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August 5, 2010 / elodie kaye

Pulling the Plug

Some runners use advance registration to motivate them to train.  I am not that runner, but usually my avoidance of paper commitment is just a front.  I believe I have a way out, and that makes me feel secure.  For the past couple of weeks though, I’ve been thinking hard about using that escape hatch from my marathon.  If it wasn’t patently obvious by now to everyone but me, I’ve decided to quit marathon training for this fall.

I bailed out of an 18-miler a couple of weeks ago, but the signposts were out there earlier, at the track.

My 5K pace right now is a minute slower than the speed I used to hold for a half-marathon, but if I close my eyes it doesn’t feel any different.  My feet flick light and smooth.  On a good day, the space between my shoulder blades tingles, and my legs zoom on the cushion of dust kicked up from the cinder oval.  Of course it doesn’t last.  There are the ever-present twins, Exhaustion and Agony, crouched to attack any time I round a curve.  Two weeks ago finally too tired to dread them any longer, I recklessly dropped my guard, and discovered something I learned before.  Sometimes they don’t jump you.  Yes, even when you keep running hard.

In the same week as those 1K intervals at the track, I ran an 8-miler with 5 of the middle miles just under my anaerobic ceiling.  I wasn’t supposed to do a tempo, in fact that run contributed to the fiery death of the ill-fated 18-mile long run.  I was seduced by the rhythm, a silky 2-2 beat of breath and footfall, that was the most natural movement my body was meant for that day.  It was a silly choice but I did it for pleasure, not ego.  As I was walking home, spent and a little sad that it was over, I longed for the days when runs like that were my bread and butter.

It seems strange to pull the plug just when evidence shows the training plan is working.  80 miles of long runs in the last month have built my endurance, making it possible to hold a faster pace on my 8-mile runs now.  Three speed sessions at the track and a couple of tempos have stimulated more of my fast running muscles, so doing it feels good even when I can’t hold the pace for as long as I’d like.

However, my long runs are improving more slowly.  There was a time when I ran 12 miles and my legs urged me to go a little faster to finish the last four.  They were fatigued, but also restless.  These days, only my impatient mind wonders why we can’t go any faster.

I could keep hammering away at the long runs.  They’ll improve, but there’s a reason why I’m a better 10-mile racer than a marathoner.  It takes 3 weeks or so for me to feel a change from tempo runs, but it takes something more like 6 – 9 weeks for a long run.  I started my long runs early in the training schedule, to give myself extra time to adapt.  There is just enough to be ready by race day.

This week the prospect of registering has been loud in my ears like the slamming of a prison cell.  It means 12 more weeks of dead legs.  Legs with no snap for intervals.  Leaden tempo miles.  I can be ready for the marathon but what I want more is to feel air under my feet.  I want to be rich in strength, to charge a hill, or chase another runner, without worrying whether my budget has room for the long run in a few days.

Keith posted a quote like he was fed up with hearing my thoughts: To progress in life you must give up the things you do not like. Give up doing the things that you do not like to do. You must find the things that you do like. The things that are acceptable to your mind.  -Agnes Martin

I don’t like running long.  However, I would submit that the things that are acceptable to my mind are dynamic, shifting.

Some day, I will have the strength again to run 22 miles, without letting it take over the rest of my running.  I will know I’m ready to race the marathon, before I pencil out a training plan.  I’m disappointed that that day is farther away than I thought it would be, but remain encouraged that it is at last visible on my horizon.  Tiny, but approaching.

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8 Comments

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  1. bit101 / Aug 5 2010 2:59 pm

    No, I wasn’t hearing your thoughts. 🙂

    I’d say I would be sad to see you drop out of the marathon, but that would be a selfish attitude on my part. I’ve never run a marathon and am honestly not in a hurry to do so just yet. My mind and body have their own agenda and are nice enough to let me in on it now and then. You know what’s right for you. I respect that.

    • elodiekaye / Aug 5 2010 4:21 pm

      It’s easy to forgive selfishness for honesty. 🙂 Knowing what’s right sounds certain but it’s deceivingly slippery. I couldn’t be sure unless I gave it a try. And see? It means something that you were more interested in my marathon outcome than I was!

      I think it’s great that you’re being patient with your first. You’ll know when it’s time, too.

      • bit101 / Aug 5 2010 8:23 pm

        Oh, yeah, “knowing what’s right” may be the slipperiest substance known to man. 20/20 hindsight, right?

  2. Vern Myers / Aug 5 2010 9:36 pm

    Elodie, I couldn’t read the post title, “Pulling the Plug” without feeling a bit sad. Sad, anticipating that you were experiencing mixed feelings of disappointment and regret. After reading this post and following your reasoning process, I think you made the absolute right choice. You’ve had some struggles lately and have worked valiantly to overcome them. You’ve reached the point where you can savor the joy of running again. Could you get ready for this marathon? Sure, you could, but at what cost? You would be wearing yourself down and sacrificing your enjoyment of the run for what? You’d run it, and you’d finish, but given the circumstances, it would not be your best marathon. You’ve run marathons; your PR is a time to be proud of. You have nothing to prove. As Keith is wisely not rushing into his first marathon, you are wisely not rushing into your next marathon. You’ll both know when the time is right. That time will come.

    • elodiekaye / Aug 6 2010 7:34 pm

      Of all people Vern, I thought you’d be one who could have seen this coming. I am a little sad, and regretful that I’m not strong enough yet. I’m not sure that every marathon has to be your best one. There’s considerable value in training for and completing one with honest effort, no matter what your time, or how many you’ve run before. That’s why I had to try.

      I think my trouble is that I don’t enjoy the marathon journey enough. You clearly do, and I think you’ll have many marathon experiences good and bad, but all of them adding to your growth as a runner.

  3. Anne / Aug 7 2010 7:06 am

    It took me a few years to truly get the marathon out of my system. I was atypical of most people: I loved the training but not the events. You’ll know when the time is right.

    • elodiekaye / Aug 7 2010 1:31 pm

      I ran 5 years before going for my first one, waited 3 more to try again. I seem to be averaging about 2 a decade. At this rate, I could be too old to marathon before I get them out of my system!

      I’m interested to know what you didn’t like about the event, Anne?

      • Anne / Aug 11 2010 7:22 am

        Elodie, I love training in solitude and really connecting body and soul while I’m out there. The actual marathon, particularly if it’s a big one, is almost anticlimatic for me since I spend more time distracted than “enjoying” the change of scenery. That said, small marathons in rural areas remain appealing.

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