The Ultimate Lesson

I'm now just under 8 weeks away from the BMO Vancouver Marathon, and have reached that encouraging stage in training where my fitness has sprung up and I'm hitting PRs on my regular routes almost every week. Struggling to hold back the pace on recovery runs is a great problem to have! This is what I meant in my December post when I wrote about looking forward to feeling like a runner again. That day, I was feeling cautiously optimistic after a run of 28 minutes; it had been my first pain-free run since my surgery in October. In the last 3 months, I have put in 8 weeks of work steadily building my mileage back up, and 4 solid weeks of targeted marathon training - and it has only been in the last couple weeks that I feel that I am getting to where I want to be, fitness-wise. Coming back from a layoff takes time, perseverance, consistency, and patience. But if you're willing to put in the work, it will eventually pay off (enjoying the journey helps a lot, too).

2 days ago I ran 25k on the roads in Vancouver in 2h09, feeling strong and controlled. I somehow even managed to set a Strava Course Record for women on the 10.2 k Stanley Park Seawall loop during this run, although I'm not sure how that's possible given the fact that I was running at long run pace! I'll take it, though, with gratitude. I was quite emotional after finishing that run, thinking about how far I've come from that 28-minute run 3 months ago.

I have written previously about loving the grind of marathon training, and it is no different this time around. There is no question that it is difficult - I always say that the training is much, much harder to get through than the race itself - but it is so rewarding to follow a plan and see the incremental improvement in my running as the weeks go by. Right now I am feeling great, although my highest weekly mileage so far is only 70k; over the next month, that will continue to increase and I will inevitably get more tired and sore. 

Marathon training is a fine balance between pushing yourself to your limits, and recovery: it's a tricky tight rope to manoeuvre, and it's incredibly important for me to listen to my body and be honest with myself about how I'm feeling on any given day. If things go the way they should, I am able to push my "limits" increasingly farther as the weeks tick by, but if I tip the balance too far, I will get injured. 10 years ago, I would build a training plan and follow it to a tee no matter how I was feeling; and quite often found myself starting marathons with a nagging minor injury. Now, having gained experience and increasing self-awareness, I am much more flexible with my training schedule and don't hesitate to take an extra recovery day if I know I need it. The real trick is distinguishing between normal aches, pains and fatigue that will get better with a run, and the signs that I really need a day off.

This is one of the many unexpected gifts that dealing with breast cancer has given me: I have become more in tune with how I am really feeling than I ever have been. I am much more honest with myself about what really matters at any given point in time, and this extends naturally to my running. I have always prided myself on being tough - but now, I think I understand better when toughness is called for, and when it is okay to back off and give myself a break. During one of my easy runs a few weeks ago, I saw this writing on the wall (literally), and felt compelled to stop and take a picture - because this is what running is for me. It is the time in my day when I (re)gain strength, power, and courage in the face of whatever obstacles I am facing. It is the time when my mind becomes clear, and I can listen closely to my heart, which is telling me: Work hard, push yourself, and love yourself too. The beautiful thing about marathon training, for me, is that it allows for all of these to co-exist.


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