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,


  1. Great post, Teal! I was happy to hear you say that it usually takes you a while to hit goal pace (or goal tempo pace) since that seems to be the way I operate too. I also am using Advanced Marathoning as my training bible and I always have such a hard time on that first 4-mile tempo run. I do the same thing as you do when I'm coming back from an offseason: I ease in with fartleks and then start to add in a 15 minutes tempo, then a 20-minute tempo and before I know it, I'm just about up to 4-miles at tempo before my official schedule starts. That being said, that first MP run back (8 miles at MP) always feels like a darn sprint to me. It's not comfortable at all and makes me question my sanity. But as the season goes along, it slowly gets more doable. It really helps me to know that you don't really hit MP until the last goal pace effort. I've been questioning this season whether my MP should have felt easier all along (or if I've been too ambitious in trying to run that goal pace) and it's comforting to know that it doesn't have to feel easy along the way in training in order to have a shot at running that pace for the actual race. Hope the reunion with the GRC track group goes well and you find yourself getting more comfortable by the day!

    1. Thanks for the comment, Jenn! It makes me feel better I'm not the only one :) And yeah, for me MP is tough pretty much the entire time, but somehow feels better on race day. That's the reward we get for training hard!

  2. Oh my gosh, this is EXACTLY what I needed. Thank you SO much! I am struggling right now....bad. I had such a bad treadmill workout yesterday, and ended up crying wondering how the hell I am even gonna manage 6:20 pace for 26 miles, let alone faster. This is what I needed to hear, thank you. Just keep chugging away right, we would not want to be ready now. I am excited to meet you next week, and we can both support one another.

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