Alright kiddos, it’s taper time again. That means I’m voracious, energetically exhausted, and second-guessing everything.
September wasn’t the greatest month for a number of reasons, and I totally slacked on my posts. So I’m going to use this week to play catch-up with everything. You know, in case I have regular readers who missed me.
I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it here before, but I’m 95% sure that I’m running the Chicago Marathon on October 13th. I feel like this is the first marathon where the stakes are high and I have to do well. All of my other marathons have been for fun, but this one is for serious. I have a coach. I’ve been training my ass off. I can’t fuck up now.
My last 22-miler on my Chicago plan was a relaxing run through the tiny kingdom of Mountain Brook. I ran on a Monday before work after bailing at mile 9 on Saturday because of crazy rain. I could have kept running, but didn’t—a hot shower and extra sleep won out.
My trail friend Greg started at the ungodly hour of 4 a.m. and ran the first 12 with me before the sun came up and the creeps with sharp hedge clippers (true story) retreated back into the shadows of people’s nightmares. The final 10 I ran solo, giving me plenty of time to admire the signs of fall and to worry about Chicago.
Since July, I’ve been training with Resolute Running for the Chicago Marathon. As I’ve mentioned before, Coach Alex’s method is to start runners off slower than maybe they’re used to, and gradually reintroduce speed as they becore more comfortable with the workouts and schedule. So I’ve been obediently running my prescribed paces—usually. Sometimes. Oh hell, I try! But when I saw that my last 22-miler was still at a 10 minute pace, I balked. How will I run sub 9 at Chicago if I never trained for it?
So this past weekend, I cornered Coach Alex during our long run to find out the method behind the madness for training slow, racing fast. All of his runners keep setting PRs, so how does it all work? We chatted over the course of a mile-and-a-half uphill (hooray for increased lung capacity) and I got some great info that I’ll try to spit back accurately.
Coach Alex explained that long runs are meant to teach your body to burn fat for fuel instead of tapping into your glycogen reserves, promote mitochondria growth (the powerhouse for energy in your body), minimize the effects of fatigue and risk of injury so you can train hard on other days, strengthen your slow twitch muscle fibers, and keep you on your feet for extended periods of time. The more time you spend slowly running, the more time your body has to adapt and start burning fat for fuel. You’ve heard about that marathon wall everyone talks about? Well, that is simply your body running out of fuel, leading to muscle fatigue and your body wanting to shut down. In our training we are working to move that wall farther out than the traditional 18 to 20 miles. By doing so, your body will tap into your glycogen reserves later in the race so you can plow right through that bitch like the Kool-Aid man. Oh yea!
The rest of our workouts focus on moving our lactate threshold and increasing our VO2 Max. Our tempo runs and some speed work sessions like threshold repeats are designed to make sure our bodies can process the lactate acid build up in our body more efficiently. By doing so we can run faster, for longer, and do so efficiently. Other sessions like 200m repeats—my fav—make you feel like your lungs are on fire but increase your VO2 Max so that you can run like the wind. It’s all about getting as much oxygen into your body as you can! So, roll all of those workouts together and you have one well-rounded runner ready to kick ass in a race.
So all that being said, everything I’ve been doing has been prepping me for Chicago—whether I realize it or not. My 15-miler at 9:18 this past weekend helped settle some of my nerves. The weather was perfect, the pace felt easy, and the company was great. One hill in particular that’s notorious for being a pain in the ass—Niazuma—was actually enjoyable.
Here’s one last thought about this taper. Coach Alex sent us our speedwork email last week and brought up some great points about runners feeling scared before a race. Because I can’t say it better, here it is:
One race will not define who I am. I’ll be damned if I will be driven by fear as I go into my race. I will run with all my heart and do everything I can to reach my goal because I BELIEVE it is possible and that is all that matters. I will TRUST my training and work my ass off. And when I cross the finish line of my race, if I did everything in my power to reach my goal and I can walk away with a clear conscience which says, you gave all you had, then I’ll be happy.
“I believe I will make my goal, but if I don’t I will not sulk, pout, or bitch. I’m running this race for my entire life, not for the next 3 months. I will keep running races, I will keep striving to reach new goals, and the majority of the time I will hit them. Sometimes I will miss, but don’t think for one minute I won’t stop trying.
All true, right? I run because it’s fun. I get to play outside, clear my head, push my body, be with friends. I don’t normally allow stress into my runs—there’s enough of that in the real world. So I sure as hell won’t let it dictate my race. I don’t need a chip time to overshadow the hard work it took to get there.
If I PR at Chicago, great. I’ll have that 4-hour monkey off my back. If I don’t, that’s ok too. I know that there will always be another race, and no matter what I am a stronger runner than I have ever been. And that counts for something.