Knowing My Limits

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Pat has entered the D33 Ultra marathon for March. It is a 33 mile out-and-back race from Aberdeen to Banchory and back. He has just started training for it, and being the supportive wife I am (read: I actually just need to push distance beyond my comfort zone of 8 miles lately), I elected to join him on his long runs. They started last week with a very hilly 11 miles of landrover track through the woods of Drumtochty. This past week, Pat decided to increase to 15 miles, and reluctantly I went along.

I say ‘relucantly’ because realistically, I shouldn’t be increasing distance so much, so soon. At this time last year, I was half marathon fit and mentally, I would’ve been comfortable with a 15 mile run. This year, my current long run fitness is at the 8 mile mark – I can bang out an easy 8 mile run with no adverse effects. My hips wouldn’t ache, I wouldn’t feel tired after the run, I’d be fine to get on with writing, meal prep, cleaning, whatever for the rest of the day. And I wouldn’t feel the after-effects of stiff muscles and tiredness the following day.

I stubbornly thought I’d be okay after last weekend’s 11 miles, and I was for the rest of that day, but the following day I was tired! Tired as in post-race tired: stiff muscles, tired in the head and drinking copious amounts of water. I realised that I wasn’t as fit as I thought I was, and that perhaps I shouldn’t push it. But again, stubbornly but uncomfortably, I accepted 15 miles when Pat told me, thinking I could push the self-doubt and unsettling thoughts aside.

Two things happened today on that run:

  1. The distance ended up being 17 miles!!!!
  2. And I learned that to acknowledge I had limits and that I needed abide by them.

Despite the Strava-mapping fail, I only ran 15 of the 17 miles.

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At mile 7, my hips were started to complain. At mile 9, in a very hilly section, I adopted the ultra-runner strategy of walking up the larger hills, partly to reserve fuel, but also because I was having a hard time breathing despite the almost 11 min/mile pace. At mile 13, my mind was protesting, but mildly happy to be on the home stretch. At mile 14 I realised we were still miles from home and that this run was going to be longer than 15 miles. At mile 15, after some run-walking because my hips were making it clear they weren’t happy, I stopped to walk. And I stopped my Garmin. And I didn’t resume the running.

In this moment, still two miles from home, I didn’t feel like I had failed. I didn’t berate myself. I didn’t feel like I had given up. In this moment, I realised that despite wanting to make more space between I Can and I Can’t, I have limits and I was pushing them when I didn’t have to. I stepped away from the situation and realised that finishing the run was not worth the pain, the possible injury, and the physical stress I was currently putting on myself. Yes, I am going to run a marathon this year, but not until September, and training will begin in June (or July?). The next race I need to train for is at the end of April, so I don’t need to push larger distances at all right now. I shouldn’t be making poor decisions that could potentially prevent me doing everything I want to be doing with running this year. And above all, I shouldn’t put unnecessary pressure and stress on myself.

Once I stopped to walk, I started putting back on the layers I had taken off during the run, pulling my windproof jacket and mittens out of my hydration pack. Feeling tired, I made sure to drink water at regular intervals. Feeling cold, I made sure to pick up the walking pace to brisk. Then, I just continued on my way home, with Pat a mile ahead.

I did a lot of thinking as I walked. I was happy with my decision to stop running, and praised myself for recognising the need to stop. I realised that all of this thinking, the stopping, the pain, the digging deep and the perseverance was good mental preparation for the marathon, a race that isn’t even on my horizon yet.

Just as I was entering our village, a familiar car approached me. Pat had come to pick me up, knowing I’d be angry about the longer-than-expected distance (based on previous training runs he’s mapped out for us). But I wasn’t angry. I was too tired to be angry. Instead, I just said “That wasn’t 15 miles,” too tired to do anything else, grateful for the very short lift home. Pat understood why I had stopped.

Pain and stopping aside, the run itself was beautiful! We had clear skies, no wind and despite the temperature hovering at 0’C, I was warm. We ran through the woods, passed many cows, horses and sheep, as well as deer. We even saw a wild cat!

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I will continue to do these long runs with Pat, but at a modified distance. Running can be a very lonely and solitary act, and I know I find it comforting knowing someone else is out there on the same route. Plus, this is good mental preparation for the races that are to come, and a great opportunity for base-building.

I’m tired but still happy with my decision. It also helps that the fire has been on since we got home, which makes lounging in my compression tights, drinking tea, much more bearable.

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