Sunday, February 19, 2012

All aboard! The pain train rides again

I spent all of December and the better part of January in an ignorantly blissful state. Free from the Training Peaks schedule, free from obligation to put in hard workouts and, most notably, a good long break from the pain train.

Anyone accustomed to endurance training knows the pain train of which I speak (or the pain cave, or whatever you have nick-named it). It's that place you go to be enveloped by an overwhelming and raw sense of complete exhaustion. You get there only after you have dug as deep as you think you can go, and then you just keep digging.

At the beginning of February, I punched my ticket for another seasonal ride on the train. It starts innocently enough - the mileage, the intensity, the daily-doubles. Your body remembers it, and it initially responds quite eagerly, like a dog raring to go at the beach. You want me to run? Yeah yeah yeah, let's run. Intervals? Track? Awesome. Let's go! Now! Show me more!

The memories of past season successes are still fresh enough to motivate.  The dogged enthusiasm has returned.  The wobbly and bonky feeling of hard successive weeks of training last season so quickly forgotten. It is funny how short-term our memory is when it comes to pain.

Last weekend, after a scant three weeks back on the train, I participated in my first event (aka "this is not a race") for the year, the First Half Half Marathon. I knew with only a few weeks of somewhat serious training under my belt, including a long period away from running while recovering from some late season niggles (I don't use the i-word), that I would be a shadow of my former self. And, of course, I was.  Enthusiasm, even dogged enthusiasm, never trumps training.

It was mentally challenging to show up for a race knowing full well that I was not ready to race. Yet, it was a good kick in the pants. A year ago, I would have been thrilled to the moon with my result....and this year it was a terrible run for me in so many ways.  My nutrition was off, my pacing and endurance was scattered and I didn't feel mentally ready to put in the effort.

Notwithstanding my disappointment, there is something about putting on a race bib that forces you to do the work and face your shortcomings.  Last season is gone....and there is a lot of work to be done.

Smiling on the 35-39 podium....but lucky to be there.
The week that followed the First Half was not the recovery week that one might anticipate following a half marathon, but rather, a potpourri of hard workouts.  I had so conveniently forgotten the dichotomy that is training - the feeling of being so completely, utterly shattered during a workout, yet somehow finding a way to pick up the pieces to do it all over again the very next day. For the last 7 days, my legs have screamed at me incessantly to quit and, in the way in which I have become accustomed, I've simply told them to shut the hell up.

The pain train is the unavoidable side effect of hard training.  There is no faking it.  It transcends "real life" - you momentarily forget about your obligations and your responsibilities and just focus on breaking down the workout assigned to you.  20 x 400's on the track. Threshold intervals on the bike. Those moments in zone 4 and zone 5 are at the same time the best and worst feeling in the world because nothing else matters but getting it done.

Today, after a hard week of workouts, I found myself in that recognizable place that is the pain train. Completely shattered, raging with hunger and almost euphoric. Or perhaps delirious?

The tiredness, the exhaustion....all so familiar.  And yet, I don't fight it because it's the way that this training stuff works. The one way ticket on the pain train is punched for the 2012 season. Let it ride!

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