March 14, 2012

A marathon runner's resolve is tested

After 10-1/2 weeks of daily running (with the exception of one day on January 14 when I resisted the temptation to do the scheduled 10K as planned, and instead recovered from an Active Release Techniques session), fatigue is a constant companion. 

He's especially present in the morning. A plunger of coffee usually scares him away for a while. The distance runner trains to resist fatigue. Not just in training itself, but also in life that happens outside workouts.

Tiredness is something an endurance athlete has to get used to, as it is part of how training works. Then again, everyone deals with fatigue—a busy job, hectic family life, a challenging study or keeping up with the party circuit all require energy and cut into the time we have, or make, available for sleeping or resting.

We often think there is one more important chore or errand to do, one more item we can strike off the to-do list, one more friend we can catch up with or one more work task we should perform. Taking the rest we need is usually at the bottom of our priority list, if it makes the list at all.

Life's short, we are not going to spend it hanging on the couch. Yet sufficient rest is what is going to get a runner through her training. Fatigue builds up over time. Typically a build-up for a marathon takes between 12 and 18 weeks. Mind you, this is not from scratch of course. 

After spending the first six weeks on building Endurance (with weekly volumes between 102K and 129.5K), I am now in the final week of a five-week period aimed at Lactate Threshold & Endurance; this week is the biggest with 140K (my biggest ever and also the biggest in my 18-week preparation for the BMO Vancouver Marathon on May 6). 

Fatigue doesn't mean exhaustion. But I am tired and that tiredness keeps progressively building, even as I get at least eight hours of sleep each night; usually it's closer to nine, or even 9-1/2 as it was last night. I will also more often than not have a catnap during the day. My legs, and overall energy, have so far bounced back. 

In other words, while I experience a sense of fatigue all the time, I am also able to complete my training sessions. The fact that I am sleeping like a log at night is also a good sign (a key clue to overtraining is trouble with sleeping). Knock wood, I have also remained healthy, staving off illness and injury which are both clear warning signs that an athlete is pushing herself too hard. 

Despite that, I am still tired and that can weaken mental resolve. If I am not careful, I can allow little things to get to me. A tiny mental voice that looks for the easy way out, the lazy option when there are small challenges that are really no big deal at all. Such as the steady stream of white stuff that has been falling from the sky since the start of the day when my schedule calls for a 24K run. 

It doesn't look like there will be a break in the weather (as there miraculously was in the previous two days during my runs), so it's time to dress accordingly and head out the door before I allow the tired me to come up with excuses good enough to stay inside. 

A marathon runner needs to pace herself well, not just in the daily workouts but also over the three or four months she takes to prepare herself for race day. No one struggles in the first month of a marathon training program (if you do, you're in trouble so choose a different program). The second month is usually not too bad either. 

But the third and fourth months of training are where we risk running out of steam, literally and figuratively, if we don't take care of ourselves with rest and recovery so we can steel ourselves for the extra challenges that are thrown our way and might loom larger than they really are.

Great day in March for a 24K run
You always need to reserve that little bit of extra mental gas in the tank so you can pick yourself up and push a reluctant body out the door for a midweek medium-long run when it snows on March 14; 52 days until race day. 


Dessie said...

it would be cool coming from aust to do a few runs in the snow but not every day ,hang in there and watch out for the little voices !!!!

Margreet Dietz said...

I would love do a few runs in Oz, I missing running in Sydney.

Those voices can be so tricky indeed, thanks Dessie!