Lately I have been thinking a lot about windows. When I ran my first BQ last year, a competitive window opened, an opportunity to chase the sort of marathon times I could run at peak fitness. When I improved on that BQ five months later my focus narrowed to one thing, making sure I did not squander that fitness and close the window I had worked so hard to open. Even when I received the disappointing news that I had not been accepted into Boston, I could take solace in the fact that I was running strong and I assured myself that my perfect race was coming. Earlier in the year, before my calf injury, I was continuing on that trajectory, throwing down training times I had only once dreamed of. I was in the best shape of my life.
The injury ended up being short-lived. It did derail my running of the Cleveland Marathon, a godsend it turned out, because the unseasonably high temperatures that day meant I would have never been able to run a PR. However, I had only really needed about six weeks away from significant training. The window was still open and I set my sights on a race, any race, that would allow me to get in one more marathon before next year’s Boston registration deadline. The Erie Marathon seemed a perfect fit. I began to train again in earnest. Things seemed to be going well. My fitness did not seem to have declined that much. My calf usually felt good. I hit the start of my 18-week program and I was on my way to marathon number four. There was, however, one problem, a realization that had started as a nagging little voice in the back of my head and eventually turned into a consistent, shouted warning. I was not having any fun.
Weeks of 50+ miles of running, of strength training late at night in a gym, and using a lacrosse ball to painfully work out knots, I love it all. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t envision how excited I get when I am pushing myself to my limit. However, there are times during the year when I know I am not ready to handle that challenge. Having decided to run Erie, I quickly realized that rather than enjoying training, I felt like I was cramming for a test. Coming off of injury, I needed to start building up my mileage immediately for the demands of the hard marathon training that was to come. I went from sporadic, disorganized running to running six days a week and no workout could be missed. Even though I did feel healthy, I was still dealing with the unpredictability of returning from an injury. Setbacks did occur. I was still working through tweaking my strength training to handle the root cause of my injury. Small, niggling pains sent me into an anxiety-fueled panic. What if I hadn’t gotten the balance on my strength training right? What if I had not actually identified the root cause of my injury? I was barely into two weeks of training and already fearing that it was about to be derailed. None of this is conducive to good training.
My heart was not into my training either. The cold of another Northeast Ohio winter had lifted. I wanted to plant my garden, hike in the Cuyahoga Valley, drink at an Indians game. Certainly, I can do these things while in the thick of marathon training, but frankly I did not want to divide my attention yet. If I was completely honest with myself, I knew I needed more time to fine tune the new habits and practices I needed to incorporate into my training to help me stay injury free and push my performance forward. I wanted more time to build my work capacity in the gym, more time to develop a consistent mobility program, more time to optimize my sleep routine which can vary with my work schedule. I just wanted more time.
I also knew Erie was not the personally meaningful race I wanted to run. This is nothing against the Erie Marathon. The course seemed perfect for a BQ attempt with a small field and two loops of a state park. I still hope to run it someday. For my big races, though, I prefer a place that is emotionally meaningful to me. It is why I have always raced Cleveland in the spring and often the Towpath in the fall. Those places are synonymous with home. The Columbus Marathon provides that for me. I spent a year there in graduate school. I made great friendships and lasting memories. When I ran Columbus last year, it was a case where I was close to breaking through, but not quite ready. I want another shot at slaying that particular beast. And the change gives me that time I really wanted, five extra weeks to be exact.
The decision made, I find myself carrying around a small map of the Columbus course. I know how weird that sounds, but I want to constantly remind myself of how good I felt and where it went bad so I can be better this year. I am eager for that moment. I am enjoying the buildup to the start of my 18-week Hanson’s plan while feeling like I have just a little bit of leeway to tend to some fun spring-time activities. I skipped my run on Tuesday and laid in my garden during one of the few dry days we have had in recent memory. I felt fine doing so. I start back to the gym next week. I am better at making sure I conduct 10-15 minutes of mobility work a day to keep myself feeling loose. I’m not quite the well-oiled machine that I need to be, but I am ready to start building. Most importantly, training feels fun. Gone is the feeling of cramming for a test. Instead, I feel calm and ready, like I can see a new window opening.