Two months ago, I ran the Santa Barbara 100K. It was long, difficult and despite actually winning the race, it was SLOW. Yes there were moments where my legs were moving and I was swooping down the winding singletrack or grinding up a rocky ascent, but most of the times, I was power hiking and shuffling–the things you have to get your body used to doing when running longer or more difficult ultras. Most of the time, most of us aren’t…running. We are doing some weird variation of moving our feet in a forward direction, sometimes recognizable as running, but mostly viewed as the ultra-shuffle. Which is fine, that’s how you run a 100K, a 100-miler, a 200-miler a long epic adventure… But that isn’t going to cut it when you have a road marathon on your race schedule. I am finally getting back into a bit of a groove with the running, so I figure now would be a good time to transition from running to training. Despite having the ridiculous Quad Dipsea in a couple months, I’ll be focusing on my February race, the LA Marathon….the marathon, the what? The marathon. The what?
Road marathons are sexy. People don’t wear shorts and waist packs bulging with trash and gels. Generally, their shoes are clean and bright and they get to wear just sports bras and short shorts, bib numbers prominently displayed across their chests and not pinned to their shorts among layers of sweaty clothing like some hobo who got lost in the woods. Road runners are fast. They have amazing form and picturesque strides, as opposed to me at the end of ultras where my face is caked with salt, I may or may not have puked a few minutes early and I’m shoving watermelon into my mouth. I have a combination of buffs and spi-belts and flaccid soft flasks attached to me. Plus, the “marathon” is like the holy grail of running. Most people don’t even understand the concept of an “ultra” but they know what the marathon is and how hard it can be, and to them, you are quite impressive if you can run one fast. You just end up looking like a crazy person running ultras where your face gets smashed in by falling rocks or you get struck by lightning, even crazier if you keep running the race after said incidents.
Ideally, I’d like to run a 3:30 or whatever my best time might be under the 3:40 Boston Qualifying Standard (I’m 34 so I’ll be 35 on Boston Marathon race day 2017, getting me an extra 5 minutes on the standard). If I actually race Boston, that would be a great bucket list race of mine to check off, but it’s not the end of the world if I don’t. I just think the BQ standard is a solid goal for a relative first time marathoner, and I need something to aim for. This means I need to run at about an 8 minute mile pace. To me, this feels like a breeeeeze. I can run an 8 minute mile in my sleep, I assume I can run 26 of them. And six months ago, this really did feel like a true statement. Then I ran something really long and was a changed athlete.
Ever since my recovery from SB100K, I’ve felt good but slow. People ask me how I feel and I say “good but slow”. It’s true. I feel f-ing slow. I work real hard now to get down to my pre-100K tempo pace and it’s been two months. Why am I so darn slow?! Seriously. I lost a gear. I try a speed workout and I can barely even reach interval pace let alone hold it for a full interval. I can’t even get to a place where speed workouts really hurt anymore. My legs don’t work like that and my lungs somehow just feel deflated. My body just wants to shuffle. It can shuffle forever. Too bad no one is running a 3:30 marathon with a shuffle.
So what happened? There is some truth to the law of specificity: to be better at something, you have to do that thing, specifically. To be better at running long ultras, you have to train your body to do the thing you want it to do on race day. My body was perfectly tuned to run a 100K. So good that I had a really great race and now I’m paying the price. But I’m ready to turn this on its head. The law of specificity can work both ways. I’m ready to put this theory to work and start running, fast. I’m ready to find that gear and start using it. Because if I can train my formerly fast body to run steady enough to go the distance of a 100K mountain race, I can re-train it to run a fast marathon. My next two months will be a mix of hard hills and strength training (for Quad Dipsea) and a series of tempo and speed workouts. After Quad, I give myself a few weeks to “recover” and then go full roadie by Christmas.