Training for a marathon is aging me.
These days I'm in bed by 10 p.m. and at up at 6 a.m., even on the weekends. I still drink coffee but I prefer green tea. I don't drink much alcohol, am trying to watch my diet more and get a little cranky when those damn kids drive by the house squealing their tires.
But I don't like to compare it to getting older. I think it's more like a sickness.
Following the training plan for a marathon involves six days of running, and all of those days are at least 3 miles. You don't have to, but I do speed work, meaning intervals, hill repeats or hard tempo runs (running at 10K pace for a specific amount of time) twice a week. There's also a marathon pace run the day before the long run. So if you're running, say, 16 that weekend, you run 8 the day before at your planned race pace. For me that's 8:45 per mile.
This week I've got perhaps the toughest one of all my plans. I've got a 19-mile run that I'll have to start at 4 a.m. so I can head to Winter Park with my Dad and a 9-mile pace run the day before. I've got hill repeats, a tempo run and two 4-mile runs ahead, plus two lifting and core workout sessions. That's my week.
Halfway through my 18-week training plan, all this is taking its toll, as you would expect, even as I've felt far better than I thought I would. Just so you don't think this is whining, in some ways, the training is easier, not harder, than it was a month ago. That became apparent to me during my last two long runs. Two weeks ago, I ran 17, the longest I've ever run, yet I felt so good, I was running the last four faster than the first four. And last Saturday my long run was only 12 miles in what we call a fallback week (a week that lets you recover from the tough two weeks that preceded it and gets you ready for the next two tough weeks), and it felt like it was "only" 12 miles.
Just a few months ago, 12 was a lot. Hey, it IS a lot. It's practically a half marathon. Now it's easy.
Yet the margin of error is much, much thinner than it's ever been. If I don't get eight hours a night - hell, if I only get 7 one night - it kicks my ass. I've been sick three times since I started training, and I think that's only partly thanks to my three little petri dishes. And though my body feels good, I have to be careful about doing anything else. I thought it was crazy that bikers training for the Tour de France refuse to walk up even one flight of stairs. Now I understand.
It's shocked me how much of a toll the training takes. I mean, I've been active my whole life. Before I started running, I climbed about 20 peaks a year, and last year I ran six half marathons. But it feels like I've constantly got the flu, only without the nausea. I've got to go to bed early, don't do anything crazy and avoid the hard living.
When I tell my friends about the toll I'm paying - all of them marathoners or Ironman finishers - they just nod. Yep, that's the way it is. The goal is to get through it all without getting hurt. The race, they say, isn't nearly as big a deal as the training leading up to it.
Still, it's been a fun journey so far. The weariness isn't just a reminder that I need to go to bed early. It's a way to remind myself that I've worked hard. I'm halfway through the goal, and after these two weeks, when I run 20 next week for the first time, I've got to start thinking that it's really gonna happen.
Plus there's been a lot of little rewards along the way. 17 miles isn't a lot when you think about the fact that a marathon is 9 miles more, but I felt like a badass the whole day, and I've already said that's probably the biggest reason for doing this.
And there's a certain magic to being outside for hours at a time, in the early morning hours, when your neighbors are just starting to brew their coffee.
Today the first light cast a glow over the sky. I was near the start third hill repeat, gasping for breath, lost in my weariness. And I looked to my right and saw a golden eagle. It's a rare sight to see one this time of year, in a suburban neighborhood, albeit one on the edge of town. It's as if nature was encouraging me.
I stared at the eagle. And then my watch beeped, and I started to fly like one.