Out of A Running Slump, Onto the Roads and Trails

Running is depressing me at the moment. I had a triumphant weekend, with a successful ten mile run Saturday and a successful fifteen mile hill

Barton Creek Greenbelt
Barton Creek Greenbelt

run yesterday. Today, I find myself once again rebelling against running in the cold weather that returned over night.I’m back to where I was last Thursday, when I aborted a run at its inception, went home, and finished off a bag of Tyrell’s sweet chili and red pepper chips. As I polished off those chips, I read an article about ultrarunning in the Trail Runner Inside Dirt that arrived in my email box that afternoon. Although, as one person stated in the comment section that follows the article, training for ultras is somewhat unstructured, I’m pretty sure that no one would suggest foregoing a run to stay home and eat a bag of chips as part of a successful training strategy for an ultramarathon, which is my ultimate goal (believe it or not!).

The problem is that we’re having another (really, honestly, super) cold snap. The temperature warmed up quite a bit Saturday and Sunday, which is why I had good runs over the weekend. I did manage to make myself run in the bitter cold last Wednesday, the first day of our most recent arctic front. That day I ran on the river in Austin before driving to San Antonio, even though the temperature was in the thirties and the cold wind made the wind chill factor even lower. I was uncomfortable at first, but I knew I would warm up tolerably for the short run for which I had time. I also knew I would feel better after my run, for having run, than I would feel if I skipped it just to avoid discomfort.

I’m not sure what happened to that woman who triumphed over her resistance to the cold run that day. I must have left her in Austin. The next day, after checking the forecast for the day, I decided to run about 2 pm. According to weather.com, the sun would be peeking out by that time, and the temperature would rise to about 40 degrees (from the 28 degrees with 19 degree chill factor at the time I was looking at the weather). Apparently, weather.com lies. As the morning hours passed, I began to suspect that the forecast was incorrect. The sun stayed stubbornly behind a cloud, and when the time came for me to prepare to run, the temperature was 30 degrees with a 23 degree wind chill factor. Even so, I pulled on my long compression-fit pants and a long-sleeved compression-fit shirt, pulled a knit cap over my ears, looped a scarf a couple of times around my neck, grabbed an extra pair of gloves, and then a pair of black socks for my feet. Yes, I actually covered my bare feet against the cold. I drove to the Stone Oak area so I could include those hills in my run: specifically Tabernacle Hill. I pulled on two pairs of gloves, put the socks on my feet, secured my scarf, tucked my hair up under my knit cap, and stepped out my car to begin my run.

As I locked my car door and pushed the button on my Garmin to wake it up, I had that self-satisfied feeling one gets when she knows she has overcome her weaknesses to accomplish a goal. Well, that feeling was presumptuous, and lasted a nano-second at most. My Garmin stubbornly refused to respond when I touched the training mode on the bezel with my gloved finger. I had to remove both gloves from one hand and touch it with my bare finger to get it to search for the satellite signal. In that short amount of time, the sharp wind blew through me so brutally coldly and unforgiving that my determination to run hills despite the wintery weather quickly dissipated. I drove home, feeling rather like a dog retreating with her tail tucked between her legs.

A year ago, my better self would have scoffed at such a thought. I used to regularly leave cycling or weight class and go straight into my run – even doing hill work on legs pre-fatigued from my gym work out. For years I consistently met my running goal of fifty to sixty miles a week. I practiced regular strength training once or twice a week. I went to cycling class once a week. I met my racing time goals and regularly placed in my age group. The times I didn’t place, I was always in the top 10%, and often in the top 5%, of finishers in my AG. Last February (2013), Phillip and I decided against rejoining the gym, for various reasons. In March I tore my calf muscle in a non-running related accident. These two events are partly why I’m struggling with my running now, I believe. I told myself, when we quit the gym last year, I would adhere to a self-directed strengthening program with the weights and equipment we have at home. I did not. I simply cannot self-direct weight work at home; I find it too boring and I never feel I’m working out hard enough to do any good. In this past year without routine cross-training with weights and cycling, I have noticeably lost muscle mass and endurance. My calf muscle tear was a grade two, which required that I stay off it completely for several weeks, and then add mileage back a bit at a time until I could resume a full training regimen. By the time I was able to run again, the drought and heat of the summer had descended upon South Texas, making it as wretched as wasteland as that through which Browning’s Childe Roland rides.

