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This Rookie’s Ramblings, #15: Rookie, Meet Doldrums. Doldrums, Rookie.

by justin on April 13, 2012 · 10 comments

in This Rookie's Ramblings (2012)

In the hands of a more skilled writer with a better mental dictionary, what I’m about to write would read easier. However, you’re stuck with me, so bear with as I try to share my recent frustrations while training for the KeyBank Vermont City Marathon.

At this point in my training, the long runs are looooong. At this point in my training, the training seems looooong. Most often in this space I have conveyed my optimistic spirit and my good training experiences with you. During training weeks 4 – 9 things were going well and I was filled with positive thoughts and hopeful expectations. Maybe because it was still early and the shine hadn’t worn off of ALL THIS RUNNING yet. Maybe because my long runs hadn’t reached ridiculous proportions yet. Maybe because of hubris.

The thing is, I don’t think it’s any of the above. I think this is part of the rite of passage. We all know the old adage, if it was so easy anyone could do it. At least I’m not alone: I’ve been talking to a few other Rooks on Twitter and they are having the same experience, which makes me think it really is just the guts of the journey right now, for all of us doing this for the first time. Either way, #whendoesmay27gethere?

Regardless of the reason, I am here before you a humbled man. These last two weeks have sucked the fun not only out of training, but to some extent out of my daily life as well. I dread my runs. They are getting harder to complete and longer, much longer (have I mentioned how long they are yet??). I suspect part of this is “Welcome to the Real Running World, Rook” that the Running Gods have in mind for us poor, uninitiated souls. The thing is, there seems to be no light at the end of the training tunnel. Nineteen and 20 mile runs remain on the to do list. Sometimes I feel not all that unlike Willie Mays Hayes trying to steal second. Good enough to get 95% of the way there, but not good enough to finish the job. In my daily life, I’m hungry, I’m tired. Too tired to read at night. Tired of planning my day and week around the training runs, spending time lining up training partners (training partners rock by the way, though I can’t imagine why they are scarce with my current attitude!). Tired of running.

All of this had me stuck in the doldrums. Liz Lemon is not a big fan of the “Webster’s defines” style of wedding speech, so she and the rest of the occupants of 30 Rock will have to forgive this indulgence, but no other word fits quite what I feel better than doldrums, “a state or period of inactivity, stagnation, or slump.” Despite not being remotely inactive, my training feels stagnant and my mood is most definitely slumpy. In lieu of doldrums, if a word existed that meant the exact opposite of Runner’s High, I’d use that word. *oh, and by the way, how much more darn running do I have to do before the magical fairy sprinkles some runner’s high dust on me?!?*

Looking ahead to see how to solve this self-inflicted crisis, I entered the RunVermont Unplugged Half Marathon and was excited to face the challenge of it. Then, as it tends to happen to all of us from time to time, important moments in my real life intervened and my plans changed.

Now, instead of continuing my downward descent into self-pity, I will run my way out of this phase tout suite. I will not be running the Unplugged this weekend, but instead will be in Boston supporting a close friend who’s going through an unthinkable ordeal and will run my 13 weekend training miles down there instead of at the Unplugged.

I will do it for my friend who is unable to run for himself right now and I will do it with a smile and a sense of perspective, and, frankly, privilege. My friend is fighting a disease that unfortunately impacts far more families than it spares. Sometimes one’s definition of what really constitutes the doldrums can change in an instant. Mine did.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Judy Russell April 13, 2012 at 9:21 am

Right there with you on the doldrums – those miles just seem to go on forever. But it will all be worth it when you get to race day. Last year, my first marathon, I injured myself and couldn’t get all the training miles in. I managed to finish the race, but vowed to do better this year. Fingers crossed, I’m getting on those long, boring runs, and this year’s race will be an improvement!

2 Amber April 13, 2012 at 10:37 am

I am with you on the doldrums. VCM will be my first marathon too, and I’ve found that that long runs are hard to get motivated for and it can be very boring to be out running alone for 3+ hours (especially after 20+ weeks of training). I have found that (for me), it helps to run on the bike path where at least there are people around and you’re not just out on a dirt road for miles alone. I am also finding myself getting involved with running groups and running races as training runs to at least have some company and liveliness (and accountability). I am running the Unplugged half marathon this weekend as a training run and am thinking of signing up for the Adamant 20 miler on 04/28 as another training run. Good luck with the doldrums!

3 Rick April 13, 2012 at 4:30 pm

Justin,
What a thoughtful post. I have more perspective for you than actual advice — too bad, because you seem to be having absolutely no trouble on the perspective front.

