I planned to run a marathon this spring, but that isn't in the plan for me anymore. By the time we were done moving and I was done coughing my brains out, there just wasn't enough time to build to it, and half-assing a marathon for a medal and a pair of extremely sore and unprepared legs isn't on my list of things that seem either fun or smart. So I'll drop to the half, I'll run a marathon later this year, and I won't lose even a blink of sleep over it.
Rebuilding my fitness from what I thought was zero has been a vaguely interesting process. I had a couple of good weeks of training at the beginning of December after a long few months of inconsistency, but then ended up taking almost two more weeks off to let my lungs knit back together. So when I strapped my heart rate monitor on just under a month ago to head out for a run, it felt like I was starting from scratch again. My first run - one that had me thrilled at how good it felt until I turned around to come home and realized I had been running downhill - was certainly one of the slowest I've done. And I remember last year at this time, when I was starting to train by MAF for the very first time. This run would have made me grumpy and frustrated. I distinctly remember coming in my front door and whipping my heart rate strap off and across the floor. This year, it just doesn't bother me anymore.
Part of the reason is because I've been through this. I've learned the hard way that holding myself accountable to keeping my heart rate low is what will help me build my fitness the fastest. Cheating and running over my cap - even by 2 or 3 or 4 beats - is only pushing back the day when I have to hurt myself, just a little, to get my heart rate high enough to hit MAF. That's a pretty spectacular feeling, and I went hunting for it. This time around, it didn't take quite as long. A couple of runs filled with walking turned into a couple of runs trotting in the 12s, which dropped into the 11s and then I could finally chat with my friends without shoving my heart rate up and over. Finally, I think it was about a week ago where I warmed up, lapped my watch, and had to haul what I consider some pretty serious ass to get my heart rate up to where I wanted it for four miles at MAF. It's dark magic.
So I'm making my way back. A few weeks ago, my Boulder pony training buddies went out and looked for a race to prep for the marathon that they are still running (suckers) and stumbled onto this ten miler. As it turned out, they both got approved for the five miler/ten miler race day double, but I only got the stamp of approval for the ten miler, and I had to run the vast majority of it as a MAF test.
I've done this before, actually last spring, when I ran the Cherry Blossom ten miler as a MAF test. I "tapered" for that race by doing a four hour ride and an hour swim the day before, and this time was no different. On Friday, I headed out with these guys:
For an "easy ride" that ended up looking like this:
Which isn't always a bad thing, but I was not-so-secretly relieved to only have to run ten miles at MAF on Saturday morning and not race my ass off.
Amy was in town visiting for the weekend and didn't want to race, but took the opportunity of me racing to run in the other direction on the trail to get her long run done while I MAF'd. I warmed up a little, mostly by walking back and forth to the car to change clothes a dozen times, but since I was using the first two miles of the race as an additional warm-up, I didn't really stress about it. As we were standing around chatting in the minutes before the start, I accidentally ate an entire pack of those PowerBar squishy gel things without really noticing, so my stomach was a little grumbly for the first few miles but at least I didn't have to worry about fuel.
MAF tests, in general, are pretty unremarkable. My heart rate stayed steady except for the 180º turn-around of the out-and-back, where it dropped three beats for about ten seconds. It also dropped a bit at the aid station at mile 7.5 where I slowed to suck down four cups of water because I felt ridiculously hot and thirsty (Colorado in January, people, it's a fabulous thing). But other than that, it held smooth and steady for six solid miles. At mile eight, I was supposed to ditch MAF and haul ass. I dug in a little bit and prayed for my gel to give me a kick in the ass, but as it turns out, 3-4 weeks of rebuilding doesn't produce a whole lot of speed after eight miles. So I held it as far above MAF as I could (about four beats, sigh) straight into the finish, and then I was done. (Stolen shot of my form, which is both constantly improving and endlessly fascinating only to me).
Last spring's ten-miler-done-as-a-MAF-test produced a PR, so I suppose I shouldn't be surprised when this one did as well, but in all honesty, it's only a PR because I've never really raced the distance. One of these days I'll get around to it, I suppose, or maybe I'll just keep paying to wear a bib for MAF tests.
Either way, it was a gorgeous day, I ran ten miles that didn't suck and then I ate brunch with lots of old and new friends. Running is going well. Training is going well. It's not particularly exciting. It's getting up every day and getting the work done, to the best of my ability. Some days it's fun with training buddies or co-workers, some days it feels a little bit like work, some days it's in the gorgeous outdoor pool or on the trail with a cow chewing grass in my ear, and some days it's on the trainer in a boring room by myself.
But a lot of the time, especially in the winter, that's what endurance training is. It's not a CRUSH BALLS RAWR, it's not sparkly highs and lows, it's not thrashing yourself until you puke. And I think that's why I'm not really interested in talking about it right now. I'm more interested in getting out there, enjoying it in the moment, being happy, and then moving right along.