The Joy of Running?

The goal of each training run is to never give everything you’ve got. Finish each run with the feeling that you could have gone a little faster, or a little further; pushing yourself to the very edge of that perverbial thin line between superb fitness and shameful injury without so much as a toenail crossing over.

On the other hand, the goal of each race is to give everything you’ve got; parceling out the fastest pace you can maintain throughout the course of that race, no matter how far, ensuring your tank is completely empty at the finish line – you could have gone no faster, not one step further.

In the next training season, you can push that line ever so slightly forward, and do it all over again. Within this process of training, the science behind the racing, lies just one of the many joys of running.

imageEach year I conduct my own 1-person training experiment. Sometimes they work out fabulously.

This year’s experiment was to increase peak mileage, and things were going quite well . . . until they didn’t.

There would be about 6 weeks of what I predicted to be tough training. I had asked my husband, couldn’t we protect the schedule for just 6 weeks of this winter? Wasn’t it possible that for one marathon season there would be no need to switch Thursday’s run with Monday, move Wednesday to Thursday, or Friday to Sunday? But, nooooooo . . .

There was snow, sleet, and rain; sustained winds reached 15, 20, or 24mph, gusting to 40. We had unexpected trips, and unexpected visitors – most notably the 3 days I spent in the disdainful company of a stomach virus.

My long run hovered around the 14-mile mark for 5 weeks, and the schedule had been re-written so many times it barely resembled its original intention.

I was tired. Then I couldn’t sleep, and then I got irritable. Everything was annoying: the music on my iPod, the hills on the trails, the wind at the track, the mothers that passed me on the hills . . . pushing a stroller. I was seriously mad with everything (God bless my husband who found the patience to simply laugh at me and my condition). It wasn’t that I was disenchanted with running. I hated running.

I dreaded dressing in running clothes, dreaded going to the track, dreaded every mile on the calendar. My husband stood with me in the closet one morning as I ranted and raved about my dilemma. “Maybe it’s time to quit,” I had told him. He suggested maybe it was simply time to focus on the half marathon. I couldn’t imagine life without running, but I could not fathom running one more day. He put his arms around me in one of those all encompassing bear hugs, and although he didn’t say a word, his hug said whatever I decided was ok.

Two miles into that morning’s run I could hardly drag my feet forward, and I quit. My tank was completely empty.

This was also the day I finally remembered that I had dealt with these symptoms before – typically, one of two things:  iron deficiency anemia, or over-training.

imageSymptoms of iron deficiency in athletes include loss of endurance, chronic fatigue, high exercise heart rate, low power, frequent injury, recurring illness, loss of interest in exercise, and irritability.

It has long been suspected that one of the reasons runners become iron deficient is due to a phenomenon known as foot-strike hemolysis where red blood cells are destroyed during exercise. This was initially thought to be due to the compression of capillaries in the feet while running, although further research has also found the condition in swimmers, rowers, and weightlifters.

Ironically, the symptoms of over-training are almost identical to iron deficiency, but also includes weight loss. My first symptom of over-training is usually a sore throat followed by a ‘general’ fatigue.

Although iron deficiency is not common among men, and even more rare among women of my age, the addition of an iron supplement for about a week always pulls me out of this kind of training lull, which is why the best way to correctly diagnose any lull in training is to visit a doctor – something my husband insists I’ll be doing this week.

Iron deficiency is risky business since the body has no way to rid itself of excess iron, and the symptoms of over-training are similar to a plethora of other ailments.

I’ve literally gone through this training season kicking and screaming, but somehow managed to tweak my way through to the taper. My strength returned a few weeks ago, and you can’t imagine the relief I felt when running was fun again.

This process of training, experimenting, learning, and re-learning – the maddening science behind the racing – keeps running challenging for me. This season’s experiment may not have worked out fabulously. . . well, there’s always next season.


My favorite articles regarding iron deficiency and over-training for runners:

Ironing Out the Details  (by Cathy Fieseler, Runner’s World)

How to Avoid Overtraining in Running (HowStuffWorks ADVENTURE)