Friday, February 27, 2015

Wading In

There’s a picture of me as a little kid on a family vacation in Maine. I had waded, ever so cautiously, into the freezing water of a river and, when I was in to my knees, had ambitiously ducked my face in. I grinned excitedly as I looked back at my dad snapping the photo. I was proud for wading into the freezing water and having the audacity to stick my little face in.

Always proud of small victories and incremental progress. 
What you can’t see in the photo is what happened next: my older brother and sister swam casually by. Completely submerged, like it was a hot spring.

Unlike my siblings—and seemingly most people I know—I’ve never been good at diving in. I take the cautious approach, slowly inching my way forward. It can be painful for others to watch, but the alternative is falling flat on my face. (Belly Face flop?)

With running, I’ve learned my lesson. Some training plans have a first tempo run of 4 or 5 miles. That doesn’t seem too daunting, except I’ve never once succeeded at a 4 mile tempo after a gluttonous offseason. Maybe there’s something to be said for jumping right in—sink or swim—to get yourself going, but it leaves me discouraged and demoralized instead. Not coming from a speedy background, I can’t just up and run 6 flats.

For example, a few weeks ago I ran four miles (aka less than 1/6th of a marathon) at my marathon pace from 2 years ago. As far as “tempo” runs go, that wasn’t so successful. (Tempo runs are supposed to be around half marathon pace, i.e not the pace you were bummed about running for twice as far, back in 2013.) The thing is, that is my current pace. I’m just a slow starter.

I prefer to ease in with fartleks (counting minutes not miles) or shorter “tempo” repeats (that are still slower than goal tempo pace). I push the first real tempos back a few weeks and the first marathon pace workouts a bit further.

With each, I progress slowly, slicing off seconds as miles get added. I can’t run 8 miles at marathon pace at the beginning of the season (as Advanced Marathoning, my training bible, calls for). Last season I didn’t hit marathon pace until the very last (and longest) effort, and I didn’t really expect to. For me, it takes a season of building to run even a few miles at that pace. So I slowly wade in, trying to move from 2013 marathon pace to 2014’s before I can even consider 2015’s goal pace. Maybe attempting to run both faster and longer seems harder (like witnessing someone painfully inch themselves in), but it’s the only way I know how.

Or maybe this is obvious—maybe this is the training before the real training that everyone does? Everyone has some rust to shake off. But it seems like other people can jump in quite a bit quicker. It’s intimidating as hell to hear what others are doing, read what a workout “should” be at this point, or even remember what you yourself did not too long ago. I try to remind myself that, for me, slow and steady now means fast later.

But even wading in can be a shock to the system; there’s a moment when the cold hits you and you want to be back on the shore basking in the sun. Fartleks go on forever, 2x2 miles is slower than your marathon pace… but then… just a little further… and, suddenly, you’re comfortable again.

I’m not there yet, but there are a few indications I’m adjusting to the water:
- I have (at least) one blister on my feet.
- I have (at least) one scar from chafing.
- I have run (at least) one mile at last year’s marathon pace. (Ok, more than one. But it’s still quite a small victory.)

Now that I’m somewhat (actually, barely) acclimated, I going to make a relatively big splash next week and head back to track workouts with the GRC ladies. It’s been intimidating (as usual) to hear how fast these ladies are lapping that track, and it will be a cold shock to dive back in with them. I’ll be proud just to stick my face in.

Dream big,