Sunday, March 30, 2008

Undeniable progress

Denial. It conjures up so many references in so many contexts, most often regarding a failing to accept a certain -- usually unpleasant -- reality. However, denial can also be the result of refusing to acknowledge something good about oneself, perhaps because of not feeling worthy of success.

I mention this today because I have been engaged in a constant internal struggle since I crossed the imaginary line which marked my conversion from fitness jogger to "runner" sometime in the late summer/early fall of 2006. That struggle has involved a conflict between the feeling that I could set and meet ambitious running goals (and do so in a pretty short time) versus a deep-seated feeling that I am destined to fall short of those running goals for lack of ability, talent, durability, time, focus, etc. Since my last race was a disappointment (see race report), I have not raced again. The "official" reason is that the mostly 5K offerings in my area simply don't fit in with my training schedule. That is absolutely true, but it is not -- as they say in my profession -- "the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth". The complete, unvarnished truth is that I am also a bit afraid of racing, as I fear a continued plateau, or even a performance dip, which -- despite knowing full well that my ever-increasing training volume is almost solely responsible for any disappointing races run on tired legs. -- gives the doubting side of the internal conflict more grist for the mill.

But, with the relative success of my first marathon pace run last Sunday, and this morning's easy 14-miler (love the cutback week!), I'm starting to feel that it's all coming together. Having crossed the training program's midway point, I am paying closer attention to the important "details" of plan. For instance, having settled on a goal time of under 3:30 (an 8:00/mile pace) for my next marathon, I should be running the first half of the long runs at a 9:36/mile pace (20% slower), and the second half at about 8:48 (10%). Today I focused on my pace throughout, and stepped it up after 7 miles. The run was nearly "textbook", and it still felt pretty easy (especially compared to last weekend's MP run). Doing such a run exactly according the recommended paces would come out to a 9:12 average pace. Today, my average pace was almost exactly 9:00/mile, with a strong finish (despite some soreness in my calves, knees and the omni-present hip flexor), running the last half-mile at under a 7:00 pace. I am training myself to finish every run strong and fast, so that on race day I can actually kick it hard with a half-mile or less to go.

Whereas my prior training plan involved me approaching the training goals like a game of horseshoes (where "close" is often good enough), I'm now running with more intention, focus and -- perhaps most importantly -- control. I'm not sure whether I'll be signing up for any pre-marathon 5K's (the plan does call for 3 Saturday races of anywhere from 8-15K), but I might drop a race in somewhere along the line just to see what happens. It's sort of a no-lose situation, because I can explain away any slow times (too many miles; no taper; etc.), while I know I'll get a mega-boost from a new PR at any distance at this point. I'll keep you posted.


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