Abandon All Hope?

I feel like I'll be walking under this sign to get to the Richmond marathon starting line.

I feel like I'll be walking under this sign to get to the Richmond marathon starting line.

In Dante’s image of hell, as the damned approach the place of their eternal torment, they walk under a sign that reads, ‘Abandon all hope ye who enter here’.  Recently, I’ve felt as if I’ll be walking under that sign to get to the starting line of the Richmond marathon.

The rollercoaster ride that is my marathon training continues.  On my last post, I talked about my peformance in the Salem Lake 30K where I ran relatively well, running a 2:34 for the 18.6 mile course, and where I finished strong, running a 7:49 for the last mile, just 1 second shy of the fastest mile split for the day.  I began believing again, unlike after the half marathon 1 week before where things went horribly awry (read about it here).

But shortly after the Salem Lake 30K, another setback struck.  The Sunday after the race, I lounged around and watched football.  I was a little tight, sore, and fatigued.  Then Monday morning I felt the dreaded scratchy tingle in the back of my throat:  the tell-tale sign that I was getting sick.  I took another day off from running and tried all the usual preventative measures – gargling with saltwater, massive doses of Vitamin C, drinking lots of fluids, etc., all to no avail.  By Tuesday, I had a full-blown sickness (cold?  flu?) and so I stayed home from work and missed another day of training.   Then again Wednesday.  By Thursday, I felt much better, but decided to exercise extreme caution by staying home yet one more day, again refraining from running.  Friday, I was nearly 100% with only some residual coughing and a runny nose remaining.  So I ran an easy 5-miler with some friends and felt fine, albeit a little weak.

This week, one week after ‘the illness’, I’ve tried to return to running as if nothing happened.  And I’ve struggled.  I ran mile repeats on Tuesday and my training plan called for them to be run around 7:10 pace (goal marathon pace minus 30 seconds).  This ended up feeling impossible.  My splits: 7:26, 7:14, 7:12, and 7:33.  Um, yeah, not good.  The effort expended for that final split, the 7:33, felt like what a 5:33 should feel like.  If I’m struggling that much to run a 7:33, just how the hell am I going to piece together 26 consecutive 7:39’s? 

In an act of desperation, I emailed a local cross-country coach who’s a 2:33 marathoner and is married to a woman who placed 12th at last year’s marathon Olympic trials.  This is someone immersed in running – I’ve got to believe he knows a thing or two.  I explained my current situation and asked for any advice.  His response:

‘This may not be the right time to qualify. It may be more important to simply learn what went well and what didn’t during this training. Make sure you have been writing things down so you can go back and look later.  The marathon is such a tricky thing, as “life” sometimes just gets in the way and knocks you on the ass. Sickness, injury, etc. It sucks but that’s running.’

He’s right, and I know it.  And like I said in the last blog entry, I have re-evaluated the way I’m approaching Richmond.  It’s no longer a do-or-die race.  I will not be devastated if I don’t qualify.  I’ve already begun looking down the road for the next marathon to run to make another attempt at qualifying.

But I also know this – I’ve had strong fitness levels pop up at odd times before.  I ran a 1:39 half marathon at Myrtle  Beach in February when I was sick and not running nearly as much as I am now.  And less than a month later, I ran a 1:38 half at the Corporate Cup in Charlotte, on a tough, hilly course.  Both of these races were run after a few months of running 20-30 mile running weeks with no formal, structured plan and with minimal speedwork.

I recently asked my girlfriend Laura, a healthcare professional with extensive knowledge of anatomy, how I ran so much faster in March and April than I appear to be able to run now, when I was running significantly less then.  She believes it may be due to the fact that I was working out regularly at that time – not running as much, but lifting weights and doing various cardiovascular workouts other than running.  This makes sense to me.  Also, I ran a series of road races in the weeks leading up to the Myrtle Beach race.  In the distant past, back when I ran track in high school and college, I always performed best several weeks into the season, after getting a few races under my belt.  Meaning, it seems like I tend to peak after racing my way into shape.

So with the Richmond marathon only 5 weeks away, things look bleak for qualifying, there’s no denying it.  But while my metaphoric manager is standing on the side of the ring and raising his towel, he hasn’t thrown it in yet.  Because in the past, he’s seen me throw some amazing knockout punches when things looked most dire.  I’m going to make a last-ditched, valiant effort at trying to peak on race day.  The plan – work in some races and some cross-training.  I’m going to race in a couple of 10K’s and the Lungstrong 15K between now and November 14.  I’m also going to try and mix in a little weightlifting, which I’ve been neglecting since starting my marathon training.  Who knows, maybe somehow things will miraculously come together on race day.

If the Vegas oddmakers were taking bets on whether or not I’d qualify at Richmond, I’d guess they’d place them at about 3-1 against.  But I’d also tell you to be careful how much you wager.  Those guys have been wrong before.

 PS – Any experienced marathoners who read this, please feel free to offer advice/suggestions/encouragement, anything, by clicking on the ‘leave a comment’ link below!  Thanks!

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