Sunday, April 15, 2012

The marathon crazies

Whatever you want to call it, "marathon crazies", "taper gremlins", "the voices", "the committee", those who reside in my mind, they were talking a LOT today, and there was only one thing that would shut them up. Going for a run. Actually there were two things that did it - talking to my friend, Patti, calmed them to a whisper and helped me see another perspective, and then running got rid of the rest of the negativity. Running really truly is, in every sense of the word, a mental sport. The athlete begins in the mind (thanks Melissa for this quote).

I had been looking forward to today's workout for some time: my last hard effort before the 3-week taper. I had the route planned and everything. I carbed up, salted up, and hydrated appropriately. Over the last several weeks, I found comfort in anything I read that said that getting in at least two 20-mile runs (32km) during training was key to a successful marathon. It was just a matter of doing it. But Friday evening, I started feeling that scratchy feeling in the back of the throat, and then by yesterday (Saturday), it was full-on cold symptoms and a high fever for most of the day. Not fun. Nevertheless, I still did everything I could to believe my 32km run today was going to happen. 

After falling asleep in a sweaty, feverish stupor on the couch before sunset last night, waking up only briefly when Cam got home from work and helped me to bed, and getting about 13 hours of sleep as a result, I felt loads better this morning. The fever was gone, the body aches were gone, but my head still stuffed like nobody's business. What was my first thought? Yes, I can run that 32km run. But I knew it wasn't true.

I turned on my computer while sipping my morning coffee to find evidence that running with a cold was ok. I searched online forums and articles high and low from all my trusted sources. Yes, they all said running with a cold was OK. But they all came with caveats. Only run if the symptoms are above the neck, not below. So congestion limited to the sinuses is an OK to run, congestion in the chest or fever is a "don't even think about it". And then several sources said that if you choose to run, don't do a hard effort run - nothing long or up-tempo. Some suggested nothing higher than 6 miles (10km). Some suggested running a short distance might help me to feel better. And then some suggested that if one had a fever, they should wait at least 72 hours before a hard workout. *Gasp* 

It was bad enough that I had to say goodbye to my 20-miler, let alone wait 72 hours to run at all (or 48 since the fever was yesterday?). Either way, that was simply not happening. I never want to be stupid with my running, but I also trust in my ability to read my own body and what I can handle. I decided I'd go out for a run, but watch for cues early on if I was feeling ok to continue. If I wasn't feeling ok, I'd turn around and WALK home. The most I would run would be 10km. I'd simply have to be ok with that. With the Vancouver Sun Run happening today, and 50,000+ people going out and doing 10km, I wanted to at least do the same distance. I didn't want to feel lazy or like someone who was making excuses. I am neither of those things. When I skip or alter a workout, it's always for good reason like illness or injury. Never laziness.

So I settled that I would run an easy effort today. That took some deliberation, but I was at peace with my decision. Then "the committee" started to chime in again. 

"Zahida, what are you going to do with the rest of the 3 weeks before the marathon? You were going to go with a 3 week taper, like you've been advised to. But with missing today's important run, you better move it to next week. You're slacking so a 2-week taper will be fine. You haven't yet proved what you're made of." 

So after making breakfast, followed by some neo citron, the silly and obsessive internet search recommenced. Is a 2-week taper a good idea or bad idea? Is only doing one 20-miler going to matter? There are so many opinions out there. Some say that someone who is more of an intermediate runner like myself can likely be ok with a 2-week taper. Only advanced runners who are logging serious mileage need the 3-week taper to recover. Some say that one 20-miler is plenty. Others say you must do at least two. Some say doing 18-milers are just as good (which I've done two of) and you need not go above that. But I keep asking myself the same question....where are the rest of the miles going to come from? I have to run 26.2 of them on May 6th. That's where trusting your own strength, your own conditioning, and your own mind come into play. I don't need to prove I can run that distance now. I just have to prime my body as best I can to do it when it needs to. 

The thing is though, there can't be an exact science to marathon training. It's impossible. We're humans and thus, insanely complex. Each individual is different. What works for one person, won't work for another. I can't follow someone else's marathon plan and expect it to give me the perfect marathon. We have to each do what makes sense for ourselves. 

And since this is my first marathon, I don't yet know for certain what works for me or what will optimize my own results. Over time as I run more marathons, I will adapt my own training and know what works best for me. I have to remind myself that while this is my first marathon, and thus a very important and special one, it won't be my last. I have many more in which I can improve. I just want the best possible results for the best possible finish. Or if I'm honest, I just want to be sure I finish and I want my finish time something I can be proud of. I don't want to be walking a "death march" the last 10km. I want to run to the finish with a smile on my face. 

