"'Cause everything that we could feel, we feel insanely"
~ Mikky Ekko, 'Love You Crazy'
Marathon training is a beast. I'm sorry, I know I say this often. But, having just gotten through this last training cycle, it's really the one word that comes to mind each and every time. It is such a physical and emotional rollercoaster and there are no free rides. Well, unless you're willing to roll the dice which usually results in a brutally painful ride and I'm guessing there are not many out there who willingly choose to hop on the pain train. Seriously, though, whether you are training with a lofty goal in mind or just to have fun on race day, you still have to put the time in. And it's so much time. Months and months of long runs and workouts and miles upon miles. And that's in addition to all the other stuff we have to do in our ordinary, every day lives. It's like a side job that no one really gives a shit about but we still have to punch the clock because, for whatever reason, we want....need...even crave the extra work. As I reflect back on this particular training cycle, I can pinpoint all of the various phases and the emotions that went along with them. Joy, pain, madness, doubt, fear, desire, worry and total and complete exhaustion among many others. I've run about 1,130 miles since I started training back in November and I've honestly been overcome by every single one of these emotions, often all of them and very often multiple times a day. String them all together, and that's my story. It's funny and crazy and awesome and ridiculous and probably even annoying. But I truly feel it all; the good, the bad and the ugly, right up to the start of the race and all the way through it. And, in sharing it, hopefully you feel it, too. Because feeling is living. But feeling it with others makes it that much more real. Can you feel that? I know I do.
"Are you one of those runners who is "too serious" to run with music? Good. Stay that way. I need every advantage I can get."
~ Matt Fitzgerald
Through the years, I've done several posts specifically about the positive affects of music on overall performance. Back in 2014, I shared this one based on a study done by ASAPScience. I won't rehash the details as you can check out the video at your leisure if you so desire. But, in a nutshell it explains how music acts as a mood enhancer, physical stimulant, welcome diversion and overall mental energy driver. Please and thank you. In summary, through extensive research, Almost all findings found that listening to music PERIOD, regardless of composition or speed, enhanced performance compared to no music.
About a year later, I posted this one written by Matt Fitzgerald which I found on Active.com. Again, you can check out the original post or read the article to get all the details. But, basically he explains how the brain imposes fatigue based on predicted physiological limits. If and when an athlete is highly motivated the brain will allow the body to edge a little closer to the point of discomfort as it seeks out a better performance.
Clearly there are many factors that influence an athlete's level of enthusiasm and motivation (ie. the roaring crowds of Boston). But, science shows that music also happens to be another big one, not necessarily alleviating pain but making the pain more bearable by putting an athlete in a better frame of mind. Personally, I find myself able to take it to the next level or to pick myself up if I'm struggling if a song I like comes on. So, this makes complete sense to me.
But check this out. About a week ago I read a small blurb in Runner's World magazine about the impact of music on recovery. This was a totally new concept for me and I wanted to learn more. I dug a little deeper and found the full details of the study which took place at Brunel University in London. To my surprise I learned that music is a plays a key role in one's entire exercise routine beginning with the warmup through the workout itself and, as this report shows, through the recovery as well. This struck a chord with me (no pun intended) as I often turn my music off post workout. What I really should be doing, based on this research, is changing up my playlist to some chill tunes and continuing to listen as I cool down and drink my coffee...I mean stretch. Who knew? There were a few key takeaways in this article for me.
* Your playlist is key to getting the most out of your post-exercise recovery and can help you stick to your routine, scientists show for the first time. * Slower chill-out music puts a positive spin on how you remember feeling after exercise. And that’s important because enjoyment helps make exercise a habit. * Listening to music-specifically, 20-30 minutes of slow, sedate tunes - after a run can also speed recovery. Chill music can lower your levels of cortisol, a hormone released when we're stressed.
As Dr. Costas Karageorghis excitedly explains, this study marks a new phase in harnessing the power of music in exercise. In so many words, evidence shows that we can use music during all phases of a workout as a tool to tailor how we want to feel at that particular moment; the end goal being to improve our mood and disassociate the brain from pain.So let's take yesterday, for example. I ran 18 miles and it was brutal. I was tired from the beginning, my legs hurt throughout most of the run and I had zero flow. When I finished, I wanted to lie down and do nothing for the rest of the day; not that this was an option. Clearly, I did not have a positive taste in my mouth after this particular run and it kind of sucked. Perhaps if I had put put on some tunes (---> Pop Chillout by Spotify would likely work well) and taken some time to stretch, roll and unwind, it would have changed my overall mindset and left me feeling differently about the run. Perhaps. I don't know. I do know, however, that I will be trying it today as I need all the tools available to me to get through this training cycle. Bottom line, music is some pretty powerful stuff. And it's basically free of charge and totally legal. So, if you are so inclined, turn it on and turn it up.
