It’s funny how context can get away from us.
I felt like 2017 was just such an “off” year for me running and fitness wise. I never felt fast, never had a great race, never had just a GOOD cycle of training. I gained weight and couldn’t lose it. I felt like I lost a lot of strength in the gym. It was the first time in a several years that I felt like I went 12 months without even a few weeks of feeling fit and comfortable with my own body. I felt like I was trying to move with the parking break on all year. It was weird. It sucked.
That feeling continued into the new year. Couldn’t shake it. After doing a couple local 5k’ish races, my times only confirmed what I was sensing – my legs weren’t turning over. Running full out downhill at a pace that’s slower than my SLOWEST marathon pace in 10 years was a terrifying prospect. “What is going on?” I ask myself that question on almost every run now.
I don’t know why, but for some reason while I was working with a patient earlier this week, I remembered the first run I went on when I moved to Colorado. On my virgin run voyage at altitude (7,800 feet in Alamosa) I made it about 5 minutes before I felt like there was battery acid in my lungs. My nose bled like I had just been knocked out on the playground in 6th grade. I had to walk not even a mile in. I had been planning on running the Dallas White Rock Marathon that December. It was late August and I couldn’t even run a mile without having to walk or my nasal vasculature needing a transfusion. This was going to be, as the kids say, a s-show.
I remember thinking, “what am I doing? Seriously, what the f am I doing?” I wasn’t fit at the time – barely running 10-20 miles a week. I had been living at about 2,000′ of elevation. I had spent the summer drinking way too much Newcastle and eating way too much late night Taco Bell and generally acting like an idiot. Morale was low. As were peak and sustainable aerobic capacities.
But everything gradually got better as I kept training. Like way better than I could have thought. I started running with a post-grad marathoner from Adams State a few times a week, Zoila Gomez. She was training for the Olympic Trials in 2007 at the time. Zoila somehow found it in her patient, kind heart (nicest, most positive person you’ll ever meet – she ended up finishing 4th in the trials in 2007) to drag around this idiot from Kansas who was moving in reverse. She told me about some workouts she would do on the track. So I did them – about 90 seconds slower per mile than the stuff she was doing – but I did them. I went from running 15 miles a week to 30. Then 50. Then a couple weeks at 60 miles per week. Mile times I could barely finish for one rep in August were sustainable on repeat by October. I went down to Dallas that December and took almost 7 minutes off my marathon time and broke 3:00 for the first time – 2:59:23.
When I ran my first marathon in 2003, I never would have thought breaking 3 hours was possible. In 4 months I went from barely being able to finish an easy two miles at altitude to running the last mile of a marathon at sub 6 minute pace. I know that’s not a really remarkable time – I’m pretty sure there are 10 other physical therapists in Colorado Spring that have better marathon PR’s – but at the time, I was damn proud of breaking 3 hours. It was something I never thought even possible when I first started running.
I guess that was one long ramble-on anecdote at attempting to bring home the point that you can surprise yourself – you’re often more capable than you think, and closer than you think to making a big break.
And also to underscore the point that staying positive and being objective are both necessary.
It only “felt” like last year was a bad training and racing year. Sure, there were no “great” races, but I also know I ran the most miles I’ve ever run, I put in more vertical than I ever have, I ran sub 3:00 at Boston, I ran a PR at the Pikes Peak Marathon (9 minutes, but I’ll take it), and I ran my first 50 miler. There’s so much random stuff and so many different training focuses (foci? Latin anyone?) in that mix that maybe I wasn’t supposed to come out of the year with a bucket of personal best times and quads full of speed. Instead, I got a lot of great racing experiences around the country with my friends and my wife and more aerobic fitness than I’m giving myself credit for. Just need to keep at it, get on some intervals, get my butt kicked by faster friends at races for a while, and things will turn out fine.
If I’m healthy at the Zion starting line in 10 weeks, I’ve got a shot at surprising myself. It wouldn’t be the first time. I know it won’t be the last.