Writing and running in Austin, TX.
It’s 5:30 pm on a Saturday night, and I feel like I could go to bed now and sleep until morning. (Except that the dog would probably whine about not getting her evening walk.)
The source of my exhaustion? A 12-miler. Not exactly epic distance, but the farthest I’ve run since Chicago. And my average pace for this adventure? 11:57. Ouch. As I said in an email to my greatly-missed Austin running partners, “My, how the mighty have fallen.”
(And that’s right…Garmin is back… There’s shark music playing in my head right now.)
But never fear! As usual, I have an excuse.
This week was my first serious week back in training since Canada, and today’s run my first long run in 3 weeks. Two weeks ago Saturday we were flying back to Germany from Winnipeg, and one week ago Saturday I was doing my best to recover from the Canadian plague.
Throughout my training for Chicago, I marveled at the fact that I was never once felled by serious illness. (I marveled very quietly, of course, because karma is not a force to be toyed with.) Training for Dusseldorf was not to be so blessed.
We runners often debate the merits of running through illness. A person can say, “I missed my long run this week because I had a cold,” and a runner will hear, “I missed my long run this week because I’m a gutless pansy who doesn’t deserve to wear these high-tech short shorts.” And colds aren’t the only things we’ll run through. Is there any other sport in the world that takes such delight in the topic, “How to persist through GI distress.”? This week I’ve been reading Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Field Manual (book review to come), and he even includes helpful pictures of plants that you should not substitute for toilet paper in a pinch. (Always remember: Leaves of three, let her be.)
Anyway, prior to this particular plague, I’ve always fallen on the “crazy runner” side of the debate. After all, if it’s cold enough, your nose is already going to run no matter what. Grab a pocket-pack of Kleenex — or a shirt with a sleeve that won’t rub the skin off your face — and hit the road!
Alas, the Canadian plague was not the kind of illness a pocket-pack can hold at bay. (And I’ve got four 20-liter trash bags full of used tissue to prove it.) This illness attacked Handsome J’s mom just before our arrival in Winnipeg, passed to his dad for the bulk of the holidays, and hit him on our return flight. My contraction of the thing was inevitable. And believe me, it did not hold back.
The plague started with a sort of all-over muscle ache that was particularly acute along either side of my spine. That was followed by chills that lead me to crank our German geo-thermal heating to 6 (the “roast a turkey” setting) and bury myself under two down blankets. That, of course, was followed by fever, a borderline migraine headache, and aching in my legs that made me wonder if I would be dedicated enough to continue my running career as a double amputee. (I am in no way making light of the actual double-amputee runners out there. I’ve read about you, and I know you can kick my a*s.)
I won’t go into too much detail about the final phases of the plague, but those four 20-liter trash bags were involved. Even now, a week and a half later, I occasionally cough up…oh, never mind. That’s just gross.
Suffice it to say, this illness laid me out. And now so has my first week back on the program. Not long ago, the New York Times ran an article about a study that found that people who are already fit can maintain previously high levels of fitness with some relatively-modest maintenance work:
Five weeks “of markedly reduced training in a group of elite athletes seems effective for minimizing the large declines” in conditioning “that take place by completely stopping physical training,” the authors wrote.
Okay, that’s great. But first off, most of us are not “elite”. Also, these particular athletes were kayakers. Now kayaking is a crazy challenging (or at least just plain crazy) sport, but it’s not running. And I am here to tell you, harshly and with no sugar-coating, that for a runner, this is NOT TRUE. If you don’t run at all for a week and skip two weeks worth of long runs, you will feel PAIN. (Not to mention anger when you see your mile splits.)
I got through today’s humiliation by repeating a few thoughts to myself, mantra-like. The first was, “Why is this city so g*ddamn hilly?” (And having just watched Get Low on the plane back from Canada, I thought this to myself in the gravelly drawl of Robert Duvall.) The second was, “They say your long runs should be 1-2 minutes slower than your marathon goal pace.” (Do I know anyone who runs their long runs 2 minutes slower than goal pace? No. For most of us, I think this phrase is there so we don’t completely lose all perspective on life if we have a bad run.)
The third and final thought: “This isn’t my fault. I’ve been sick.”
Which is comforting. Unless I get sick again…
So it’s decided. For the next 4.5 months, I will be the picture of wellness. Because if I miss another week of training, Dusseldorf’s 5:30 cutoff is going to be a serious problem.