Rome wasn’t built in one day but it sure felt like it crumbled in one day. The race for me went anything like I’d hoped or trained for at the World Cup. I had my first career DNF (unless you count a local summer series meet when I was back in high school). I felt so many emotions, which in some ways felt worse than the physical toll my body hadsuffered through, or so I thought. While besides myself/distraught/ befret for a reason as to why that night of the race I was emotionally comforted by the fact that my body was so wrecked I didn’t have enough energy to beat myself up mentally. That all changed the next day and the loss of an international opportunity which offered such promise only to end so
miserably in defeat left me feeling inconsolable. To make matters worse upon returning home some 4 days later while my legs felt ready to get after it in training my body was not there not even close. I had terrible almost nonstop headaches from the day after my race for about 10 day s straight. Initially in Rome I chalked it up to being extremely dehydrated after having a severe colitis attack after my race and all the cigarette smoke. However, after returning home and having eliminated the disgusting second hand smoke it was unclear why the headaches were persisting. On top of this I had a light headed feeling that would come and go that was not influenced at all by my eating or drinking routine.
At the suggestion of my club coach Gary Westerfield’s wife to get blood work done to see if my electrolyte levels and what not were off I sought out a doctor to get this rolling. I was fortunate to be a new patient and see someone in two days and blood work only a day later. At this point an entire week had come and gone since the race and I thought surely I’d start to feel like myself again. The blood work results took almost another week and while the headaches finally left my first “workout” back I couldn’t shake that feeling like your about to faint and I was only going an easy zone 2. What is zone 2, it’s our transition pace that we hit mid fall, Oct/Nov, and I was struggling to hit times that were slower then what I breezed through in early fall. This was not encouraging at all in fact I was alarmed if anything because my heartrate numbers kept indicating that indeed my body was working and rather hard too. I felt like I was grasping for answers, was it my diet, was it my sleep, was I missing some key nutrient, how could I still be sick from a headcold ….it had been over a month and for over a week I had been in bed for 9+ hrs a night sleeping 8+ hours! I decided to take the prescribed antibiotic and while the scientist in me says the results for cause and effect are inconclusive the bottom line is I started to see some improvement on the 5th and final day of antibiotic usage.
But the word improvement must be used very lightly as it was hard to imagine my fitness suffering any worse and so since I had essentially hit bottom there was only one way to go and that was up. Albeit there were a heck of a lot of steps left to climb to get back to the top but at least both feet were no longer standing still on rock bottom.
I never gave up and kept believing but boy was it intimidating to suffer through training session after training session to see only marginal gains. To top it off on easy days my heartrate was also still extremely elevated which did not lend itself to boosting confidence. Now while I never stopped believing that doesn’t mean I wasn’t questioning why this was happening. Just this past Saturday I texted my Coach Tim saying if I can keep improving 3 seconds/ week I’d be in an ok place to fight at Olympic Trials. Looking at it from that perspective just 3 measly seconds a week made the strides I was hoping to make less daunting and more manageable. Now the trick was not to freak out if one workout went well only to turn around three days later and be slightly slower.
I also knew that the weather was probably impacting the effect of my progress it was just so hard to know how much. On May 22nd it was a whopping 50-52 degrees out during my 20k long walk and a steady light cool rain. Fastforward three days to Wednesday’s track session and it was 76deg and very humid. This past weekend was brutal and I finished up my fartlek with 82 feels like 84 in full sunshine. So that question that remained unanswered was, was I struggling to hit paces that normally came so easily because of the weather or because of my own fitness.
Then I entered a ½ marathon race the next day to get in my long distance mileage while out of town for a friend’s wedding (shout out to bride and groom Elana and Ben for running a race the morning of their wedding!). It was humid as anything with 72 deg F at the start and 82 deg F by the finish with a feels like 86 deg F!!! The course that started and ended at a ski resort was also very hilly for a race walker, think central park on steroids! But I was encouraged by how my legs felt and my heartrate while a good 10 beats/ min higher than the same pace normally wasn’t too bad considering the weather and hills. But it was still hard to evaluate how much I had recovered or not because the conditions were so extreme. But a major take a
way was I not only had a very solid distance-training walk I did not feel lightheaded or over heated in the conditions. I must say the Oiselle racing shorts and tank top were awesome and felt so smooth to race in although I literally thought mid race after dumping a water cup on my head, how could anyone have raced in LA with a singlet and not a crop top because as soon a it became water logged I wanted it off! I also was very thankful for local runners that helped pass the miles as we chatted over the course, it definitely made for a much more enjoyable day of training even if it cost a few beats/min in heartrate! That evening Joe and I had a wonderful time at Ben and Elana’s wedding. The amount of dancing we did that night could have constituted a second shake out workout for sure! Best of all my legs felt really solid, not exhausted or heavy. Thank you Ben and Elana for letting us share in your day and making all your guest feel part of such a special moment in your relationship! Mazel tov!!!
Then it was time for another two days of easy distance mileage. I can’t tell you what it feels like to wake up each morning, refreshed with a good night’s sleep, nasal passage clear and legs itching to go, hopeful that today will be the day that my heartrate finally drops and what seems easy, is in fact easy for my body to then go out and no more than 2k in and know that no not today, today is not the day for such things. And so that brings me to today, June 1st, the month of Olympic Trials. Today on tap I had a rather easy set of intervals consisting of only 9k total mileage of race pace work to bounce back from the harder than normal effort of Sunday’s long walk and to be ready for a little vroom vroom this weekend at the National 5k. Half way through my 2 mile warm up I was not just feeling optomsitic I was seeing encouragement with each glance at my heartrate monitor, I was not only warming up at a great pace (5:30/km) but my heart rates were in control!!!! I was very fortunate to have 2014 Sachem East Alum Shannon O’hehir as a training partner this morning. I explained to her my ideal goal paces and realistic goal paces and we toed the line. The first 200 went out real smooth and ,relatively for the past month, rather fast, and you know what I felt CONTROLLED! I can’t tell you how amazing it was that I was hitting respectable splits and actually feeling controlled! While my 2k times were still a hair off of true goal race pace they were a HUGE HUGE step in the right direction. My 1ks and 500s were at or faster than race pace which while being very short and sweet distances I once again felt like I was working within myself and not reaching beyond myself struggling to find a gear that was not there. I also got faster each interval which was encouraging in itself. I really wish today I had a “big girl workout”, as Tim likes to call them, and be able to capitalize on how great I felt and take full advantage of the awesome conditions. It was a beautiful 72-74deg F with 10mph winds, and very low humididty in the upper-mid 50%. For the first time in about a week the dewpoint was below 60!
Today’s workout was just what I needed to remind myself that, yes Maria you are in fanstastic shape, yes Maria you have finally recovered, and yes Maria the weather does greatly impact training (and racing) performance. This was what I needed to be able to move forward in training, not doubt if I am working too hard, recoverying poorly or any other question that has swirled in and out of my head the past month. This is the workout that I NEEDED to allow me to train in whatever miserable conditions Mother Nature throws at me and know that it is only making me stronger.
Thank you to everyone who has continued to believe in me and has helped me mentally and physically recover from the disappointment in Rome. A huge shout out to Katie Hempfling, Mr Mc, A. Martin, Judy Lee, and Shannon O’hehir!!! Like Tim says, “we have bigger fish to fry,” and I’ll be ready to sizzle ‘em in this heat!