Monday, March 14, 2011

The Jitters Begin

You'd think I'd be grateful not to have any more really hard or long runs in this training cycle. My race is now just under two weeks away. I've done the work. I missed no runs and only a few cross-training sessions. Knock on wood, I've managed to stay healthy. I've even lost a few pounds.

And yet....

This is the point--the beginning of what runners call the taper, where you ease back for several days in order to be well-rested for the big event--where I always start questioning whether I'm really ready.

The biggest worry I have....besides the weather, which obviously is a fruitless worry--like I tell one library patron who calls and frets whenever it snows, no one can control the weather, ma'am...the biggest non-wind worry I have is that I haven't worked hard enough. Most people trying to go as fast or as far as I want to go run five or six days a week, or even every day. The program I'm following deliberately schedules runs only three days a week--but you do them much faster than other training regimens prescribe. There is no slow running in the FIRST program. The pace of your last race determines your training paces and, at first anyway, they feel hard whether you're doing speed intervals, a tempo run or a long run. And two aerobic cross-training workouts are required every week--you can't skip those and expect to get good results.

But (I am now asking myself) will that be enough? The elites don't train this way. Even most of my running friends don't train this way. The conventional wisdom says more miles run = better performance. Period. Doesn't matter if you run five-minute miles or eleven-minuters. Did I make a bad choice when choosing this program?

Moreover, when I first looked at the half-marathon plan, it was daunting. The distances on all the runs seemed awfully long for the paces I was supposed to hit (the marathon plan looks much the same to me now, and I don't even know what my paces will be yet!). But for the last few weeks--with the exception of those two windy and difficult long runs where my intestines or the wind threw me way off--the paces have started to feel easy enough that I've been wondering if I shouldn't have increased them a bit. I didn't do that, because I wouldn't know how much of an increase would be too much, and the book is pretty adamant that unless you're rock-solid sure you have improved, you shouldn't mess with your pace.

But...what if I should have increased them? Have I blown my chance for a great half-marathon?

There are lots of logical answers to these worried questions. One is that I had good reasons for choosing the FIRST program. The anecdotal evidence that it works is solid, as are the authors' scientific reasons why it works, especially for older and time-pressed people. While I'm not super-old, I'm not in my twenties or early thirties any more, and I certainly am pressed for time.

For last fall's half-marathon, run on the same course, I followed a much more conventional program from Runner's World (Run under 2 hours! it promised) with lots of easy miles on more days a week mixed in. There was even an eleven miler the week before the race itself! I felt tired and beat up by the time the race rolled around. Running that often is hard on my body. I bonked at the end of the race. With this program, my body has felt great. I've needed no ice baths and many fewer naps than I needed last fall. I know I shouldn't doubt these feelings of better fitness and health.

The truth is, second guessing will always be a part of the training process for me. I won't really know the answers until after race day, and even then there are so many factors I can't control that could help or hurt me. (That last half-marathon was delayed three weeks when a wildfire broke out, because the firefighters used the race site as their staging ground. Not exactly something anyone could control!)

I just need to keep telling myself to enjoy the taper. And if I have to worry, I'll try to focus the worry on my playlist for race day. Now THAT is something I can control.


  1. I'm guessing the runs started to feel easy because you were at the point you needed to be for your upcoming race! I think it sounds very promising.

    I'm also trying to do faster training runs. I think allowing myself to do such slow runs led to my failure at St. Louis (the pace to beat was not 13:45 like they said on their website, it was 13:16. My only goal was to finish and I didn't even manage that.) I should have trained MUCH faster.

    Remember, too, you're tapering. If you weren't going crazy, it wouldn't be a taper!

  2. You're right about tapering--it always makes me nervous.

    I didn't realize that's what happened in your race in St. Lou. Adding some speed really works--but don't try to do it on every run. That totally *kills* me, anyway.