The End, Plus Epilogue

As I mentioned last time, I've come down with another cold, and that makes three colds in five months. Because I have diabetes, it takes me a little extra time to get over these things, and they tax my body a little more heavily than they might tax yours. My half marathon being two and a half weeks away, one week of which will be a taper week to rest my muscles for the main event, this effectively ends my training schedule here and now.

I'll still run the race, of course, but I won't push for my goal time. I'll run relaxed and just try to have some fun. I am disappointed that my months of training fell far short of my expectations, of course; first because I sunk two months into an ineffective heart-rate based training regimen, and second because I managed to avoid injury only to fall victim to virus after virus. I wanted to get my body back into some serious running shape after a long time, and I had some good early indicators that it was working. But that's bad luck for you. Some years, you get lots of colds; other years, you don't get any. It was my turn to draw the short straw, and my bad luck that I drew it while attempting to train for a race.

Any undertaking like this, no matter how unsuccessful, is bound to teach you something, and indeed I learned. Let's review a few important things I learned this year so far.

First, I learned that using heart rate as the primary driver of training is not a good idea. I think it's okay to reference heart rate as one data point among many while you train. But to force yourself into a particular pace - especially a slower pace - merely to adhere to heart rate guidelines is, I think, very foolish. The result of this kind of thing can only ever be slower pace times.

Second, I learned the value of making hard days hard and easy days easy. In part, I stumbled upon this accidentally. My training schedule, like many I've used throughout the years, made interval and fartlek days "two-a-days." That is, I had to go for an easy run in the morning on those days, and a faster/harder workout in the afternoons. That was okay, but I think in the future I'll modify my training so that I run two-a-days on easy days. That way, I'll get the benefit of higher mileage without taxing my muscles overmuch; and meanwhile, I'll be able to dedicate all of the day's energy to my speed workout on a proper speed day. (If you look at the space between workouts as a span of hours, rather than a span of days, this isn't even that large of a change. It just amounts to a little extra recovery time prior to the more difficult workout, which is precisely what I'd want.)

Third, I learned how to run very long runs again. My training schedule required me to go for runs up to two hours long. That's a long time, and I haven't gone running like that really since my diabetes diagnosis. This year, I finally worked up the fitness level and the guts to give it a try, and I discovered that if I take glucose tablets at the right intervals, and also take them when I start to experience certain physical sensations, I can usually last the whole duration of the long run. This is a huge victory and it actually opens up the possibility that maybe, perhaps, some day, I'll be able to run a full marathon. For me, that's huge.

Fourth, I rediscovered that running ten miles at a time, and more than ten miles in a given day, is relatively easy for me. This is another one of those things that was true prior to my diabetes diagnosis, but which I hadn't really tested since then. I like running ten miles at a time. Ten miles is more than just a nice, round number. It's a distance that feels good to me, one that I've always had an affinity for, at least as long as I've been capable of running ten miles at a time.

Fifth, I learned something about my body composition. Going into this training program, I had been doing a lot of P90X, and I eventually ditched that because I wanted to shed some pounds so that I could run faster. I successfully shed those pounds, and I think losing that weight really did help me run faster. But it was a few pounds of muscle mass, not a few pounds of fat, so it did come at the cost of some "all-around fitness." I am not so interested in proclaiming which kind of fitness is "better" here. In the past, I've spent a lot of time discussing the fact that people who never get in amazing shape have no idea what their bodies are supposed to really look like, much less how they're actually supposed to feel. Even among those who have been in great shape, most of them only know the difference between being in shape and being out of shape. Not very many people know what it feels like to be in different kinds of being in shape. What is it like to be in great shape for distance-running? What is it like being in shape with more muscle mass? How does your body respond to the various tasks of physical exercise under different "shape conditions?" This is invaluable insight into my own body.

Sixth, I learned the variety of cross-training. I haven't done much of that lately, and I miss it. I miss the refreshing fun of going out for a bike ride instead of a run; it might not be as good for the body as a running workout, but it's great for the mind, and that's actually worth something, too. I think people also feel a little better when they train with the objective of having lots of fun at the possible expense of a superior workout. I don't mean that people should switch out hard or annoying workouts in favor of having lots of fun, of course. I just mean that, especially as we age, it becomes more important to foster an all-around, always-exercising, joy-of-motion mentality - what I have called "fostering a culture of activity" - than it is to ensure that each workout inches you closer to a personal record. Put another way, if you always have something to look forward to in working out, you'll work out a lot more effectively than you would if you just mindlessly cranked through a schedule of workouts.

Seventh, speaking of a schedule of workouts, I learned the benefit of actually scheduling workouts, rather than flying by the seat of your pants. Perhaps somewhat counterintuitively, this doesn't actually work against the previous point. It's nice to know what's coming. It's nice to know what you're doing, not just today or tomorrow, but next Thursday. It helps you plan activities around your workouts; it helps you keep your diet and your bedtime on track. It also helps you add more variety to your training. Humans are creatures of habit and if we don't make a deliberate attempt to break out of our ruts, we will tend to stay within them. Planning on breaking your rut is a great way to succeed in breaking it.

Well, I probably learned a bit more than all of this, too, but I think the list is long enough for one day. Looking back over it, I am feeling pretty good about my year thus far, even if I'm not necessarily in a position to improve my half marathon PR. I feel well prepared for my fitness future, whether or not that includes a great race next month. In the end, I'm quite happy about it.

No comments:

Post a Comment