My dear wife brought home a nasty cold from school. I've been blowing yards of dense snot out of my nose for about a week. It hit me hardest actually over a week ago, like I'd been hit by a train in the middle of the Thursday night before Thanksgiving.
It is perhaps not a coincidence that this cold arrived in my last full week of marathon training, which also happened to coincide with the end of the longest stretch of teaching, during which also I had been working on job applications for the next year. I was exhausted, mentally and physically, and the long days of work added to the 10-15 miles a day caught up to me. I took Friday and Saturday off like a good boy, but then rushed back when I felt better on Monday, piling up almost 30 miles in the first two days of the week--to "make up for" the two days I'd missed.
Then there was Thanksgiving, which is the Christmas of the road-racing season. All the runners come out to race on Thanksgiving morning, and I was no exception. I lined up for one of my favorite Nashville races, the Boulevard Bolt, on a beautiful morning for racing: 40 degrees and sunny. This would be the final test of my legs before my goal marathon in Memphis. I wanted to run a hard effort but keep it just this side of all out. I took it out with new running buddy Alex Moore. We were looking for 5:20 effort, maybe 5:25 since the first mile is uphill a bit. I felt sluggish the first mile, and it took forever for the marker to swing into view: 5:35. My legs felt weak. I figured I'd hang in for another mile to see if I warmed up at all, and we were through 2 in 11:02, but I still felt bad. By this point Alex had gone on ahead and left me in my own misery. I hung on for another mile in 5:30 or so, coming through 3 in 16:3x, but by that point I could tell I was never going to be in the race. I did what I rarely do in races. I thought of Memphis and backed off.
The next mile was 6:00 or so--through 4 in 22:30. I put in another 5:30 on the last mile, picking it up over the last 600m or so to hold off a high school kid and to cross the line in 27:59, a full minute off my goal. Meh.
Racing on Thanksgiving, ten days out from my marathon, with a cold--probably another bad idea. By the end of the day, I'd lost my voice (but not my appetite, I'm proud to report). Since then, I've been coughing up nasty green bile, but slowly improving. The big question is whether or not I'll be well by next Saturday. I hope so.
The last couple of days have given me a bit of hope. Easy runs, to be sure, but I've felt my legs strong again, even though I've still got a scratchy voice and a bit of a cough. We will see.
At any rate, the week before a marathon, I usually get nostalgic about my running. Since I'm not out training--and especially not now with this damn cold--the training I've done stands out in relief. I think back to the good workouts, to the weary legs, to the long runs, to the steady grind almost as if it were another person entirely who did all of that running. I enjoy training. It's where the miracles happen: and you're always there to see them. This essay describes them pretty well.
Ah, the miracles: they're why we run, in the end. But there are no miracles in racing. What you do in a race is always only the result of what you've prepared for in training. The challenge is letting that training show: concentrating it, boiling it down, and producing two and a half hours of hard running. The race is when you show your cards. You take the runner you've been at work creating over the years and you reveal your creation. Spectacular, when all goes well, sublime even, but not miraculous, no. Races are natural creations--the result of work, hard, human, sweaty, painful, relentless, determined work.
A week to go until my marathon. No miracles expected, none needed.