Embracing the Cycle

As my current marathon training cycle winds down, I can’t help but reflect on how this journey has compared to my first.  There was the familiar feeling of fatigue that began to set in as the mileage climbed to its peak.  Ahead of my Saturday morning long runs, my Friday nights remained low key — usually spent on the couch watching Keith Morrison narrate a Dateline mystery.  Of course, I continued to enjoy the customary Saturday afternoon recovery nap.

But the sameness was accompanied by some clear differences.  The seasonal contrast was striking. I moved my training from the East River and Randall’s Island paths to Central Park.  I added some group runs to the mix. But most notable, this second training cycle has yielded far more noticeable fitness gains.

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Racing the United Airlines NYC Half

United Airlines NYC Half

I’d only last set a half marathon PR at this event once – the first time running it in 2013.  Since adding the mid-May Brooklyn Half to my repertoire, the spring weather and mostly flat course has made it my go-to PR course. But after finishing this year’s Manhattan Half only about a minute off my 2014 Brooklyn Half time, I felt primed to make the March 15 NYC Half PR memorable.

Going into the race with 300 miles already under my belt was substantially greater – more than 200 miles – than the mileage I’d accumulated ahead of last year’s endeavor. But coming 10 weeks into the 16-week training cycle, I was far from fresh. My race week runs had left me wondering why on earth I had opted for a spring marathon, as I was also beginning to battle mental fatigue. I hoped this event give me a jolt of much needed optimism.

Fortunately, all those sub-freezing runs weren’t for naught.  Finishing at Wall Street with a 1:48:56 PR suddenly made it all seem worthwhile.

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Racing the United Airlines NYC Half

Spring Melt Down 10K

Somebody forgot the advise Mother Nature of this late March event’s “spring” theme. With a below freezing temperature of just 25 degrees at the start, “winter, please just go away” may have been a more appropriate race caption. But after months of running through much colder conditions, the weather was certainly not unfamiliar. Previously, I had recorded my fastest time at this distance during last June’s Queens 10K. Sandwiched in between my two peak long runs, I was looking forward to testing my fitness – and cumulative fatigue – on a full Central Park loop.  Considering my Queens personal best was achieved along a mostly flat terrain, the Melt Down’s counterclockwise loop would provide some added difficulty.

The chill I had felt at the start had long since evaporated by the time I crossed the finish line. The mercury may not have budged much, but the elation that accompanied a new 10K PR more than made up for it. Completing the loop in a smidgen over 50 minutes at an 8:05 pace was an improvement I hadn’t really expected. Mornings like this suddenly made all those dark, cold runs easily justifiable.

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At the finish of the United Airlines NYC Half

Scotland Run 10K

Coming a week after the Spring Melt Down, I hoped to build on what seemed like some fitness momentum at the annual Scotland Run. My peak 21-mile long run was scheduled for the following day, and I was elated to be nearing the taper. This course encompasses a clockwise loop of Central Park, which I’ve always found more challenging. But the festive atmosphere complete with Scottish dignitaries and bagpipers is a “can’t miss” event!

As soon as I crossed the start line I was reminded the event’s popularity brought with it significant course congestion. The first mile was particularly frustrating, and I found myself mentally cursing those who had seemed grossly mis-corralled. Passing was virtually impossible, as the road was so packed there was nowhere to slide by. A few runners took to the inner grass to get by, but I wasn’t going to risk an injury to do so. I took a deep breath, settled in and let it go. It was the nature of the event – one I enjoyed – and a nice lesson on patience.

After the first mile the course opened up some, and I was able to maneuver around and complete the race feeling pretty good. In fact, when I checked my finish time I initially thought there must have been an error. My pace per mile was only 2 seconds slower than the week before – I was expecting far worse. To give a sense as to how congested the initial mile was, my first split was 8:45. But as the course opened up, so did my times – 8:01, 7:46, 7:58, 7:41, 7:40. Yes, patience can be a powerful virtue when it comes to racing.

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Racing the United Airlines NYC Half

Run for the Parks 4M

Given my recent race performances, I was pretty confident that I could achieve an overall pace per mile PR at this 4-miler. Last spring I had dropped it down to 7:52, and I was excited to see how far I’d come. I’d increasingly recorded more frequent mile splits in the 7:40 range, so I knew I was making some gains. As the final race before my intensive training culminated, the timing seemed perfect. The weather couldn’t have been more conducive for this purpose either – mid 40s and sunny.

Perfection! Awaiting the start, I actually began experiencing butterflies of excitement.

But as Salvador Dali wisely noted, “Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.” At mile two I felt something flapping against my left shoe. I glanced down, and it appeared that part of my shoelace had slipped through the knot. I always double knot my running shoes, but I’ve learned that not all pairs have the same shoelace length. I have a pair of Brooks Ghost 7 that double knot easily. I have another pair with a shorter length lace that can be problematic. If not careful, the aglet will slide on through the second knot thus negating the double knot. I realized I must not have been careful enough.

I mentally analyzed my double knot technique and wondered why the first instance of a failed double knot had occurred during a race, not a training run? And on a race that I had aimed for a PR! And why wasn’t Brooks more thoughtful about their shoelace lengths? Then, I questioned my sanity for actually thinking this clinically about double knots. All the while, the flapping sound had become more pronounced. As I neared mile 3, the entire knot had become compromised- both laces were flapping in the wind. My shoe was becoming looser with each stride. I would have to stop along the side of the course and tie my shoe. Should this be classified as a “wardrobe malfunction” or “equipment malfunction” I wondered as I re-laced for the final mile.

I accepted that I’d likely not PR, so I concentrated on finishing as strong as I could. Crossing the finish I stopped my Garmin and instantly looked to assess the damage. A 7:49 pace. I vacillated between satisfaction and dejection. Yes, I had somehow improved my pace by three seconds – but I was filled with “what ifs.”

While I have no idea how this training cycle will impact my performance at this Sunday’s New Jersey Marathon, it has undoubtedly produced results during my recent race outings.

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