Adjusting Expectations

I started running with the fine people at Southwest Endurance Training (SWET) recently. I found them because I was looking for an individual running coach. Someone to meet with once a month or so, to work on my form; someone to give me a personalized training plan for this Dopey Challenge I want to train for.

When I met the owners of SWET, they convinced me that running with the group would be better – some company on long runs, but still individual attention from a coach and a customized training plan.

I find it easier to get the motivation to wake up and complete my long run when I know there’s a group of friendly runners waiting for me. I like that the group is informal – if you can’t make it to a run, no one thinks badly of you. The tips from the coaches include how to adjust the training plan to fit in everyday life.

As the time to start training for the Dopey approached, I gave SWET my recent race times, a summary of how I felt after the races in June, and a general idea of my goals. Going into this, I was hoping to finish the marathon portion of the Dopey around 5 and a half hours (about my 5:34 finishing time in 2015), but when Brandon saw my June finishing times he suggested that I adjust my expectations of myself. It turns out that he believes I can run a PR marathon even while running the Dopey Challenge.

At first I found this hard to believe. My race times in June were on a course with a steady, gentle descent. The Dopey may be in Florida, but in my memory, it is neither flat nor downhill. The internet disagrees with me and says that it is “pancake flat.” Since it was my first marathon, my perception of it could be skewed. But perhaps that’s beside the point – I didn’t think it was possible to PR a marathon at the end of an almost 50 mile/4 day challenge. Yet, when I got my pacing plan I realized that the proposed pacing for this race feels slow to me. If it feels slow in the middle of the heat of summer here, maybe I really can do it!

So, I’m beginning to adjust my own expectations: of myself and of my personal running capacity.

Vacation Running

We have traveled quite a bit over the last couple of months. Not long trips, but most of our weekends the last month have been spent somewhere other than at home. When we booked these trips I knew I would be in the home stretch of my training program for the Marathon and a Half coming up at the end of June. My solution was to rearrange the training schedule so the longer runs happened either when we were actually at home, or when we were somewhere fairly comfortable without a lot of other plans.

I’ve concluded that this was a mistake.

Let me back up a little and give myself a few kudos before beating myself up. I’ve never been good at making time for exercise while “in vacation mode.” It hasn’t ever mattered how minor the “vacation,” or how insignificant the exercise; if I had to sleep in a bed other than my own and bring a bag of clothes, I was on vacation. And, vacation = no concentrated, intentional exercise. Now, if I accidentally burned a bunch of calories because we walked for miles through a city and its shops: Bonus!

On our honeymoon, I brought running clothes to an all-inclusive resort. We were there for two weeks. I used them once for 30 minutes. That’s it. I just couldn’t fit any other trips to the gym in to my packed schedule: sleep, eat, drink, read by the pool, repeat.

So, I’m sure you can see how the idea of building in back-to-back training runs in multiple vacation locales this spring seemed daunting to me. Result: modification of an otherwise logical training plan.

Instead of the original plan (long run weekend followed by recovery week/shorter runs the following weekend), I grouped the shorter runs on consecutive weeks, leading to grouping the longer runs on consecutive weekends. Not only did I give up my recovery weeks, by not doing the longer runs on vacation, I ended up doing the longer runs in the Arizona heat! Sure, if I had done my 16- or 18-mile run while in San Francisco it would have seriously cut into our relaxation time – but it would have been so much cooler!

I can second guess myself all day long, but I can also acknowledge that it is a pretty big deal that I allowed myself to do any runs on a trip away from home. Serious personal growth here.

Clearly, there is something to the order of the training runs in this program. Clearly, it is better to give the body some time to recover between long runs. I’m used to the idea of progressively longer runs on successive weeks – but that, apparently, is training for a regular-old-marathon. This time I’m training for long runs on consecutive days – I’ve taught myself the hard way that recovery is even more important. At the same time, I taught myself that I can still have a great time on vacation while fitting in significant amounts of exercise. This has been a very educational spring, indeed.

Spring Has Sprung

Spring in the desert is so much fun – it is also one of the most beautiful times. We get perfect weather to be outside all day, can still wear more than flip flops, shorts, and tanks, and all the new growth is inspiring.

Running long distances, though – that becomes more of a challenge. It gets warmer, the temperatures rise earlier, and the air remains dry. This means hydration is both more important and harder to keep on top of.

With longer days, warmer temps start earlier in the day, too. Last year I went for a run later in the morning than usual when I knew temps would reach 90 that day. I told myself I needed to “get used to” running in the heat – we’d chosen this desert wonderland as our home and I convinced myself that I needed to acclimate…quickly. The result: I got so tired I stopped picking up my feet about a mile from home, tripped, and skinned my knee pretty badly about 2 weeks out from a half marathon.

The approach this year? I’ve started setting my alarm (on my weekend!) so I can get my long runs done before the “feels like” temp reaches the 80’s. As summer approaches, I’m prepared to leave the house while it is still dark to get in my miles before it gets too hot: I purchased a hat light. I think my gear is more prepared for that plan than I am, but I will cross that bridge when I get to it.

For now, I’m going to enjoy the weather we have right now, find all the flowers I can along my routes, and remember that running early means I still have my whole day to do all the weekend-things I want (including naps!).