This post is one in a series about my preparations to run Comrades Marathon in South Africa next May. Comrades is the world’s oldest and largest ultramarathon. The 2016 race is a “down run”, so its 90KM (about 56 miles) will start in Pietermaritzburg and run to the coastal town of Durban. I am planning on running with my dad, an avid runner since the early 1960s who has dreamed of running Comrades since I was a child.
In any training cycle, there are low points. I think I’m in one now.
I’m just under two months from my target qualifying race, the Dallas Marathon, and I’m feeling a bit sluggish about it. Thankfully, my training is right where it should be. But anyone who does distance running knows that it’s 90% mental, even on the best day.
The biggest wet blanket in my training right now is the darkness that has overtaken my mornings. I’ve always been a morning runner, enjoying the quiet and relative solitude of my just-out-of-bed run. I like that I get my run done before anything else interferes with my day. I like that even if the rest of the day goes to hell in a handbasket, I’ve done something good for myself that day.
Oh, but the darkness!
On a practical level, the darkness isn’t very runner-friendly. Of course I ensure that I wear light-colored clothing with reflective strips, and I usually wear a clip-on blinking light as well. The courses that I have mapped out are all well lit by streetlamps, and there is a “just right” amount of traffic on them: I don’t feel isolated or at risk, but I’m not dodging cars all the time, either.
Personally, the darkness is a challenge because I don’t have great depth perception. I carry a headlamp with me while I run– can anyone actually wear one and run?– so it’s not an issue of not being able to see. It’s that I spend so much energy trying to decide how to place each footfall that I find the whole run exhausting, regardless of pace.
There’s also the mental drudgery of going out for a run– and coming back from the run– in the darkness. While some may be inspired by this get-it-done-before-the-sun approach, I don’t feel the uptick in energy.
Despite all of this, I had an A-HA! moment while on a dreary morning run recently. And that is– wait for it– I don’t *have* to run first thing in the morning. I have enough flexibility in my schedule most days to wait until it’s a bit brighter to head out for my run. Sometimes it might mean pushing my four-year-old in the BabyJogger on part of the run, or asking my husband to do a bit more of the morning parenting, or being willing to shift my running plans if a personal training client needs to shift session times. All of those are variables I can work around, and I’m fortunate to be in a position where I have so much control over my time. I should use that to my advantage!
(The real A-HA came from the realization that I can still get up at my usual 5.30am. Instead of heading out for a run in the dark, though, I can use that time to write emails, plan client workouts, and do other business-related tasks that I normally do during the morning hours in between clients. I am one of those annoying morning people, so there’s no use sleeping through my most productive hours of the day.)
There’s also the rare evening when I might be able to squeeze in a run. I save evening runs for emergency purposes only, as 4pm to bedtime is family time. But I could plan to run during the hour while The Monkey is in his piano lesson. And, bonus: there is a 400m track about a half a mile from where his lessons take place. It’s just a matter of making sure that I’m properly fueled and in the right headspace for an evening workout.
None of these issues are unique to me. Most distance runners struggle at some point with fitting in the mileage to prepare themselves for race day. This type of training demands commitment, but it really helps to develop the understanding that perseverance pays off.
Good health and great happiness to you.