So here I am. Comfortably moving into Phase IV of all of this training. If you had of asked me 12 weeks ago if I was capable of doing the things I'm doing today (and what I ACTUALLY did do today - more on that later), I would have given you a resounding HELL NO.
Here's where a recap of what I've been up to the last 3 months:
- In January I started and completed Phase I of this training: Foundation and Injury Prevention. I logged a pathetic 67 miles for the entire month. My average pace for those runs was 10:47. In other words, they were all very easy runs. But, it wasn't called "foundation" and "injury prevention" for nothing. The main goal was to get my HR under control, and to learn how to run consistently 5 or 6 days a week. The workouts may be changing during these phases, but there is one constant theme: CONSISTENCY. I made it through the whole month with not one single ache or pain....something I haven't been able to accomplish in the last 3 years. I attribute that to consistency. I finished Phase I feeling stronger than ever, and looking forward to the harder workouts of Phase II.
- Phase II: Early Quality began in February. During this phase I was introduced to the proper way to do speed training, and focused on 400m repeats at a "repetition" pace. Prior to this, I thought there were two speeds: fast and slow. I was shocked and amazed to find out that I should have been running at 5 different speeds for all the different workouts I should have been doing (easy pace, marathon pace, threshold pace, interval pace, and repetition pace...oh, and the 6th: race pace). Come to think of it, I am sure that in the past I ran some of my training runs at a speed faster than what I ran my races at...moron. I also ran two 5ks, and PR'ed on the first one, shaving over 30 seconds off of my best time (and incidentally, my "best" time was on a completely downhill course...my new "best" time is on the 2nd hardest course in Macon...you do the math). Unfortunately, I got so cocky about the first race that I ran another one and bombed in a big way. But, I'm learning through all of this and I got taught a very hard lesson in pace control. RC started telling me I was going to have to paint his fence if I didn't get my pace under control...and from the looks of my running lately, his scare tactics worked. For Phase II, I logged 174% more miles than I did in Phase I and shaved 6 seconds off of my average time for the phase. And I did it all 100% completely injury free.
- Phase III: Transition Quality began in March and I'll be honest: I was scared to death. I knew this would be harder than Phase II and it focused on something I've struggled with: mental toughness. I had to do runs with names like slicedowns, cruise intervals, tempos, 1000m repeats and as if those weren't daunting enough I had to start introducing 9min pace miles into my long run. In other words, RC really thought that I could run a 10:30 pace for a few miles, kick it up for 2 or 3 or 4 miles at a 9min pace, and then run another few miles back at a 10:30. I was certain that he was on something when he put that on my calendar. Did he not realize that just a few weeks earlier I was struggling in a 5k at a 9min pace???? And the 1000m repeats...terrifying....just terrifying. It didn't help that I was traveling for work, running in unfamiliar territory, never could find a track to run on so I measured all my runs a little longer than I was supposed to...oh, and I was sick as a dog. But, I made it through each and every one of those runs (even when I was sick) and I even became friends with the slicedowns and tempo runs. I realized that these runs showed me the progress I had been making (I'm going to guess that this was all part of RC's master plan for me). And those 9min paces right in the middle of my EASY long run? Well, I nailed em. Each and everyone of them. I ran a race that terrified me (all those hills...) and I beat my arch rival age grouper right at the end....something I never thought I was capable of doing. As far as consistency goes (because really, that's what it's all about): I continued to run as instructed and only took more than one day off in a row two times (for Phase I and II, I managed to find the time to run at least every other day...imagine that....). But, even with taking two days off in a row during Phase III, I still increased my mileage over Phase I by 210% and shaved 49 seconds off of my average time. The only pain I had was in my left shin, the day after the race. It was nothing a little ice and a good massage couldn't fix.