I'm pretty sure I write this post at least once a year or maybe even once a marathon cycle. I hit a point in my training where I'm so tired that it's almost humorous. At least to me. I find that all I can do is smile and laugh about it because I am teetering on the balance of function and dysfunction and if I take it too seriously I will undoubtedly fall apart. As you may know, I'm currently training for my 20th marathon and this is by far the hardest I've ever pushed myself both physically and mentally. I'm pretty sure I say this every time, too. Two weeks ago I peaked at 90 miles and was a walking zombie. This past Monday was my last 20+ miler and while I still have a couple hard workouts to tackle, the mileage is now starting to come down. To be honest, I've done it so many times that the shock of how intensely it hits has kind of worn off. Kind of. I've also learned some pretty solid coping skills to get through the harder days and weeks. Things like grabbing a 15 minute power nap in my car before school pick up....works wonders. In a weird (sick?) way, pushing myself to this level of exhaustion is incredibly rewarding. I know I won't be able to do it forever. But, I'm always surprised that my body had been able to hold on as long as it has. This time around, I've had a couple moments during my tougher weeks where I literally stopped mid-run and laughed at loud...at myself. Take this football chair, for example. I was finishing up a long run with my teammate when I saw this thing on the side of the road. Someone left it out on the street, presumably to
get rid of it. When I saw it, I remember thinking that it was a very odd piece of furniture, but at the same time, a super cool chair for a young football fan. I also thought to myself...out loud this time...wow, that looks so insanely comfortable. How I would love to sit in it and put my feet up right now. I'm pretty sure my running partner agreed with me on this one and that we were both laughing about it. Yes, that's my over-tired runner brain at it's finest, my friends. This training cycle is almost over. And I haven't done a TOP 10 list in quite some time. And, in my humble opinion, it wouldn't be complete without one. So laugh with me because you've been there. Or laugh at me because it's ridiculous. Me? I'll be laughing all the way to the starting line. Because it's all part of this crazy process and a big part of what it's all about.
TOP 10 SIGNS OF TOTAL EXHAUSTION
1. My dog, who runs with me often, has had to literally pull me along on some of our recovery runs. I can't imagine how funny (pathetic?) it looks to those driving by.
2. Coffee, while delicious, has almost no effect. Almost.
3. I can't keep track of anything. Keys, wallet, gloves. I put them down and instantly forget where I put them.
4. The above makes me cry.
5. Driving in the evening is tough. My car is just really comfortable. And when darkness sets in, my mind immediately thinks about sleep. If I'm on a longer trip, staying awake and focused requires a fresh piece of gum every hour and very loud music.
6. I find myself wearing compression socks or tights all day. Not for recovery. But because I'm just too tired to deal post-run. And let's be honest, it's really hard to get those suckers off.
7. I've been needing a quick 15 minute power nap at 5 or 6 o'clock at night in order to make it to my regular 9:00 bed time.
8. On more than one occasion my kids have looked at me at suggested I take these naps.
9. I have to go to the grocery store at least 4 times a week. Not because I'm always hungry. I am. But, because I forget something that we need every single time I go. I now know 4 of the cashiers by name.
10. I definitely have some repeaters on this list from the last time I posted on this situation. But, I'm too tired to go back and check and I'm also too tired to care.
My next marathon is now less than four weeks away. When I think about it, my reaction is somewhere between 'holy crap' and 'finally'. Last Sunday I had to tackle my final MP workout of this training cycle which consisted of a two mile warmup followed by eleven miles at goal marathon pace and then a one mile cool down. My family and I are up in New Hampshire this week for our winter break which meant I had to squeeze this workout in around Rosie and Grace's training schedules and my own work schedule. Always a bit tricky. Unfortunately, I was also going to have to do it inside as the roads up in Lincoln are in pretty bad shape and the sidewalks are totally out of commission. As you can imagine, I was not looking forward to fourteen mind-numbing miles on the belt. But, at the same time, I wanted, no I needed to get myself fired up for this workout. I knew if I went into it feeling the way I did...dreading it, if I'm being honest...that it would be significantly harder to get through. So, I decided to use it as a dry run and treat it as an actual race. Sure, the circumstances were a bit different and not ideal, but if I've learned anything over the years it's that race days are often unpredictable. I haven't actually raced since December, which feels like forever ago, and since I won't be lining up until March I figured this was my one shot to practice both my pre and game day logistics including things like sleep, fuel and hydration. It would also be a good way to get myself mentally and physically in the zone for the workout itself, the same way I would on race day. Okay, so game on. As I always do, I laid out my uniform the night before and made sure I had everything ready to go.
