August 25, 2011

On the edge - it happens

Having run an average of 104km per week in the past 7 weeks, I have felt the fatigue building. Training for endurance sports such as Ironman, marathon and ultras is tiring - I am used to the feeling of being tired. However, the past four days I was so tired that I began to worry I was pushing myself over the edge into overtraining mode where injury and burnout are just waiting.

On Sunday I had a 29km run, of which 23km were supposed to be at marathon goal race pace. After a 3km warmup, I set off at 4:22/km (7:02/mile) and remember thinking about being quite comfortable in the first 7km or so. It was a warm day and Tim, who was doing his own long session along the same route, and I were a bit late as it was already 11am by the time I started my 23km effort.

With a few undulations from 7km until 16km, I found it increasingly harder, and soon impossible, to hit my goal pace. As the mercury rose, my mood dropped. I knew I was tired but come on, it was only 23km. Surely I could at least hit 4:25/km? Frantic glares at Mr Garmin failed to change the numbers I saw and did not like.

I had brought a 500ml bottle of water and 3 gels. Given the midday heat, I probably could have done with better hydration but I am not sure if that would have been enough to lift the heaviness of my legs. At about 18km, I found myself annoyed and ready to cry at the same time about working so hard, and having done so much training, and still not being able to hit marathon race pace for half the distance.

I managed to stop myself from the crying bit, as that would have pushed my laboured breathing to hyperventilation mode, by focusing on effort, rather than outcome. It was a good reminder about how judgement and goals can make a training session, and a race, a lot harder if you're not meeting your own expectations and are beating yourself up over it.

With Tim's figure showing up ahead, I focused on catching him. We both did an out-and-back on the same route, but Tim had a shorter long run that was done at normal long-run pace (4:50 to 5:15) so I concentrated on bringing him closer, and passing. It helped to take my mind off the option to slow down further, or abandon the race pace altogether.

By the time I finished that 23km my average was 4:29/km, or 7 seconds short. I was not happy, in fact I was so unhappy and stuffed, both mentally and physically, that I could not be bothered to run the remaining 3km back home to complete the 29km I was supposed to do. I was glad I had finished the effort, but was also in a dark place.

This type of mood, plus my body's overwhelming fatigue, had me worried. I expect to recover in the taper that starts in 3 weeks, but what if I don't? Tim tried to cheer me up. That, food, drinks, a shower and a solid hour-long nap on the couch helped too.

Reading that afternoon in Advanced Marathoning that Catherine Ndereba ran a 32-minute 10km in the months before setting her 2:15 world record, which is about the same kilometre pace. Based on her capability, she should have been able to go a lot faster in the 10km but it wasn't a goal race and she shrugged off that time because she knew she was tired from her marathon training.

So that was what I reminded myself of too. I was simpy tired from the marathon training, a volume higher than I have ever run before. Still, after Monday's day of rest my legs were still concrete for Tuesday's 14km session, especially for the 5x 600m repeats at 5km race pace. My mood still fragile, I opted to focus on 5km race effort for the 600m to avoid another mental downward spiral about my watch showing splits that fell short of expectations.

Yesterday, Wednesday, I was supposed to run 23km, but decided against it and postponed the session until today. Initially I was going to take Wednesday off running, but then decided to run an easy 6.5km with Tim in the evening. My legs still felt stuffed and lacking energy, and I voiced my concern about my tiredness.

However, when Tim and I started on our run this morning, 19km for him and 23km for me, I felt so much better. I had energy again, and was able to hit my target range without problems. Today's run told me that swapping around this week's sessions, so I only ran 20km in the past 3 days instead of the 37km I otherwise would have, clearly had been the active recovery I needed.

It was not only great to feel much better physically, it also helped me realize I am just training on the edge, but haven't pushed myself over it. By moving around my training, I am only 2km behind on my weekly target and, most importantly, I now know that the two-week taper after another three 100km-weeks of training (including the current one) will be more than enough to help my body recover. That's a good feeling.

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