It was January of 2006. I had been training on my own for about 18 months. I had been running a lot, I had in fact averaged over 135 miles per week for those 18 months. I was getting ready for my first marathon and had decided to try to convert a schedule Renato Canova had put out there for one of his former athletes, Rodgers Rop. I'll do a post on the whole cycle some time down the line but for today I'll just say that it was transformative in many ways not the least of which was I went from having bests of 24:35 and 1:07:28 for 8k and the half to having bests of 23:26, 1:04:14 and 2:15:28 for the marathon.
About mid way through my first experience with Canova I would attempt my first special Block. I should have been doing a specific block but at the time I couldn't have told you the difference and more over your not going to get through a specific block without doing a special block earlier in the cycle and I hadn't done a Canova base but all these were problems I didn't know I had.
I ran the first session starting at 7am. At the time I was meeting Sammy a 4:00 miler from Texas who had moved up to Massachusetts recently and was working at the same running shoe store I was. Sammy would stop off at my house for the morning run on his way to work in the morning and after the run he would go to work for the first shift at the store. I would take over for him at 1pm and work until 5pm, it was 2 to 7 on thursday and Sunday was 12 to 4 but that is all off topic.
The morning session was 10k with a goal of 34mins and 10k with a goal of 32mins. The PM session was 10k with a goal of 34mins and 10x1k with a goal of 3:00 per k.
Sammy arrived in full awareness of the monstrosity I was to attempt. He had decided he would do the warm-up and the first 10k then he would cool down and go to work leaving me to the hell of my own making. We warmed up 3 miles on the cold winter morning and did some strides on the busy Lowell Boulavard. It was busy but it is FLAT and that I was grateful for. I had pre measured with a wheel an out and back 5k and a 1k stretch for the reps. Garmins and online measurement existed at the time but they were less accurate and I certainly didn't own a Garmin.
After a 3 mile warm up in 23 mins and a few light strides Sammy and I were off. This was not a target workout for Sammy who was just trying to ease himself back into shape and I was nervous as hell, we hit the 5k turn around in 17:10 and closed up both feeling super strong at 34:15. I was still scared but I was super surprised how easy that had felt. Sammy was pumped as well to have knocked out a tempo at under 5:30 pace stayed in a easy talking effort the whole way. Now he was off to work. I did a little light jogging and a few strides and headed out. I had a split at 1k and 1 mile then 2 miles I was running in a large part by feel. I was super happy to hit the turn around and not feel dead, though my legs were quite heavy, at 15:52, I really started to push on the way back and found I was going about as fast as I could. I finished up in 31:39. At that time it was one of the 5 or ten fastest 10k's I had ever done and it was the fastest tempo run I had ever done. I was shocked. This was early in my Canova training and I was improving fast. However my elation was tempered by the knowledge that I would have to do it again that afternoon. It was already one of the longest and most exhausting workouts I had ever done.
At this time I was religious about getting my cool down in, I'm not anymore, but I cut myself some slack and did a little over 2 miles cool down back to the house and got ready for work. At the time I was using chocolate milk as my post workout recovery and I had bought a special half gallon of it just for this day and of course completely forgot about it.
The shoe store I worked at was pretty slow and I basically used to just stand around all day and see only a few customers. This day was much of the same though I snuck a few more sitting moments on the try on benches than usual.
It was dark that evening when I got out of work. I walked my mile home as was my custom at the time and changed up for round two. I headed out for my 3 mile warm up and just felt exhausted. I wasn't tight or sore I was just exhausted and had heavy legs. I was in new territory and I had no idea what to expect. In fact that I wasn't sore or tight was sort of mind blowing to me.
Back on the Boulivard I did my strides and got right to work. I was shocked that although I felt very heavy and tired the slower running felt very easy and I was ahead on my splits right from the gun. I was 16:33 at the turn around and finished up feeling aerobically good but very very tired at 33:03.