- Phase IV: Final Quality started today. In this phase, I'll be doing a couple of race simulations, continuing with cruise intervals, running more of my "easy" runs at marathon pace, and introducing hill work (yikes!). Today we did the first race simulation, or time trial. I started out at with a 3 mile warmup at the area where our local Track Club meets for their Sunday run. RC met me there early and we warmed up in anticipation of starting my race simulation with the rest of the group. Since most of them are 8min easy pacers (or better), I knew it would be a great way to learn self-control (ie, not trying to keep up with them once they warmed up and dropped the hammer) and it would be a better simulation than trying to just do it solo. Sortof like a race, minus the race bibs, the entry fee, and the bananas at the end. We finished the warmup in time to see the most beautiful sunrise...shades of pink and purple and blue in the sky...it made me think about Easter eggs for some reason! At 7:15 we promptly started the run. I know a few of the regulars were wondering what the heck I was doing running up there in the front of the pack, and RC quickly let them know that I was simulating a 5k and that I'd be running an 8:30 for the first mile. For some reason, hearing "8:30" seemed to calm any nervousness I might have. We finished mile one right on target, and as the other runners got warmed up they began to pick up the pace. I was proud of myself for saying "so long" and not trying to hang with them any longer. At this point I'm thinking about how great I feel, how easy this seems, and how completing this 5k in my current PR time (25:49 or better) is really attainable. Right before mile 2, as we are climbing the first of two small hills, RC tells me that at mile 2 we are going to move into an 8min pace and I should be running at closer to a "9" (on a toughness scale of 1 to 10). I think "crap. I'm so comfortable here. Why do we have to do this again?" And then the root of all my problems with running dawned on me:
I never push the envelope. I've got this fear in me that doesn't want to see what's out there beyond just being comfortable. Maybe I'm scared of getting hurt, or maybe I'm scared of what might happen. I always keep that little bit in reserve just in case I feel like I'm going to die. But in actuality, I don't really know what it feels like to be dying. Well, not yet anyway....
Mile 2 was brutal. We continued to crank it down from an 8:20 to a 7:45 pace. We climbed the 2nd and last hill of the course. I was constantly being encouraged by RC so much that I just wanted to take my shoe off and throw it at him. He kept telling me the time and I just kept thinking "why are we running this fast?" I didn't get it...a 7:45...what planet is he on??? Then we begin to catch back up with some of the faster long runners...he starts encouraging me to pass them..."pass them with conviction", he kept saying. When I passed Elizabeth and Leslie, if I had of had any breath, I would have shouted "I'M PASSING YOU WITH CONVICTION BECAUSE I CAN", but I didn't have the breath left. We are in the home stretch...I know the end is near...my chest starts hurting, but not like my heart. Where my HR monitor is...the strap...something is digging into me....I can't breath...I can tell that I'm slowing down...I starte repeating "Pain of Discpline" and a few short prayers (mostly just "God, help me to get to the finish without dying")...I've resorted to taking really short, fast breaths...maybe I'm hyperventilating...the only thing I was able to mutter was "Sam, I'm dying...." And within seconds of saying that, the race is over.
25:21 (according to my Garmin)
I just shaved 30 seconds off my current 5k time. In a time trial. In a simulation. In a training run that I'm not supposed to be able to PR on. And knowing now what I know (ie, that I won't really die) I could have maintained that 7:30 pace for the last .11 mile instead of slowing down. In other words, while I'm so proud of myself for accomplishing this, I know (I KNOW!) I will do even better on the next race.
And while I laid on the ground at the end (I just wanted to stretch my rib cage out), remarkably I felt fine. I didn't die. I didn't even come close to it. Within a minute of lying on the ground, my HR was in the 160s. I got back up. Walked for a few minutes and then began the 3 mile jog back to the car.
I did that.
Just like that.
The old Amy would have never ran a 7:30 for the last 1/2 mile of anything. The old Amy wouldn't have kept going in spite of pain. The old Amy actually wouldn't have shown up for the race at all because it was raining at the start. The old Amy would have continued to think that those fast runners are just fast because they've got good fast running genes. The old Amy may have crossed the finish line but she certainly wouldn't have gone back out and jogged another 3 miles to release that lactic acid buildup. The old Amy would have hated the new Amy for what she can accomplish.
I'm sure most of you want to know what the key to all of this success is. Well, even if you don't, I'm going to tell you anyway. While RC's training plan, encouragement, keen sense of knowing everything that there is to know about running, and his motivation sure have made me stronger, what's really fueling this fire is C-O-N-S-I-S-T-E-N-C-Y (and yes, RC taught me about that too). Running 5 days a week. Not taking more than one day off in a row. Doing the runs that need to happen (long runs, quality runs, easy runs) each and every week. Not making excuses for why I can't go, shouldn't go, or won't go out for a run. On Sunday's I sit down and work on my schedule for the next week. The first thing I put on there is my runs. And then everything else gets scheduled around them.
I make training, running, and my health a priority, and in turn I'm reaping the rewards from it. Try as you might to figure out a "better, easier way" to do things, but I am living proof that there is no other way to do it. If you aren't anything else with whatever it is you are trying to accomplish, be consistent.
And have a good Sunday!