Tuesday night I went out for my first run of taper – a “blow out the tubes” tempo run. 8 miles with 5 at tempo. No pace restrictions – just whatever pace feels good and try to keep it at least sort of consistent.
I’m not a big fan of false modesty, so I’ll just come out and say it: it was awesome. I totally knocked it out of the park. It was a straight progression (the “royal flush” of running workouts), with the tempo miles starting at 7:43 and ending at 7:13 (7:43, 7:33, 7:24, 7:17, 7:13; average – 7:26).
7:13!! In an outdoor road tempo run! I could hardly believe it. It used to be that I could barely even hit sub-7:30 miles, let alone average that pace for 5 miles. And I didn’t even feel totally wiped afterward either (maybe it’s all the protein I’ve been stocking up on this week). It was like I was in someone else’s body for an hour. Who IS this girl?! I did wear the K-DEER leggings again, and I’m convinced that has something to do with it. Seriously, I’m pretty sure these things have magical powers, you guys.
But anyway, I assure you I am not writing this post just to brag about my workout, but rather to explore the interesting set of mixed feelings that came about in the wake of my speediest ever miles.
The first thing I remember thinking is: isn’t it amazing that I can go out for a tempo run on untapered legs, 2 days after a 20 miler, and hit paces like that…and yet, I still don’t feel the least bit confident that I can hold an 8:25-8:30 pace in a marathon race with taper-fresh, adrenaline-fueled legs?
And as I was pondering that, a feeling of sadness crept in. Yes, sadness. Because I realized that a couple months from now, I’m not going to be able to do what I just did. I ran that tempo run because I’m at my peak fitness right now. Now that I think of it, this might very well be the best running shape I’m in for the rest of the year. After the marathon I’ll recover, and get back into running…but I won’t be able to hit those kind of paces in a tempo run anymore. Heck, it will be a while before I’m even in good enough shape to go for a tempo run that long, and I certainly won’t be ticking off sub-7:45 miles. It may be a while before I can hit sub-8:00s again.
Or, maybe not. Who knows. Maybe this summer when I’m not training, I’ll be more motivated than ever to run, and I won’t really lose any of my speed. But I think we all know that it won’t be the same anymore. By definition, peak fitness isn’t something you can sustain. You build up to it, you achieve it…and then, inevitably, you have to travel back down, so you can one day summit an even higher peak.
I struggled with this last year after Grandma’s Marathon. I talk a lot about the burn out I felt after that training cycle, but it wasn’t just burn out. I had a wildly successful race, and I had a hard time letting go. I couldn’t stop comparing myself to the runner I was in May-June, and being upset and disappointed with myself that I never measured up anymore. I had this irrational feeling that if I couldn’t maintain that level of fitness, then it would invalidate what I had accomplished, like the race never happened. It’s stupid, I know. My marathon success was like that ex-boyfriend you’re still in love with: constantly living in the past and pining over what used to be.
But I’m also glad I went through that, because I learned a lot from it. I’m about to go into another off-season soon, and I’m determined to do it right this time. I now know that I should expect some post-race blues after Pittsburgh, that those are normal feelings, and that I can choose to move on from them in a positive way. I understand that I won’t be in the same fitness level anymore, but that too is perfectly normal, and it’s okay. In fact, one other thing I learned is that as long as I keep running, I’ll probably lose a lot less fitness than I think. Making improvements throughout the many years of a running career is a constant ebb-and-flow process, and not only am I more keenly aware of that fact now, I also appreciate it more.
So yes, I may experience a case of the blues next month, and I may not feel like the runner I am right now anymore. But I have to embrace that ebb tide, because I know that allowing myself to feel and process those emotions will actually enable me to get back into training and improvement sooner.
So I’m left feeling that this magical tempo run was sort of like a way of saying goodbye. I probably won’t see 7:26 miles on my Garmin for quite a while now. It was wonderful to see them on Tuesday, to affirm and see with my own eyes how far I’ve come – but they can’t stay.
I’d like to think it’s a happy goodbye, though – more of an “I’ll see you later.” I’ll be back eventually, and before I know it, I’ll be seeing tempo miles that are at that pace and even faster. And no matter what happens at the race in a few weeks, it doesn’t define me or this training cycle. I still have this affirmation of my fitness and how far I’ve come, and nothing that happens at the race can change that or take it away from me.