I find that swimming is a good place to think, and so Thursday night, while doing my weekly laps in the pool, I thought to myself “wow, I’m such a better runner now than I was last year when I ran my first half”. That thought surprised me though. Big time. Because for the last few weeks I’ve quietly doubted how I’m going to be able to run not one, but two big races within three weeks of each other, when I’ve hardly trained. The cold hard truth is that I’ve never actually fully recovered from my injury last June. Just when I was on the brink of getting back into the groove of things, I got hurt again. For years I ran three miles a day, everyday. Not fast. Not particularly well. But consistently and with no problems whatsoever. I even ran in the same shoes for years. When I decided to step up and take running a little more seriously, I was running 5-6 days a week, and a lot more miles. You mull over what the cause of my demise was, but really it doesn’t matter. I’ve changed my habits. A lot. So what is causing these conflicting thoughts on my abilities?
While training for my half last year I was all over my training plan; intervals, hills, long runs, tempos. You name it. I did it. You had to force me to take a rest day. And now? For the past few weeks I’m running maybe twice a week. Three times is a lot. Four is in the distant future. And anything above five seems impossible. How I used to run every day is beyond me. Days in between runs are literally Recovery Days. My legs need time to heal. So what makes me think that I can run a 10mile race and then quickly follow it up with a half? And really, what made me think in the pool that I was actually a better runner than last year?
Experience. I’ve spent these last few months in recovery learning about my body, and learning about the best ways of conditioning. It’s not just about running. My running partner the other night said to me, “I think being a runner makes you a better swimmer, but swimming doesn’t really make you a better runner.” I nodded, and wanted to respond, but I was getting a little bit tired and couldn’t garner the energy to talk. So I’ll respond now: I think I disagree. I see where he was coming from, but I think the endurance aspect of swimming has an important impact on my running. And of course it’s easy on my legs, which always helps my running ;-)
Cycling, not to brag or anything, has done absolute wonders to my thighs. My legs haven’t been this defined and toned since my competitive riding days. In fact, they might be even more toned now. The best part about the stationary cycling that I do is that I get to concentrate on the muscle above my knee, which in turns protects my knees from the heavy impact and beatings they receive from my running.
And pilates. Aside from strengthening my core, I’ve increased my flexibility (key for runners who are known for not being so flexible) and learned a lot of new stretches that will hopefully help prevent me from future injuries. Yes I subscribe to that belief. I know many who do not, but I do.
And the truth is that the numbers show I’m actually a much stronger runner. I hate going by numbers, and I really don’t want to jinx myself here. But Tuesday night I ran 6.2 miles at an average of 8:19 min/mile pace. Yes, I know, I probably ran too fast for a nice evening jog, but the conversation was good and I wanted to keep up. Point is, the run ended, I was tired, but I was fine. Last year, probably around this time I ran my first 6 miles. In a little over an hour. And I thought it was the end of the world.
I may not be running as much as I was, but I’m stronger; physically and mentally. I play the head games. I work through the pain. I know my rhythm and my feet. I have so much more under my belt, and I have so much more in my heart this time around, that I’m hoping it will count for something. My race in Pittsburgh has taken on and entirely different meaning in the past few weeks. It’s really no longer just a race. So hopefully my legs will feel ok for Cherry Blossom and the Pittsburgh Marathon. They don’t need to feel perfect. Just as long as they can take me through the miles. If there was no pain? Well there’s no doubt I’d hit my PR and come very easily under 2:00:00. But who knows. It doesn’t mater too much anymore. As long as I can run.