After building up base mileage during July (a period which followed a light June to recover from spring racing), I started my 18-week dedicated training for the St. Jude Memphis marathon last week. Although it will vary from time to time, Mondays will be my most frequent rest day during this training period, with additional rest days falling the weeks of races and later in the cycle as marathon day nears.
Each week, I hope to share some reflections–about training and running, about work, and about life–to mark the rest day and another week in the pursuit of the marathon.
Last year, when I faltered in the marathon, I felt like my key mistake was too little volume in my training. Volume builds efficiency. Therefore, a key component of my training this fall will be higher mileage, though most of it will be at an easy pace (defined as the pace at which one can maintain a conversation). My training plan calls for the most mileage I will have run since I was a competitive high school cross country and track runner over 20 years ago. For week 1 (Monday-Sunday), I ran just over 41 miles, with a long run of 10.5 miles on Saturday. For the first time in a long time, I also ran 6 days in a row, which makes it essential to keep the easy days easy.
The running felt smooth and good for most of the week, though I did have Memphis Kinetics dry-needle my psoas and calf following Saturday’s group long run. Prehab and active recovery (foam rolling, yoga, etc.) will be essential to success in this training program. Most small aches and pains can be addressed before they turn into gait-changing injuries.
I have also tried to work on the mental aspects of preparing to race. Last year, it was around mile 17 where my race really started to breakdown. Some of this was surely based on fitness (I had cruised through much longer training runs) and conditions (it was getting hot out), but most of it was a mental lapse. Similarly, on July 29 of this year, in the Memphis Runners Track Club Road Races Series 5K, my first race back since over-performing in the Mountains 2 Beach Half Marathon in May, I let myself slow down when my goal time was still possible. I ran a 21:35, but it was in the third mile, with half a mile to go, when I had to push myself into a more painful place and finish strong. Instead, I let myself tighten up and slow down. My third mile, a 7:16, was by far my slowest in the race, but I then ran a moderately paced 4 additional miles after, so I know the fitness was there.
Confidence to push harder in those tough moments comes from the training and knowing the physical ability is there. But it also comes from a mental space of preparation. I have to know the body is capable and that there’s more there. In a short race it’s too easy to slow down. In the marathon, it’s too easy to start walking, maybe just at the aid stations, and then not to be able to resume running.
I enjoy racing. I like being able to test my physical limits and see where I am compared to previous years. In 2018, I am consistently racing the best times since over 20 years ago, when I was a fairly competitive high school runner (race times available here). The physical and mental challenge draw the most out of me. If I take shortcuts in my training of fail to focus, a race will expose that. But I also enjoy the feeling of being at the race, where hundreds or thousands of people show up for the same celebration of what their bodies can do. Each person has her own story and motivation, but, in a time of division, a race is a peaceful gathering of people gathered for something that is physically, and socially good.
Beyond racing, I also enjoy the mindfulness offered by running. Even in a city, when you get just off the roads on the Wolf River Greenway or the cinder trail at Overton Park, you can escape the noise. I don’t run with headphones, both for safety and because I want to be aware of my surroundings. Even in tracking a run, I prefer for my watch to have no alerts set on most runs. A run offers escape from email, phone calls, text messages, and other distractions for however long the run is. On weekdays, I tend to do most of my runs alone. I can’t leave behind the stress of work every run, but, on almost every run, I find that place where what I am noticing is the sound of my feet striking the ground, the feel and sound of my breath, and the stimuli around me, perhaps the sun shining through the trees or the light ripple of the water on a pond surface. In these moments, the mental benefits of running meet up with the physical benefits.
Running and Academic Work
Most long races, half marathon or farther, require a 16 or more week build up. Over the past few years, when I have frequently raced in early December or late May, I have been struck, repeatedly, by the similarities between the training cycle and the academic semester. Last fall, I taught a CBU 101 Freshman Seminar course on this very idea, trying to help new students realize that it’s the foundation and habits they establish early in the semester that will allow their success late. Student created training plans, both for running and studying. I tried to get them to think in 3-week mesocycles and, informed by Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness’s Peak Performance, to think about the formula of stress+rest=growth. Drawing on a range of sources and recent studies, Stulberg and Magness’s book demonstrates the similarities between performing well in academic, career, and athletic settings.
At the beginning of this training cycle, I am in the honeymoon phase. Although I am extremely busy in preparing, or attempting to prepare, for the fall semester, I am also am still benefitting from a more flexible schedule. Two weeks from today, I will be back in the classroom, and the responsibilities of teaching and, more particularly, of serving as a department chair, will make it easy to get off track and not get the necessary rest to succeed in either training or working. Today, what I will say, is that I will watch the way running and working challenge each other and likely reflect more on that in future Rest Day Wrap-Up installments.
The other aspect of running that I need to inform my academic work is the fact that it benefits from repetition and dedicated time. Perhaps the greatest challenge of being a department chair is that there is always something, or more often 20+ somethings, that seem urgent at the time. I can work an entire day and end up with a longer to-do list than with which I started. This year, I have to be more focused on important tasks (important for me and important for my department) that affect longterm goals than on urgent tasks, which arise and seem critical in the moment but that often have no longterm significance. This brief post by Jonathan Marcus, coach of High Performance West, sums up the difference between important and urgent quite well.
Personally, in dealing with the seemingly urgent tasks, I make too little progress on my own research and work, which ultimately makes me question the value of what I am doing. Just as I carve out time for my runs to run 5-6 times per week, I need to be more conscious of setting aside the time for doing my own work and making my writing habit similar to my running habit.
Rest Day Plans
I am tight today in the back and legs, so I will start today with some foam rolling and stretching. Later, I will likely to some yoga and maybe some pool and/or hot tub time. It is not a rest day from work. In fact, a lot of important work-related tasks call, but I’ll break the day up into smaller pieces so that I can be active, move around and ultimately be ready to return work outs tomorrow refreshed and ready for another week.
As I prepare for the St. Jude Memphis Marathon, I am also fundraising with the St. Jude Heroes program. In 2017, the Memphis Marathon Weekend raised over $10.3 million for the care and research activities of the hospital. You can support my fundraising efforts here.