It is one rolling hill after another. It has the potential to be wet, muddy and slippery. I have to pass the finish line THREE times before finally crossing it and being done. There is a spot with stairs – STAIRS! – on the course that I will have to do 4 times. And the steepest hill is at the end of the loop, meaning that the fourth time I have to climb it I will be approaching 50km. Suddenly the fact that I have completed a 50k race before seems irrelevant.
These are the head games running plays with you. You build yourself up, amazed by what your body can accomplish and then somehow you get knocked down again, only to start the process all over. This is the cycle we runners go through regardless of our speed or ability. Fall down, get back up. Slow down, speed up. Hit the wall, break down the wall.
The most important part I guess is to just make sure you are willing and brave enough to start the cycle again.
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