Some say there is no free lunch in life. I disagree; occasionally there is, but I bugged out of the meeting yesterday as they were hauling it in so I could fit in a run instead. On my return I found a few pieces of cold, hard, very tired pizza, but they tasted like heaven after that run. We’ll get back to that.
Eight weeks seems to be a magic threshold for my body. I can’t generalize for anyone else, but repeated experiments in the lab of life strongly hint that it takes my body about eight weeks to change its metabolism. Eight weeks off, and things pretty much go to hell. Eight weeks back, and I start to emerge out of struggle mode back into the fun zone.
After the New Hampshire marathon at the start of last October, I knocked off to let the pesky leg heal. As you regulars know, it sorta’ kinda’ maybe didn’t, but that’s not the point. I sat out October, which wasn’t so bad, at least physically. Then, save for a few test runs mid-month, I sat out November, too, which got pretty bad, at least physically. (Mentally it totally stunk, but that’s to be expected.) And just to put a dot at the end of the sentence, along came Thanksgiving to contribute a few thousand calories just aching for some miles to make them feel wanted, but alas, instead wallowing in useless stupor, forced to find homes in undesirable places. By December the damage was done. My metabolism slowed down, my weight crept up, my resting pulse moved a few notches closer to a standard human. And most of that happened in the last week or two. It takes eight weeks.
God has a wry sense of humor. It takes eight weeks to heal an awful lot of things like the stress fracture I thought I had (not that I ever really figured it out, even now). Funny how the standard healing time lines up so nicely with the standard go-to-pot time.
By December I’d had enough, or more precisely, hadn’t had nearly enough, no really, hadn’t had any…I mean running of course, and I had to have it, leg be whatever it will be, so early in the month I hit the road again. In eight week off mode. And it was a struggle. Take a week off, you’re rested. Take two, you’re stiff. A month, you’re not fast, but… Eight weeks? Feels like you just got started again. And it doesn’t come back quickly. The entire first week back I repeatedly circled my smallest “regular” loop, a mere three and three quarters miles. There were days I thought I should have brought the fuel belt to have a Gu handy around mile two.
As a charter member of the obsessive compulsive runners’ club, I track my training pace, yes, in a spreadsheet. It’s revealing in that I don’t target any particular pace – for the most part I just go out and run how I feel – but by seeing how the month’s average pace falls out it tells me a lot – quite accurately, I’ve found – of where my fitness level is. Having already watched this metric rise unhappily over my injury-ridden summer, the tape told the tale pretty accurately through December and into January. It’s not that the numbers went all that high, and true, most folks would quite pleased with my “down” months, but when I run those slower paces I expect to feel like I’m out for a casual cruise, maybe a club run, certainly effortless. Instead, after eight weeks off, I’d repeatedly come in from what felt like a massive effort to find I’d barely broken seven and a half minute pace.
Until last week. Then something started to click. Not an undeniably distinctive click, but a soft, moderately perceptible click. Muted by three feet of snow on the ground, but a click. Barely breaking seven and a half pace suddenly turned into pretty consistent seven and a quarter pace. Still working hard, still not a cruise in the park, but a noticeable change in result.
Eight weeks since that reboot in early December. Never fails.
Which leads back to that free lunch. Trapped in a conference room for a few full days of training (read, no time to run before or afterword due to daylight constraints) we did a working lunch the first day, offering no break time to sneak out for a run. Free lunch, yes, but just cold sandwiches that would have been perfectly happy an hour later on return. But no dice, no time, no run.
The second day I was determined. It looked like we’d take a real lunch break, so I jumped the gun fifteen minutes early, burst out the door headed for the locker room, and, oh crap, along comes Mr. Caterer with a hot lunch today, nothing fancy, just pizzas, but an hour and a quarter leaves a pizza in sad shape. Eat hot fresh pizza? Or run, oh how I hate to give up free food, and that stuff won’t be pretty when I get back…?
Just go, you fool.
And am I glad I did. I don’t know quite what happened. I pushed about as hard as I usually do, I worked the hills on the new loop I was trying out which served up a couple of hearty rises late in the eight plus miles, did the lightning shower dress sneak back in thing, and found said tired, gluey, coagulated, off-tasting, entirely unappetizing leftover slices of pie. And sat down and ate them while measuring out the course and calculating my pace to find I’d turned in my first sub-seven-minute pace run since September. Woo hoo. Best pizza I’ve had in quite a while.
Eight weeks. The fun is returning. Hyannis Marathon masters team relay in just over two weeks. Let’s rock ‘n roll.