The Hay is in the Barn

Since beginning my 16-week training program for the New York City Marathon, I’ve been more than a tad derelict with updates.  Partly out of fear from jinxing the steady process, and partly due to a lack of time.  Over the course of the last four months I’ve done little more than work, run, eat and sleep.

As my legs undergo their final preparations and fortify the muscle fibers for what’s to come, I’ve begun readying myself mentally as well.  Just as the longest of the long runs are physiologically key, I believe they also hold some lessons in mental fitness that I’ll find just as useful on November 2.

The training program I followed prescribed three critical long runs, two 18-milers and a single 20-miler.  The first coincided nicely with NYRR’s TCS NYC Marathon Tune-Up (18M); the second with NYRR’s Bronx 10-miler; and the final with NYRR’s Staten Island Half.  This collection provided for an extremely useful trichotomy.

TCS NYC Marathon Tune-Up

Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at 5.14.21 PMThere’s no denying that traipsing through Central Park’s hilly 6-mile loop three times would serve as a significant test two-months into my training.  Though it would be a timed event, I had no intention of racing.  Rather, I viewed it as a pacing session.

I have struggled with the concept of “negative splits,” but this was not a 5-miler or a half marathon.  (I don’t have to have marathon experience to know that the consequences of improper pacing the 26.2 mile distance would likely be catastrophic.)  I started out slow, found a rhythm and managed the hills according to effort, not time.  This diligence was rewarded with achieving negative splits and a strong finish.  At this point in the cycle, it was the freshest I had felt after a long run.  Considering how poorly I had felt after the 5th Avenue Mile the day before, I was euphoric.

Overcome by my pacing achievement and how great my legs felt, my haphazard recovery consisted of napping, eating and a very light foam rolling session.  What a difference 24 hours made, however.  By Monday morning I could barely get of bed, my quads and calves were so sore that I could barely sit still.  It was an extremely painful 48 hours.  Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) had reared its ugly head to remind me that while my body was adapting, it would need more TLC following such a strenuous effort.

Bronx 10-Miler (Plus 8)

Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at 5.09.24 PMAfter a cut-back week, I was excited to head north for the Bronx leg of NYRR’s 5-borough series.  I had intended to run this race last year, but was unable to participate due to injury. I planned to run the event’s 10 miles, then make like Forrest Gump and continue running back to Manhattan and around the Upper East Side, until I had completed my 18-miles.  I was actually looking forward to the run home more than the race itself, as the route would take me through part of the Marathon course- over the Madison Avenue Bridge and through Harlem.

I had intended to just run the Bronx course, rather than truly race it.  Unfortunately, the pacing discipline I had demonstrated at the Tune-Up was nowhere to be found.  I managed to record negative splits for the 10-miler, and that would have been outstanding if I was only running 10 miles.  My splits were way too fast for the full 18 mile distance.  The final 8 miles were brutal.

The cooler weather experienced during the Tune Up had proven to be just a tease.  By 8:00 am the temperature was already in the mid-60s and climbing, accompanied with humidity in excess of 80%.  Further compounding my pacing mistakes, I had abandoned my hydration and fueling strategy.  During the 10 mile segment I barely stopped for liquids and didn’t fuel according to plan.

My reckless abandon caught up with me by mile 14.  When I stopped to refill my water bottle just inside Central Park’s Engineers’ Gate, I was in serious pain.  I took a sip and at that moment thought I would have no choice but to bail on the long run.  I desperately ran out of the park and paused across 5th Avenue, stopping for an even longer drink.  As I replenished my dehydrated body, I figuratively kicked myself and headed eastward toward my apartment.  Along the way I began to feel much better, comparatively speaking; the hydration and fuel was finally kicking in and I committed to completing these 18 miles, crawling if necessary.

Stopping the Garmin only after reaching the milage I had set out to accomplish was a mental boost.  It hadn’t been pretty, but I had gotten it done.  I learned more than I envisioned I would on this outing, and was glad I had stuck it out.  These lessons needed to be learned, even if it meant the hard way.

After showering, I grabbed the bag of ice I’d purchased the day before and began filling the tub for an ice bath.  I’d heard that a 15-20 minute ice bath can do wonders for preventing DOMS.  The ice bath truly was as bad it sounds, but it was worth the soreness-free Monday.  Certainly a technique I will continue to rely on.

Staten Island Half (Plus 8)

Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at 5.02.20 PMWhen I awoke at 4:45 am to fuel and put myself together I could hear neighbors stumbling home from what must have been a fun night out.  But just three weeks away from Marathon Sunday, I was preparing to catch the 6:30 ferry to Staten Island to complete what would be my longest run of this training cycle.  Arriving early, I planned to easily pace myself through 7 miles before running – not racing – the borough’s namesake half marathon.

With temperatures in the mid-40s, the weather was perfect.  There were a surprising number of groups and runners taking advantage of the early hour to log some additional miles; a marathon buzz was palpable.  Throughout the half my pacing was solid, though I had miscalculated and accidentally tacked on an additional pre-race mile, which would make this 21-miler the furthest I had ever run.

Some days timing is everything, and this was one of those days.  The half proved to be good practice, as in the final miles I trained my eyes on someone ahead and practiced reeling them in – visualizing how I might on Marathon Sunday.  Though it may sound odd, I’d never really used that technique before.  I must admit, it worked well.  The largest hill of the course, which I encountered at my mile 18 or 19 was difficult, without question.  But while some of those miles felt sluggish, I found myself with another burst of energy just a mile later.

Upon crossing the finish, which happened to be at home plate inside the Staten Island Yankees stadium, I felt like I had just hit a home run.  Though I remained nervous about being able to complete an additional 5.2 miles, I knew that my longest long run trifecta had served several important purposes: proving endurance, presenting challenges, teaching lessons and inspiring confidence.

I’m reminded that Meb Keflezighi once observed, “The marathon- It is 90 percent physical and 10 percent mental during training, but it is 90 percent mental and ten percent physical on race day.”  With just 14 days until make my way to the start at Fort Wadsworth, I’m putting my faith in my training program’s admonitions that I’ve achieved the physical fitness required to successfully complete the 26.2 mile distance.  Now, in these dwindling days beforehand, my focus is on ensuring I’ve absorbed the mental lessons necessary to round out my preparation.

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