Fall has so quickly turned to winter here, with a cold November bringing a white Thanksgiving and some tricky footing on the roads.
I spent a portion of November, though, far from that New England cold, running in Costa Rica. It wasn’t a trip just to run but when work brought me close to the equator for nearly a week, running was one of the things I was most excited about.
Before I left, I imagined soft breezes and beautiful sunshine carrying me for effortless miles…and instead found a fair amount of struggle running in the early morning heat and thick, humid air. It’s just as humid in New England in summer, but somehow this felt really challenging, and I could barely manage any low heart rate miles, my rate spiking fairly easily.
That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it. I loved the feeling of a hard sweat on a hot day, and not gearing up for winter before heading out was a real treat. And then there were the hills. Now, I live in fairly hilly area in Massachusetts. But in Costa Rica, I found a hill.
With gradients as steep as 49%, I probably shouldn’t have run this more than once…but I kept going back to it, trying to be faster each day. I suppose it’s a good thing I was only in Costa Rica for a week.
I’ve written before about the difficulty of taking rest days, and yet the growing appreciation that I have for them. As I looked to map out a training schedule for a spring 50k, I realized that I might have an opportunity for a little bit more extended rest.
I’ve often read about elite runners who take several weeks, even months off, from running after the end of a season. I decided that when I returned from Costa Rica, I would take one week off from running. I could rest my forty-something year-old joints and maybe given my muscles and heart time to reap the benefits of a solid six months of low heart-rate work.
I almost managed to pull it off. In the week after I returned, I ran only 3 times in a period of ten days, for a total of just under 14 miles.
I didn’t like it.
I didn’t like not running. And I really didn’t like when I started running again. My body felt stiff and out of sorts, and I didn’t immediately feel like my heart had benefitted. I feared that I had thrown some of my training away. The whole week after my rest week was a bit of a slog through 34 underwhelming miles.
And then I hit the week zero. Two weeks after my rest week, I set a schedule that was roughly equivalent to week one of my 50k program. I wanted to see if I was back from the rest week, if I could find a rhythm again.
And I sure did. It was a week filled with runs where I felt fresh. Runs where I kept looking at my watch and couldn’t believe the pace I was maintaining at such low heart rates.
I finished the week with a not-very-long run of 10 miles over my One Hill course. When I hit the bottom of the hill, about three miles from home, I accelerated. Or, at least I let my heart rate rise to take the hill.
When I got to the top, I didn’t slow down. I kept the pace and the cadence up, running at paces in the 6’s and 7’s that I hadn’t sustained in a long time (only touching them in downhill trainings). And it felt fantastic. It felt like I could have done the whole loop again.
And so I find myself a day into Week One, week One of my formal ultra training program. I’m already questioning the wisdom of not belonging to a health club as I look at the week’s forecast of icy rain and snow. But that will only make me stronger in the end.
That’s what I’m telling myself.