Monday, August 29, 2011

Ready for the worst, hoping for the best

As most of you know, there was a hurricane on track to become the worst natural disaster ever to hit NYC. It was due to hit us on Sunday morning and the city swiftly went into a state of high alarm, all permits were canceled including the one for the NYRR Bronx Half Marathon.

I was ready to run the Bronx Half. Sort of. I'd made plans to stay at Tracy's the night before - two stops away from the starting line - so I wouldn't have commuting problems. In order to make it fit into my Runner's World Sub 2:00 plan, I'd taken miles here and there throughout the week so my long run could add up to 13.1. I was planning on running it at the 10:30 pace the program dictated for my easy runs on that week. I was not going to race it, but just run it as a long training run.

The thing is that though that pace is now an "easy" pace for me, if I had run the Bronx Half like that, it would've been a PR.

But I since I'd been having a lot of minor and not so minor problems running lately, I was also preparing for the worst. I was fearing having to quit mid-race, ending up in a medical tent, or ending up so beaten up that I wouldn't be able to continue with my ten-week plan.

That didn't happen, but neither did the best. The best would've been having an amazing race.

What I got instead was a lost weekend. It didn't have the drama of catastrophe, but neither did I manage to make it an amazing weekend.

Kind of like Irene. A lot of people are joking and even complaining about how lame it was, or how much of an overreaction all the preparation was. I was prepared (see hottie in the poncho pictured above - I got him to keep me company during the storm) and the relative mildness of the storm left me restless.

The hype, combined with the all the preparation had left us all expecting something. When that didn't come, most of us expressed it as disappointment. The storm was a let down. But I don't think anyone is really sorry it didn't hit NYC hard. It's just that we all lost this weekend and didn't get much in return.

Including those of us who signed up for NYRR races this weekend. No returns, no refunds. But not having to live through a major disaster, and not having gotten injured running a half-marathon - I think that's pretty good.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Ten-Week Plan

Between placing my minimalist experiment on hold due to Achilles problems and having problems figuring out pacing, my running was suffering. I was randomly going on runs here and there. Some were fun, but many more were unsatisfying mostly because I'd set out to go for distance and find myself going out too soon, too hard and having to stop after a few miles.

I had to toss my five borough goal out the window when I realized I was too hurt to run Queens. As the last week of July drew to a close, I realized that if I didn't get my ass in gear I wouldn't reach any of my goals for the year.

With that, and an automated email from Bart Yasso, I was back in training. I'd signed up for the Runner's World Challenge and decided to go for a big goal: run a sub 2:00 Staten Island Half. An excited tweet about it led me to find a running partner working towards the same goal and off we went.

Aided by ice and a Strassburg Sock, the first couple of weeks went by without much of a hitch. I skipped some of the scheduled speed workouts in favor of speed training with my team, and I shifted the workouts around, but I mostly stuck to the plan.

And the plan was working! I was getting noticeably better. The "easy" pace with which I'd struggled at the beginning of the first week, was a breeze by the end of the second as I passed other runners on the Brooklyn Bridge. The third week had me scheduled for a tempo run, which I'd never done.

This workout called for me to warm up, then run three miles at a specific pace. The problem was that this pace was 9:09min/mi. That's faster than my fastest race and I'd have to do it without cheering crowds and without a finish line. The fear of not being able to do it almost kept me from getting out the door. Halfway through the workout as sweat flew from my elbows and I felt myself struggling to breathe, that fear almost made me quit.

I was running at a fast, challenging pace. I didn't have long to go and I was sure that even if I didn't make the exact goal, I'd be close. But it was a very hard pace for me and the idea of running thirteen miles at this pace seemed impossible. My body started tensing up, my mind getting ready for defeat, when I had to remind myself that no one was asking me to run thirteen miles at that pace now. All I had to then was three miles.

Stick to the plan is all I have to do. If I look at what the plan calls for in a few weeks, I start freaking out and I have to keep reminding myself to give it a chance. Give myself a chance. Assuming it's a good plan, as long as I focus on what I have to do each day, and then the day after, and do it, slowly, what once seemed impossible will be within reach.

Which is probably why self-help books are so appealing. Do this, and you'll get that. But outside of running and other athletic pursuits, ten week plans with clearly defined goals are probably no more than powerful marketing preying on the wishful.

Maybe so is this plan. Maybe all of my plans and nothing more than cotton candy wishful thinking that will melt away before I get a chance to taste success.

But I'd rather aim high and fall short, than not give myself a chance to fly.

With that tempo run, I got a clear taste of it.

Read the training report on that tempo run here.