First, it occurs to me that you are successfully navigating the bigger challenge of the marathon: Keeping it in perspective. It sucks that you have to demonstrate this by standing by a sick friend, but that’s the kind of thing people who have their lives in perspective do. I hope that you’ll find some joy in doing your 13 in Boston, where I believe you’ll run into another runner or two this weekend. (I’ll be heading down to see my nephew run the marathon Monday.) I echo Amber’s view that having people around is motivating — as is training in a running mecca like Boston.

But, here’s the thing: Not many people can do a marathon; a lot of people who do a marathon do it only with the intense focus that doesn’t let much in and definitely doesn’t allow impediments to the plan; you’re the kind of person who’s doing a marathon while showing up for your friend.

What about the doldrums? Yep, that’s pretty much inevitable once runs start getting really long. I have long maintained that running in general is about 90% not fun, and the longer the run the less fun. But it’s awfully damn rewarding, and not just the product (fitness, bragging rights, satisfaction in meeting a tough goal, ability to eat Leandre’s baked goods) — the PROCESS of running can at times have its brief moments of reward tucked in between the pain and boredom. I think the moments of “high” are few, brief and random — sometimes shared with partners, and sometimes alone.

Hope this helps. Take care of yourself while you’re taking care of your friend.

4 Nino Brown April 14, 2012 at 5:20 am

Dear rookie, every athlete goes through slumps. Just look at JD Drew and Adam Dunn. Oops bad examples. Think about Larry bird in the early 90s. Oh no sorry, really struggling here. You know what, just look at this years celtics. Many of their fans abandoned them in February. But Kevin Garnett never stopped fighting and paul pierce is a warrior and now they’re dominating once again. Was it over when rice was trailing mmu in the 4th quarter of this years finals? Yes it basically was but if mr rice were on that team it would have been a different story. I know that you will continue to battle and you will win. Stay away from the wesley snipes movies and for inspiration think about kg banging his head before games. You’ve made a lot of great sports picks this year, it’s time you bet on yourself.

5 Eric April 16, 2012 at 9:07 am

I’m another rookie who is experiencing the same sense of dread, nerves and exhaustion as we approach the final five weeks. It was funny to note my sigh of relief when my long run this weekend was ONLY 13 miles. ;0) But mention a 13-miler to a mere mortal (i.e. not in full marathon training mode) and they act like I’m insane. My training calendar sits above my desk at work – all completed runs slashed away in pen and those runs missed highlighted in yellow (mostly due to tendenitis in weeks 6-8) – and I think I’ll be as happy to frame that schedule after all this as any picture of me crossing the finish line.

Looking past this weekend’s 19-miler and forward to the taper…..

Eric B.

P.S. any other rookies having trouble trying to figure out their best pace? I know they say “you can’t run the long ones too slow…’ but i want to settle into a pace that seems like I’ll actually be able to complete the race in without bonking. I’ve done long runs (over 13) anywhere from 9:30 to 11:00 minute miles.

6 justin April 16, 2012 at 9:15 am

@Eric B.

I used this site to help determine my training paces, http://www.mcmillanrunning.com/index.php/site/calculator. I have recently run in a few 5k’s and I put those times into the forms and it’s worked well for me.

On my race pace day, Wednesday, I run my targeted race pace (8:30-8:45/mile). On Tuesday, Thursday and Friday I run a slower pace, around 9:00/mile. And on my long runs I target between 9:30-10:00/mile. These paces have worked well for me and the benefits of each are defined a bit here, http://www.halhigdon.com/training/51138/Marathon-Novice-2-Training-Program.

Best of luck.

7 Eric April 16, 2012 at 9:25 am

Hal Higdon Novice 2 . That’s my plan!! I also try to run at least my planned race pace on my Weds. kinda long days and have been successful with that but also tried to pick up the pace during the last 10-20 percent of my Saturday long runs to simulate the later stages of the marathon. Fun, fun!

8 Marbles April 16, 2012 at 2:21 pm

Since the music playlists were getting old, I switched to books on tape. If you’re slow, like me, you can listen to a lot of a book during a 4 hour run, and it certainly helps pass the time . . .

9 Mike April 16, 2012 at 3:23 pm

Justin, wish there was a “quick and easy” way to get the last 3 miles in of a 20 mile run…we all still have to complete the first 17. You are now discovering why so few take on the challenge of a marathon distance. 6 weeks left, hang in there…almost downhill from now.

10 Jim April 16, 2012 at 6:21 pm

Justin, a great post. You did the right thing this weekend – obviously a great friend. Good luck in your training and THE RACE! I can’t recall if you said this was your first or not, but clearly, your reward will be in crossing the finish line. It’s a feeling of accomplishment unlike any other. Congratulations on almost being there and being such a good friend obviously – and the next few weeks of training WILL get easier mentally.

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