I took 5mins rest with a good bit of jogging and strides as it was January in Massachusetts and though the weather was good by those standards it was far to cold to stand around for five minutes. I attacked my first 1k interval not knowing what to expect. I had no set out splits but I had checked my split on the tempos at an intersection and I used this as a ballpark mark to get a sense of how I was doing. There was a light breeze and on the odd reps it was at my back. I hit my finish in 2:59 and I was pumped. I had nice long 2 min rests but it is strange when you have run that much hard mileage it isn't your breathing you are trying to recover. That comes quickly instead your legs are like sand bags and you don't have an ounce of spring. No amount of rest will get that back for you.
Rep two into the wind hurt more and was a 3:01. Rep 3 was my flyer in 2:55 I was pumped up about it but I knew if I tried to keep that up I would be done very soon. On rep 4 all my delusions were gone. I suffered through a 3:01 into the wind.
For the next few reps I ran 2:57, 3:03 and 3:00. Each rep was incredibly hard but I would get it done and feel like this was just how it was going to be. I would have to fight a war with my dead legs but I would finish, one circle of hell rep at a time.
The 8th rep was a 3:05. It felt noticeably worse than the others and I could tell as I was running it that it was slower but I tried to tell myself during the rest that it was the wind that had killed me. Plus I only had 2 reps to go. Every part of my being knew I was done but I only had to go out and back. One more in each direction.
I had exceeded everything I had ever done I was in a whole knew place I leaped into the 9th rep. My legs felt unresponsive and my feet just slapped down I was slow at my split and no amount of will seemed to move my body. 3:07. Really not so bad but I was crushed it was 7 seconds off pace and it was a tail wind rep. The rest seemed to be over instantly and I was pushing back on my last rep!
The top of the mountain was in sight and you would think that would bring out the final reserves for a last great effort. There were however no reserves left they had been brought out and burnt up long ago. I felt like I was barely moving. I ran 3:13 slower by a good bit than the pace of the 10k I tempo I had run in the morning that had felt so easy. Honestly if you told me before I looked at the watch that the rep had been at 6 minute mile pace I would have believed you. It felt that bad.
Honestly my workout was done after 8 reps. I had not done the prep work to be ready for a session like this and frankly it kind of amazes me that I got as far as I did but even with that the last two reps were a bridge to far.
As I stood dazed hands on knees I began to realize just how wiped out my legs were. Shaky, weak, unresponsive. Crushed. I had NOTHING left. I mentioned above I ALWAYS cooled down but now I knew I was done. The quickest way back to my house was a straight mile jog. I painfully struggled through it. I couldn't lift my legs properly. I actually felt fear that I wouldn't make it back to my house but I had no choice. One step at a time I made it back. I nearly fell on my walk across the driveway to the kitchen door. It was after 8pm. I was ruined.
This time I remembered my chocolate milk! I drank straight from the bottle and had in a minute or two finished the whole bottle. At which point I remembered that drinking a half gallon of milk was a bad idea. I had seen enough gallon challenges in college to know that a half gallon could be enough to make you puke. Luckily though I didn't feel so hot I had none of those problems.
After a short while I took a painful shower and dragged myself to bed. I was so exhausted I assumed I would drop into a coma like sleep. I was wrong.
The damage I had wrought on my body had pushed me to a state where I could not settle into a sleep. I lay there. I had cramps. I shuffled to the bathroom. I was dehydrated, I was exhausted. I was wrecked. I knew after an hour or two that no real sleep would happen but I had no desire to get out of bed I would simply lay there in my misery and hope to feel somewhat closer to human when the sun came up.
It would take a while but I would recover. I would however not be the same. A new athlete had been born. My will for the long war had been hardened my endurance had reached new levels. I would find out in my marathon debut that one great session like this alone was not enough to really finish a marathon perfectly but it was enough that I do feel this was the turning point of when I went from a guy who had potential to run a good marathon to a marathoner.