I know one thing for sure - I'm strong. My half marathon race at the start of the month was run at my target marathon pace, and it felt easy. Last week, I ran an 18-miler, the first 18 miles of the race route, and it felt easy. I will indeed by fine.

So I resolved that I need to adapt my training plan, again. Just like I had to adapt when I hurt my back a couple months back in soccer, and everything worked out fine, I'll adapt to this current situation and be fine.

I changed into running gear, applied a Breathe-Right strip to my nose to open my nasal passages, and ran a good 10km this afternoon. Soon after taking this photo, I hopped outside and noticed the sun was shining. So I came back inside, changed into a t-shirt (my beautiful blue finisher shirt from the recent half marathon, no less), grabbed my sunglasses and off I went. After a few km, my congested nose was clear on its own accord, and I ran strong. I allowed the Breathe-Right strip to fall off my sweaty nose and had a fun run. Snotty and slimy, yes, but fun. I even got a bit of a tan!

It wasn't an easy route, but a scenic and enjoyable one (which in North Vancouver equates to hilly), and I finished going at an easy pace at 1:03:07. It was less than 1/3 of the distance of what I "was supposed to do", but it cleared my head, calmed the gremlins, and reminded me that I'm strong. I can run 10km with little effort even when I'm sick. I'm indeed going to be ok. In the 3 weeks before marathon day, there's little I can do to improve my fitness "on time", but plenty I can do to hurt myself and hurt my race results. So why push it? Best to train smart, rest, and allow me to run my first 26.2 miles with the freshest legs possible.

I admit, although I have good ideas on how I'll proceed over the coming few short weeks until race day, I'm still not 100% sure I know what to do. But at least now since returning from my run, I have the peace of mind to stop obsessing. At least for the rest of the day.


  1. Hey Lady! Congrats on being just 18 days away from your first Marathon! I have a query that demands your expertise, if you will kindly lend your advice :)

    I ran about 11.5 km yesterday and will do another 16km or so at the end of this week or beginning of next week before tapering for the Half on May 6th. But the last two runs I've done (the 11 and a 9or so km before it) have resulted in a blister from my shoes! On the inside of my arch area. My mama prescribed vaseline, but will that be enough to sustain me on race day for 22 kms? The last thing I want is to be limping through the finish after all of my hard work... do I need new shoes? I don't really wanna spend the money but I also don't wanna put my $95 race registration to waste..

    Ideas and Advice, please!!

  2. Hey Jess! If you are going to replace the shoes, you need to do it now so you have time to wear them in a bit before the race. How long have you had the shoes you are currently wearing? Or better yet, how many kms have you put on them, roughly? Most shoes can handle anywhere between 500-800km, but it depends on how much stress you put on your shoes and how much cushioning they had on them to begin with.

    If new shoes aren't the answer, then yes, vaseline is good. But I actually lather my feet up in baby powder before putting them in my socks. A better alternative to vaseline is Body Glide. You can get a mini travel-sized stick of it from the Running Room for $8. It glides on, prevents friction, but unlike vaseline, it's sweat-proof. So it'll work until you shower! I use it on my bra-line, inside of my thighs, and other vulnerable areas for long runs too.

    What kind of socks do you wear? That's another factor! There are some great anatomically-designed socks out there (ie. with specific fit for left and right foot), with compression bands etc. These hug your feet in all the right spots and are designed to not budge on your foot and cause friction/chafing/blistering...

    And we have to try to meet up somehow after BMO for a high five. Big race for both of us :-)

  3. Thanks for the great advice!
    I took my current shoes into the running store and was told that there is not a lot of life left in 'em, and I'd do best to replace them before the Half. Sad day for my old faithfuls! Though I was loathe to spend the money on a new pair, I realized this was only my SECOND pair I've ever owned - very bad considering I've been running since I was 10. Needless to say, I think I was past the 500-800km mark on those one.

    Anyway, long story short: while your product review sounded great, I didn't wanna buy shoes with a bias, so I tried on a few different pairs without knowing what they were and decided on the a pair that felt better (by far!) than the rest : and they were the New Balance 890's, the newer version of yours. Go figure. I tried on the 880's as well but they didn't have my size (sad day, as they were on sale and much cheaper!). All in all, great shoes, great fit, I'm happy! Took 'em out on a 13k to break 'em in and they feel incredible. Thanks again!

  4. Yay! You got 890s. They are fantastic! I'm going to get me some version 2s to try out too and we can compare notes. They are so nice and light but still cushiony, eh? Perfect for up-tempo work and long runs too.

    I was thinking of you and your mom being good candidates to consider training with us at Team In Training - can you imagine doing something awesome like the Nike Women's Marathon in San Francisco together? I'm going to facebook you to try to convince you :-)