At the beginning of every race, no matter how I feel before - tired, shivering and hollowed-out - the adrenaline always comes. As soon as the start goes, it feels like my veins are filled with water - that unsubstantial lightness.
In the blur of people moving ahead of me, of sharp corners and arms that aren't quite sure how hard to pump, I tell myself: "settle". This a 10k race, or a 21k race, or a 42k race, or a 50k race, and I am only minutes in. This is the part of the race that would be told in a montage, set to "Eye of the Tiger", before the slow-motion shots of the final kilometers. This is the part where it's not hard, where I know it will get hard later. All I can do is find a rythm, breathe evenly, and get ready for the pain at the end.
I don't want to come down
August and September had one long, sunny day after another. I slept too little and planned routes in the mountains during my lunch breaks. I stayed out too late on weeknights, got up with the hazy sunrise on the seawall, and did it again the next day - and got faster. I was on a perma high - the warm, late sunshine, the give in my feet into faster and faster paces, the way everything looks from the top of a mountain. I just wanted to keep on going - I wanted it to be December, then next May. There is a race inside me, itching to come out - and I want it so bad, and I want to be in the final kilometers, gutting it out already.
|Dinner before a kneeknacker training run - "settle" means low-key Saturday nights|
You break down to build up
I know that this is the part where the training happens, and where the toughness comes. Early morning tempos in the dark on the seawall, running through piles of leaves as the moon sets. Thursdays in the park with headlamps. Settling into a training rythm means I have an apartment that is finally clean, and a bathtub that no longer has a ring of trail dirt and pine needles in it. It means a final few runs in the mountains before the snow comes.
It seems like a place in between real life and run life. This is the place where the routine is comforting. Doing the workouts with my 50 mile training partner, and the VFAC girls who are training for Sacramento marathon makes rolling out of bed on dark cold mornings easier. We all hurt, together, and we get up and do it again the next day. We know things are a long way off, and everything is getting longer and tougher, so we break it down: two week program by two week program, workout by workout, kilometer by kilometer.
And when it's over
When I finished my marathon this May I felt happy, but a bit empty. I had the race of my life. But - it was over. What made the race, to me, was having all my friends and teammates out cheering and racing. We had come so far together. What I would miss was the same routine that can start to grate. I missed Sunday long runs with three hours of discussions, I missed working together on trail workouts, I missed the Monday evening plans to set up early morning tempos (I also missed high-fiving fellow early morning tempo people on the seawall, but the feeling isn't always mutual).
I get more from training than I do from the races. Marathons are the races that will break your heart. (50 milers can break your heart, too, I imagine - and probably do a number on the rest of the body).
For me, a bit, racing well is like a drug: the first high is so good, and you can spend the rest of your run career chasing it. Somewhere along the way of all this training, I made amazing friends. I learned to trust my body. I got used to waking up before 5a on Tuesdays (and I also learned quickly who else was up that I could text). I learned to not think too far in advance.
In a couple months, I will have (hopefully) completed my longest race. In one month, I will be closing in on peak mileage. It will hurt then - it's supposed to hurt, and that's the right time. Now, it's time to take a breath, look around me, and ease into a rythm - I still have a long way to go, and the pace will only get quicker.
|North Face 50 training team|