Flagstaff AZ
Flagstaff AZ

Other factors have interfered with my training. I’ve started my own business, which is a huge learning-curve, as well as a major drain on my time. We’ve had major family happenings (favorable ones, praise God) that have demanded my time and attention (which I give more than joyfully and willingly). Phillip, always my encourager, points out during my periods of self-criticism and whining concerning my running goals that I did meet some goals in 2013. He and I ran our first night trail run in August, a trail marathon in September, and a 50k in November. The problem with viewing these goals as completed is that I didn’t really achieve them, and thus didn’t really achieve them. We were miserably unprepared for the night run and came in nearly last place. We ran the trail marathon outside of Flagstaff right on target pace for 13.1 miles, but the second loop we ended up going so slowly that we missed our goal finish time by about 40 minutes: we simply couldn’t breathe in that altitude. As for the Wild Hare 50k, we DNF! We had trained well for it and were well prepared for the slower pace we planned for our first longer-than-marathon distance, but I fell ill before the end of the first of the four loops. By the end of the third loop, about twenty four miles, I was dehydrated from being sick and couldn’t keep down fluids; we were averaging a 17 minute pace, and the thought of seven more miles at that pace was daunting. Since that time my weekly mileage has fallen again.

Flagstaff Marathon Start
Flagstaff Marathon Start

Now here I sit, already finished with one entire month of 2014 and behind in my running goals yet again. With no time for quality long runs, I’ve registered for the half, rather than the full, Livestrong Austin Marathon next week. I have a plan, though. I simply yearn to run ultras. Right now I am not ultra-runner material. People who run ultras are people who over-come obstacles of all kinds, obstacles much more challenging than running in unfamiliar, bitterly cold weather. People who run 100 miles in thirty or fewer hours are not the kind of people who go home and eat chips when the running conditions are less than perfect. They make time to train when time to train doesn’t even exist for them. They turn obstacles into challenges rather than give up. Scott Jurek, for example, managed to run and win the Hard Rock 100, enduring all the while the intense pain caused by an ankle he sprained two days before the race. Supposedly “average” runner Troy Espiritu regularly triumphs over quotidian obstacles such as family and work demands on his time to achieve his ultra-running goal. Excuses have no role to play in a runner’s strategy to become faster and stronger. Number one on my list for becoming an improved, better runner by the end of 2014 is to let go of excuses. I will practice head games, when necessary, to motivate myself.

I will also change my training habits. I’ve been training the same way for years, which helps me maintain the performance I’m used to, but which prevents me from performing better. Two years ago I read The Runner’s Body (Tucker and Dugas, 2009), in which the authors describe a type of training they refer to as periodization. I had forgotten about this concept, until I came upon a recent article about it on the Running Times website. The first paragraph of the article describes me so well that I know I have to put this training into practice and change what I’ve been doing:

 You’re a typical competitive road runner. You race about once a month from the 5K to the half marathon. You always place in the front            third or so of the pack, sometimes garnering age-group awards. But you find yourself dissatisfied with your performances, frustrated even. After you finish a race, it feels like deja vu: You finished in the same time range–as always. Maybe you died near the end, or your stride faltered in the middle miles–as always. You’d like to be better, but you’re not sure you can work harder, given your injury history, job and other commitments.

You get in near-daily runs, work out more intensely once or twice a week, and try to fit in a weekend long run. A look at your training log shows that a week in November looks much like a week in April, or one in August.

It works; it is what you’ve done for years. And that is the problem.

Dr. Dugas has identified my problem for me; the responsibility to fix the problem is mine. In addition to changing my habitual training, I will return to cross-training. Phillip and I rejoined the gym a month ago. I do strength training with weights twice a week, and attend cycling class once a week. I have already seen some benefit from having rejoined the gym; last Thursday, when I wimped out on my frigid hill run, I did attend RPM cycling at the gym. I used more tension and pushed myself harder to make up for my non-run. The next morning I returned to the gym and added weights to every muscle group I worked out. Also, as I think though the past year, I remember that I did have some racing success, such as placing first in my AG in the three 5ks I ran in the fall and running the Decker Challenge Half Marathon in sub-two hours. Maybe I’m not such a lost cause after all. A new year brings along with it new opportunities for growth and change, as long as I’m willing to put forth the right effort mentally and physically!

I would love to hear what others do to motivate themselves out of running slumps! If you have some advice, please share!

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