20 November 2019

Gimme a break, gimme a break ...

It's been some kind of a year!

2019 has been my self-appointed 'year of ultra', with a focus on taking on almost exclusively (trail) ultra races and culminating in my first attempt at a 100-miler.  After a fairly strenuous endeavour such as that it only makes sense to take a significant break to allow the body to recover.

At least that's what anyone in their right mind would do.  But me?  Oh no.

I went ahead and served as one of the official pacers for The County Marathon (for the sixth year in a row), and then two weeks after that accepted an invitation from my good friend Holly to serve as her unofficial pacer at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon.  So within the span of about six weeks I'd put in about 245 kilometres of racing (on top of the regular workouts that led up to both of the marathons).  I wouldn't recommend that to anyone ... but I'm probably one of my own worst students.

After working with Holly to help her attain a new personal best (and another Boston Qualifying time) I knew that I wanted to take some time off.  Somewhat arbitrarily I decided that it would be three weeks of complete inactivity, at least from a running/exercise perspective.  And boy did my body need it.

Although I went just about stir crazy after a measly three days of not running, my knee, both feet and shoulders (oddly enough) were providing ample feedback to let me know that I should have taken time off sooner.  And I don't mean a few weeks sooner, but probably something more like a few years sooner - because this three-week hiatus would turn out to be the longest time without lacing up the running shoes in about nine years.

108 months.  Or 469 weeks.  Or 14265 days.

Oh I'd taken a week off here and there.  Just nothing that really resembled a true off-season ... you know, the kind that even professional distance runners know that they are wise to take.  If I'm going to be honest I think that the rationale behind this relentless drive to run was probably threefold in origin:
  1. An addiction to running
  2. Negative body self-image
  3. FOMO (fear of missing out) ... or maybe better yet FONBPAHCE (fear of not being perceived as hard-core enough).
As you can tell none of the three reasons above is a healthy motive to keep pressing forward.  You might also have guessed that stopping my running routine actually wound up exacerbating all of these issues - to the extent that I basically had to go radio-silent on running-related social media channels to avoid feeling worse about myself while witnessing everyone else's outings and achievements.  I also tucked the scale away underneath the bathroom counter so that it was basically inaccessible, as well as 'resigning' myself to eating guilt-free to try to undo some of the negative thoughts I had about weight loss equaling athletic prowess**.

My friend David got it right ... I totally felt like 'fat Thor'

The honest truth is that it was really difficult to take that break - more difficult than if I had continued to run regularly, although that would have almost certainly have put me on the shelf with an injury of some variety.  I had difficulty sleeping (because I wasn't nearly as tired each night), I couldn't sleep in (as my body had been long-accustomed to waking routinely just before 5 a.m.) and I felt like someone had jumbled my schedule each day because it didn't start off with a run.  Still, rest is a necessary act of discipline and I had to work at taking some rest. 

Moment by moment, day by day I stayed the course.  I made it to three weeks of inactivity.

So now what?

I decided that next year I want to take another stab at the marathon, but I'm going to finally give a go at (low) heart-rate based training.  I'd come across Floris Gierman on YouTube several years back and was astounded that he could run a sub-3 marathon while simultaneously vlogging it - and he attributed a great deal of his success to following the philosophy/methodology of Phil Maffetone and focusing in on aerobic system development.  Floris now leads up the Extramilest network (including coaching and a podcast) and has become an influencer in the online running community.  As a tinkerer I saw low heart-rate training as a way to ease back into an exercise schedule, and quite possibly a path towards finally getting my own sub-3 marathon PB.

I haven't yet picked a spring goal race, but I do have a trip to Burlington for the Chilly-Half Marathon booked again for 2020 - so that may be my first real test to see if I'm actually getting anywhere or just stuck on the dreadmill of self-sabotage.

However it goes, I'm happy to be back at it again!

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** If you have also struggled with the whole 'weigh less, run faster' mentality then I might recommend at least giving a quick watch of this video from former NCAA D1 cross-country runner Emma Abrahamson ...