Just shy of three weeks ago, on the eve of the Blizzard of '13 (which subsequently earned me a Friday, Monday, and Tuesday snow day from school), I had a hard 31+ mile training run, up and down, and up and down, and up and down, the hills in Arlington, MA. I had run the same route (which features about 0.2 miles of flat terrain) for 50+ miles 2 weeks before. Why? To prep for my next 100 miler, Double Top 100, in Chatsworth, GA.
Now, 19 days hence, on my last day of February vacation, I sit at my grandmother's on Longboat Key in Florida, having just spent the last 7 days in idyllic weather - sunny and the high 70s. The family and I have logged close to 30 hours in the pool (seriously), but my running training has suffered. Not because of family time. No, for something much more insidious, and something that played out leading into my last 100 mile race: a cold.
Two or three weeks before Western States last June, my immune system, responding to months of cumulative training and life stress (we had two weeks before bought a new house and the school year was wrapping up), succumbed to a summer-time cold. It started out benignly enough, but just a short way away from the biggest race of my life, I kept training. I drove up to New Hampshire very early one Saturday to meet Sam for a loop on the Franconia Ridge Trail. My lungs hurt as I hacked the whole way up, lungs congested, sinuses throbbing, head cloudy. Yet I ran more the next day. I didn't stop, for fear of "losing the edge." While everything was mostly cleared out by race day (my dad, who is a family doc, said my lungs sounded good pre-race), I was still coughing race morning, and post-race, whilst staying at the lovely Casa de Crowley, I made the our poor hostess think her beloved corgi had kennel cough (alas, it was my coughing that kept everyone up all night). So, after the Blizzard, and getting sick on my first day back to school, my totally neurotic side took over, telling me to keep training - I can push through, I had done it before, and I needed those miles to run the kind of race I want to run in Georgia. I saw history repeating itself.
Yet experience won over neurosis. Fearing a chronic respiratory infection and a post-race kennel cough, I decided to take two days off from running. I had planned my last long run on those days, two weeks out from race day. I have spent every day since telling Liz, "I think I'll get my long run in today," and then, waking with further coughing and congestion, limiting my activity to around the 30 - 40 minute mark, mostly at a very casual level. Finally on Saturday I got out for 13+ miles. It was horrible. The legs felt great, but the head was a cloud, and the lungs still felt "tight." "Discipline," I told myself, "trust your earlier training."
Today, just 5 days out from "go," was the first day I did not wake with a pool in my nose and lungs. I ran a 10 miler. It was fun not tearing my larynx with repeated coughing fits. Yesterday evening I broke my personal record for running 15 minutes at 15% grade on a treadmill. Dare I say it felt easy? But I only ran for a total of 17 minutes. That's not enough running for competing in an ultra. Is it? The question becomes: Is my mind ready to trust that my body is trained to handle the suffering it will experience on March 2nd? Saturday (which happens to be my late-Uncle Norm's birthday), at 3:00 AM the response to that question will begin. Hopefully sometime before midnight that same day I'll have my answer.
Suffer well my friends.