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Running on Empty

June 18, 2012

I know I haven’t posted in a while. I’m running . . . just not much, so there’s not much to say. In the months of training for the six halfs in six months, and leading up to the Challenge at Gasparilla, I logged about 130 miles. But then, in April, I hit the brakes. I knew I needed to take some time off, running much shorter and much easier for a few weeks to give my legs some well-deserved rest. In April, my mileage took a nose-dive, and I logged only 84 miles. I did better in May, edging closer to 100 with a nice round 90 miles overall.

June is seeing the beginning of my base-building, with a regular return to four days of running, as well as regular easy six-milers. On Saturday, Little G and I did our first double-digit long run in months–I’d last run 9 a month before, on May 19. As you see, the goal is to do a very slow buildup in every area, both in the base of our overall mileage as well as a gradual return of our long run distance. By the time we inaugurate our half marathon training in late summer, we’d like a 14-miler to not feel very long at all.

Saturday’s run was tough. We set out too late for June in South Florida, and the sun was already bothersome. We were slow both on purpose, because we knew 10 miles would feel very long, and because conditions were so contrary–hot and windy. By mile 5 we felt tapped out, and considered scaling our goal back to 8 miles. We took our gels and set back out, but a few minutes later we knew our sweet Hammer gels had done their job: our spirits felt sunnier, our legs felt peppier, and we finished the 10 without issue.

Today was not as easy. I set out to do my usual easy six, starting at about 5:15, and knew right away that something wasn’t right. I often feel slow and sluggish in the first mile, but the discomfort that I felt today was far beyond the typical yuckiness–I just wasn’t clicking at all. I walked some and seriously considered just going home. But I’m bull-headed, which is how I finish many of the races I start, and determined to keep going and see if I could feel better. Eventually, as I kept running–my thoughts turned to an article I’d read in the summer issue of Runner’s World about fasting runs. The article (which isn’t available on the website yet, sorry) outlined how some runners have tried to increase their bodies’ capacity for fat burning by running some runs after a 12-hour fast. I usually run before breakfast, on an empty stomach, and many of my friends think that in itself is unusual since they need to at least drink coffee before setting out. But I couldn’t imagine trying to run for an hour or 90 minutes on a half-day’s fast.

And then, it hit me. That was exactly what I was trying to do. Because yesterday was Father’s Day, our schedule was a little different, and we enjoyed a great meal at my in-laws at around 4 or 5. I was struggling with my run at around 5:30 this morning–12 hours after eating. Once my brain figured that out, it was amazing how my legs absolutely felt better, even though they didn’t have more fuel. Just having an excuse for feeling weak seemed to empower them to run better than before, and it enabled me to give myself a doable goal so I could finish the workout.

I reworked my route, and planned to finish 4 miles, with a water stop at mile 3 or so. In the end, I was long, finishing closer to 5 miles, with a pace pretty close to what I run on my regular easy days. It wasn’t the easiest run I’ve ever done. It required grit, and realigning my goals, and dedication. But it reminds me that much of running isn’t just in my legs, but in my head. As I look forward to beginning the next phase of training, which will, God willing, include circling a marathon on the calendar, I hope to remember that lesson, not only in training but in racing, as well.

Sometimes, the information you feed your brain can absolutely change how your legs run. Your legs may be on empty, but your heart can run on full.

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