Beginning official marathon training with the NYRR coaching staff embodies everything that is fresh and good about the first week of school. I have daily running homework assignments complete with tips and detailed instructions. Once I get the job done, I use the tracking system to send the details of my workout to my coach and within a day I have email feedback (my report card) from the coaching staff. In Week One, I started to learn some of the workouts and their acronyms that, no doubt, will become rote by Week Ten. Ironically, though, the most important lesson I learned the first week had nothing to do with running at all.
My first workout was a 5 mile regular run (RR), with a recommended pace that was a full 30 seconds per mile slower than my usual. It should have been easy, instead it was a slog-fest, and I came in well over my allotted time. My first report to my Coach read like a “dog ate my homework” note to the teacher, explaining that two days after a hellish half marathon, my body just was not at its peak.
The run the next day was not a lot better, and after my second subpar performance, I secretly feared a return letter from my Coach saying: “Dear Elizabeth, You know you actually signed up for a marathon, right? Unfortunately, we do not believe that you are ready to advance and therefore we are demoting you to next year’s class when you might actually be ready to run.” My fears were put aside, and instead I received an encouraging note from my Coach with six important words: “foam roller foam roller foam roller.” (Note to self: need to learn to use the foam roller rather than have it stand in the corner gathering dust).
And then my Day 3 workout hit the webpage: “Off”. And, because the coaching staff wasn’t really sure that was clear enough, it was followed by a one-paragraph definition of the meaning of “Off” that began with the sentence: “Off days are OFF days.”
There are some runners who need to run every day like they need to breathe, and I imagine that this is their struggle when they are told that they have to take a day off. I am not that runner. My fear when I see the word “off” is that I may never get out there again. What happens if I fill that space with other things? What happens if I suddenly lose my drive and slip back into my Old Ways? What if one blank space on my workout calendar turns into two? Or three? The word “off” scares me, for those reasons and more.
It is a good thing that my coaches know better than I do.
I took the day completely off, and it was exactly what I needed. On Day 5, I went for a 5 mile run with my husband and son along the California coast, and everything about it was beautiful. My body had recovered from the 13.1-mile beating it took the weekend before, and I was able to just go out and run, to take in the sights of the ocean, and to enjoy the gift that comes with feeling strong and alive and sharing the experience of it with people I love.
I needed that day off not just to allow my body to recover, but to remind me why I run in the first place. Lesson learned.