Runlikely: In Which the Training Plan Falls Apart

I ran my first 41-mile week. I ran my first 21-mile day. One of my feet aches on the outer edge intermittently, particularly on trails in my trail shoes. But the good news is: it’s now a cut-back week, which means that I’m only supposed to run about 28 miles, a significant downgrade from the week before. The purpose of cut-back weeks while training is to give your body a chance to recuperate, and clearly my body needs it.

But my foot is bothering me and it doesn’t feel better after my rest day on Monday. In fact, it’s hurting even when I walk, which is no good. So I decide to take Tuesday off from running, too. Better a little undertrained than a little injured, I remind myself. It only moderately soothes my anxieties. Just as I’m about to start catastrophizing about my foot, my back seizes up. I’d done single-leg step-up lunges on Sunday on my kitchen chair. Glute exercises can sometimes irritate my sciatic nerve, and I am paying the price. My back takes my mind off of my foot, and that afternoon I go on a leisurely walk with a friend for six miles. My foot doesn’t bother me.

Wednesday I wake up and my foot hurts as I walk around the house. What the hell, I think. I convince myself I have cuboid syndrome, when a bone at the base of your toe bones gets slightly dislocated, or so the internet tells me. I follow YouTube videos for how to pop your cuboid back into place to no success. I try to find a physical therapist or podiatrist who can see me, since it can apparently be fixed with a manual adjustment pretty easily, but everyone’s booked for months.

I’m frustrated. What am I going to do? I can’t imagine choosing to run my weekly miles if my foot aches with every step. But by the afternoon, my foot isn’t bothering me, and I’m so agitated that I decide, screw it, I’m going on a run.

The run goes fine. What the hell.

The next day, Friday, I decide to do my cutback long run of 14 miles. It’s a beautiful day and I decide that even if I can’t do the exact mileage, I want to go somewhere pretty, so I head up toward Bellingham and watch paragliders take off at an overlook near Oyster Dome, then hike up Oyster Dome and run around Lily and Lizard Lake and then back to my car. It’s just under 13 miles and 3,000 feet of elevation gain, and my foot doesn’t bother me. I do have to take an emergency poop a tenth of a mile before I reach my car. You win some, you lose some.

Sometimes views matter more than miles. (This is a screenshot of a video, I am a nightmare.)
I had some serious fun on the downhills

The next day I fly to San Diego to visit my dad and hang out with one of my best friends, who is flying in from Chicago. On Sunday, I run my scheduled 4 miles. On Monday my best friend flies in early, and we get breakfast and swim and check into our Airbnb, and I still manage to get in that day’s scheduled 8 miles. I am killing this vacation schedule! I am a running master!

Tuesday we take a surf lesson. I manage to stand up several times (amazing!), our instructor pushing us back into the waves again and again, having to drag our surfboards against a cross-current while shuffling our feet against the sand in case of stingrays. By the end, I am totally beat. And starving.

It takes us ages to get back to the Airbnb, shower, and then head over to Mission Beach to try to find lunch. There’s a 20 minute wait for the place we decide on, and so we share a pretzel while we wait. We are so goddamn hungry. When we finally sit down, I inhale a salmon sandwich and fries. I need a nap. I’m supposed to run four miles. We want to go ride the rides at Belmont Park. It quickly becomes clear: I’m not going to be running those four miles.

Wednesday we surf again, and this time I am sore but primarily fatigued. The instructor is less hands-on and it’s harder to get on the board and my wetsuit is looser so I keep ending up with water trapped in water balloon-like pockets in my ankles and arms. But I hired a photographer to take photos of me and my friend so we persist. I stand a few times for a few seconds. I think I love surfing?

Afterward, I am beat. I’m supposed to run six miles, or maybe those four miles from yesterday. I don’t do either. There isn’t really time. We have to shower and then drive up to Oceanside for dinner plans we made.

This is not running.
This is not running and it is also not surfing.

I’ll get up early and run Thursday morning so I don’t get too far behind in miles, I tell myself. That is a lie. I watch Too Hot to Handle with my friend instead, a reality show about shallow sex-crazed people who are enticed not to have have sexual contact with each other for the chance to win $100,000, which my friend and I both agree is probably not enough money to entice people to do anything in this economy. Then we have to go to the airport.

At home, Seattle is experiencing a once-in-a-thousand-years heat wave. Friday, I manage to run five sweaty miles.

I’m supposed to run 17 miles on Saturday, and I get up and go to Cougar Mountain. IU start sweating even as I run downhill. I am chugging water. By 9 a.m., it’s 90 degrees. I can barely manage even my slowest shuffle without feeling like I’m going to die. I’ve run five miles, and I call it.

Instead, I pay a local gym $15 for the use of both their treadmill and their air conditioning. I run three miles on the treadmill, then do the stairmaster for 30 minutes, then run on another treadmill for three more miles. I put on the lame slow-moving trail experiences on the treadmill TVs and move the incline up and down to try to feel something, but the only thing I feel is an abiding hatred for treadmills. (OK, and my heels hurt.)

Sunday at 6 a.m. it’s already in the mid-70s. There is no way I am running. The only exercise I get is moving our two fans from window to window to try to cool the house down and hanging a black comforter in front of the sliding glass door to try to block out the sun.

I was supposed to run 39 miles. I managed 24.

That leaves my stats at:

Cutback weekly mileage attempt: 28
Actual: 24

Non-cutback week plan: 39
Actual: 24

Luckily, or perhaps I should say hopefully, ultramarathon legs aren’t built or lost in a single week. I’m writing this on the Thursday before the next scheduled long run (a 19ish miler), and I’m glad to say that since the heat broke on Tuesday, my running is back on plan.

This will be one of my two final training weeks, and then I’ll be tapering. (In Maui.) (If the last week has taught me anything it’s that my taper might be more taper-y than my training plan would recommend.)

I’m four weeks out from the race. Completing it within the cutoff still feels pretty unlikely. If the Pacific Northwest gets a heat wave on race day, I’m toast. As I’ve told many friends recently: don’t ever let me sign up for a summer race again. I am a winter runner.

But regardless, I am real ready to have my Saturdays back. I likely won’t run for August (recovery and also backpacking plans), but I’m hoping in September I’ll be running again, though at a much reduced weekly mileage.

Two more weeks of this dedicated effort, and then I have to hope my legs have enough endurance in them to cross the finish line.

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