Three weeks out from a goal race is a tough time for any endurance athlete. Weekly mileage is peaking, possibly higher than ever before, and you are far enough into a training cycle to lose focus, but not close enough to race day to get excited. The body is tired and mental fatigue starts to set in after months of focus and patience. Maybe it’s just me, but during this time, I find myself using any and all tools available to me to make sure I continue to execute my training plan. Much like miles 19-23 of a marathon, these 2 weeks tend to be where you make it or break it so staying focused is critical. When I look back over this training period to look for tools I have used to stay motivated, I see a long list of habits that tend to be effective in waves. Let me explain.
Early in training, I just wanted to get back in the habit of running 6 days a week and I knew I needed to be more rigorous about strength training, rolling and yoga. Accountability makes it easier to get into a habit so I made sure that the majority of my runs were with other people: Tuesday mornings at the track with Bill, Lizzy and Lucci, Wednesday mornings before, during and after November Project, Thursday morning Ninja loops with my girls, Friday morning runs before, during and after NP hills and finally Saturday runs with SFRC in Marin when possible. This schedule required a lot of coordination, but it was what I needed to get my ass in gear. I also bit the bullet and joined the Equinox gym near my office. Its expensive but its close so I can go during lunch and I literally have to walk by it to get home so I have no excuse. It has yoga, strength, rolling, a salt-water pool and most importantly, steam rooms and showers. With the frequency at which I use it, I am spending less than $10 each time I go which sure beats $20 yoga classes and $30 TRX sessions.
Now that the mileage / amount of time I need to be running has gone up, I find that I just don’t have the motivation to get up that extra 30 minutes earlier in order to make a running date with someone else. This would mean getting up in the 4’s which I’ll do every once in a while, but at this point in training, my body needs all the sleep I can get. Plus (who am I kidding) I’d have a hard time finding a running buddy for that early. This means I am doing most of my runs alone in Oakland before the sun comes up. Since I live in West Oakland, the only option for me is to run around Lake Merritt which can get a tad repetitive when you are doing 2 laps 3-4 days a week. Oddly, I am actually finding this monotony kind of comforting. My body and brain are tired and so I relish not having to think too much about route.
Long runs have actually followed the opposite pattern. Early on, I was nervous about putting too much pressure on the long runs and so I did them alone, with no real pace goals, in order to give myself the freedom to just do what felt good. As it happens, running my old half marathon pace for 18-20 miles felt good. Since there was no pressure, and no one setting a pace I felt I had to hold onto, this pace came naturally, giving me a huge boost in confidence regarding my sub 3 hour goal. Now that the long runs are even longer, 23 miles to be exact, and I am heading into them with a more tired body and pace goals I find it necessary to run with a buddy. I am lucky that one of my Baybird team mates has the same coach and is also running Boston with similar goals. Sadly she lives down on the Peninsula but we are able to connect and work together to power through these key long runs.
Finally, bribery is always an option. Self-bribery that is. For example, this morning I got up at 5:20 and went into the kitchen to make my pre-run coffee, itself a new development to reward myself for getting out of bed, and I stood there for 5 minutes debating with myself whether I could somehow pull off getting back into bed for another couple hours, still getting my run in and still getting to work. Of course there was no way to pull that off, which is why I was up at 5:20 in the first place, but I considered all the options and finally decided that I was already up and I should just go for my run. I told myself I could go as slow as I wanted as long as I got out the door and I would treat myself with an everything bagel with cream cheese on my way to work. I did start out slow but my body eventually woke up and I got in a solid run.
So, the point is that there is no single method of training that works for everyone all the time. Allowing yourself the freedom to do whatever you feel you need to while still working within the structure of your training plan lightens the mental load. So you needed to roll over to get that extra house of sleep? squeeze the run in over lunch instead, or break it up to get in the miles when you can. Your body and your mind will thank you.