A beginning and an end. A starting point and a finishing point. Races have a start and a finish. You warm up into your start, and after you cross the line you get to have coffee. Seasons have a beginning and an end. Sport seasons, though some can be lengthy, have a beginning and an end. An on-season and an off-season. A time to build, taper and peak, and a time to let go and recover. In high school, our entire track season was built around peaking at the State Championships. Everything leading up to that was preparation. And after the championship concluded, a period of rest awaited. The rest was even sweeter after a State Championship trophy was hoisted. Our high school girls track team won 4 state championships in a row (Freshman thru Senior year for me), and our girls cross-country team won 2 state championships in a row (my Junior and Senior years). I loved the idea of a track "season" or a cross-country "season." There was always an end in sight and as long as you knew that off-season was there, you could push through the tough part for just a little longer. Wouldn't it be some kind of hell to have to run a race to which there was no end?
So what is it with us runners. It occurred to me some time ago that adult/post-collegiate runners, ultra-runners, road racers, often don't have an off-season. There isn't a time each year when road races occur and a time when they don't. There isn't a road racing season per say, at least in Southern California. If a runner is not careful, they may find themselves on a treadmill with no "off" button. One race leads into preparation for the next, and the calendar fills up with options too plentiful to refuse or naviagate. The mind, always looking forward, thinks, "I want to do it all." No plan. No relief. No release. No coffee after the race. No off-season.
For a few years, I opted for the treadmill with no "off" button. After a while though, my body decided to create off-seasons for me. Only these off-seasons, thrust upon me as they were, came in increments of 8 months. A "not my choice" off-season is not the same thing. It was not planned and it most likely came because I was too foolish to admit that I needed an off-season on my terms.
Hopefully as a sign of growing wisdom, I planned an off-season on my own terms this year. However, I regret to point out that I was one week short of reaching my off-season on my terms. Instead, pushing my tired legs when I shouldn't have, an injury occurred, cutting the end of my planned season short by one race. But, the timing was indeed almost perfect so I was able to embrace this off-season with joy, relief, allowing myself to let go mentally. It helped too that the winter temperatures were no fun for runners, so it was easy to find my way to the gym.
I couldn't run for a bit while getting through the impinged ankle nerve (see my last blog for details), but I wouldn't have been running anyway. Instead, I filled my time with Stairmaster, Elliptical, Swimming, weight lifting, and all of it was done without pressure. The workouts were nice and friendly. I didn't worry about losing fitness, though inevitably I did. I looked at it as my off-season and I was supposed to be recovering, both physically and mentally. It wasn't about grinding through the rotations in intervals of oxygen depletion. It wasn't about visualizing my goals, my opponents, the race courses, feeling the drive. It was pure, no pressure. I needed it. I badly needed it. And I took it.
My off-season lasted 8 weeks. By the time I was ready to begin building into a new season, my body was healed and my mind renewed. It wasn't long before I began feeling fresh again. I wasn't chronically tired and sore. I wasn't dealing with nerves as races approached. I put no pressure on myself. And I was looking at a new year, as a new year. Not as an extention of the past year. That's one of the beauties of having an end and a beginning.
I was hungry for training again. The cross-training and sweaty gym was ok, but I wanted to feel the ground again and to hurt. To begin training and to be reminded of how brave and gutsy I will need to be in my upcoming endeavors. Goals were roaming all over my brain. Excitement.
My good friend and running buddy Jeff, already a highly accomplished masters runner, smashed his 1/2 marathon PR (at least his PR since being a master), running 3 minutes faster than his typical, already ridiculously fast, times. This has motivated me. Jeff is training for Boston so he's loading on huge miles. My body probably can't handle as much as he does, but I know that those base miles are hugely important. As I head into my new racing season, that's my first order of business. My runs are averaging out to be 10 miles per run and I'll keep building until I find my happy place. Endurance is a good thing.
My other good friend and running buddy Dax recently achieved a huge running goal. He broke 40 minutes in a 10K before his 40th birthday (he's a waning 39 year old). Dax is an ultra-runner but he's been doing speedwork. This has motivated me. My next order of business is a good speed-workout. I'm three weeks back into speed work again. I'm not where I was when I ended last season, but I'm not so far off. I remind myself daily that the fitness will be back, strong and bold. Stay fresh, push through the tough parts of the workout, and keep the excitement.
I love watching master runners who keep getting faster. It inspires me. My sweet husband John has been training and running and his race times are on a nice downward spiral. He's never quite satisfied because he was a very fast young runner, but when he compartmentalizes his running career into the "then" and "now," he finds hope that he can still keep going. He races against some of the most competitive guys around. Man ... old people are FAST! This has motivated me.
I threw in a fun race a few weeks ago. The Super Bowl 4 Miler. I really never race when I'm not ready to but it was used as a marker so that I knew what I had and where I was as I began my new season. I struggled with being disappointed that I was over a minute slower than my last race on that course (2 years prior) but I didn't come into it race ready. I had done no speedwork and really hadn't pushed myself. So it was all in all a nice race on Superbowl Sunday. And I won a totally cool full sized football!!
I have one more fun race planned next week, and then I look to the Carlsbad 5000 in April. My first serious race this year. The season's begun. Things are slowly building. Challenges? Yes. Always challenges. Poison oak is apparently hard to recognize during the winter. My body was recently ravished by poison oak of which I am super allergic. It looked as if I rolled in it. I'll not go into the horrid details except to say that this was not the kind of pain I was hoping to put my body through in training but it was how it played out.
Ahhhhhh. You can't have beginnings if you don't have endings. Thank you "off-season." You make me feel like I'm in high school again. Watch out - I feel another state championship coming on.