Was it going to be strange for me to run for over an hour in my race kit in a hotel gym? Yes. Yes it was. Did I care? No. I did not. Side note, as I've gotten older, I've found myself giving less and less thought to what others may think of me and my weird training habits. It's incredibly freeing. Not that I mind in the least if people laugh and point or stare in wonder. I probably would have, too. Sunday morning I woke up at 6:30 and got myself ready to rock. As she always does, Clover followed me around the condo making sure I knew she was there at all times. On regular race days, I like to sit and chill with her while enjoying a cup of coffee. Not happening. As I packed everything up (music, NUUN, towel, shoes), Clover basically gave me the stare down which translated to I see that you are getting ready to go somewhere and it better involve me.
Fair enough. My standard pre-race chill session would have to be a half hour walk with my coffee on the go. Not a terrible alternative. So, Clover and I went out and did our thing. Then when I got back, I had to wake Rosie up (takes about 5-6 attempts these days) and get her out the door and up to the mountain in time for her class. Again, not what I'd normally be doing before a race, but I had no choice in the matter. Honestly, it wasn't that big of a deal. The downside, however, was that I couldn't really give much thought to my workout and by the time I got back and could focus on it I didn't feel as ready as I would have liked. Oh well. Finally, around 8:30 I threw my Jaybirds on and started my music in hopes of getting myself fired up and race ready. But no. This is actually what I hear....Power on. Battery 20%. SHIT!!!!!!!! I realized that even though I'd charged my headphones all night I'd left them on from the last time I'd run with them. You have to actually turn them off to power them down as they don't do it on their own. I often forget to do it. I had about 45 minutes of charge left for a two hour workout. As you can imagine, I was really annoyed with myself. But, this was good, too. Now I knew to check and double check and there was no way in hell I would let this happen again next month. I was now pretty amped up, but not really in the way I'd wanted to be. I grabbed a back up pair of headphones and made my way downstairs. I needed to stop thinking and just get this thing done.
I hopped on the treadmill and started my warmup. I took a minute to just breath and settle down. Running in place was going to be brutal, but a view of the mountains didn't hurt. Plus, I told myself, this would be good practice for those mid-marathon miles (7-18ish) when the mind wanders and boredom sets in. These are the miles that are tough to get through and when, if it's going to happen, the wheels might (often) start to fall off. My goal was to stay sharp and focused while also relaxed from start to finish if possible. After my warmup I restarted the machine and bumped the speed up to goal pace. It was finally go time. When I started the workout there was one other person in the gym lifting weights so it was just me, my music and the view. I covered the display so I wouldn't be torturing myself watching the time and mileage tick by. I was going to have to get through an hour (or nine miles) before I'd have to hop off and re-start as the treadmill automatically shuts down after an hour. This was kind of a haze, but I've had to stop mid-race for lots of reasons (to tie my shoe, to pick up an iPod that I'd dropped, to get water, etc) so I figured I'd just treat it as such and try not to worry about it too much. At this point in my training, unless I'm having a bad day, goal marathon pace should feel tough but, at the same time, pretty manageable. When I bumped up my pace and started in on the workout, it's exactly how it felt, which was good. For the first four or five miles I just focused on my rhythm and let my music distract me. Around mile six, a couple came in and hopped on the treadmills next to me. This was good. I was happy to have people near me and pretended like they were racing along side me. Not that I said anything. I'm not that odd. A couple more miles in and a mom hopped on with her son, who was maybe 7 or 8, running (playing?) next to her. Great. Another distraction. Not that I'm usually racing 8 year olds, but still. The more the merrier. I was getting tired and looking around was helping me push through. Finally, at mile 9, as expected, the treadmill stopped. I stepped off and grabbed some water and then quickly got things started up again. For the record, I had made it the whole 9 miles without looking at my watch or the display. I was pretty pleased about that. Now, I just had two more miles to go which I knew I could power through. I was really tired and my legs were hurting, but I did my best to stay in race mode. With one mile left to go, I picked up the pace a little, as if I was finishing my last mile on the course. I was breathing like nobody's business at this point and I felt like the people next to me were trying not to look, though I'm guessing they might have been concerned. Finally, with a quarter of a mile left, I took the pace as fast as I could handle for the final stretch. I didn't hold my hands up as I hit the finish, but I wanted to. I slowed to a shuffle and composed myself for a few minutes before doing my cool down.
All things considered, things went really well. I'd made the best of a weird and kind of painful situation and learned some valuable lessons that I will take into account for my upcoming race day including:
1. Don't forget to turn off AND charge my Jaybirds.
2. If there is an area where body glide might be needed, it is, in fact, definitely needed.
3. Staying focused is hard and music helps me a lot. But there are currently some songs on my playlist that aren't doing it. Make sure to edit!
4. Be prepared but assume that anything can happen and be okay with that, too. Listen to this: Go Out Fighting - Dr. Dog