Monday, September 28, 2009

Stepping Out onto the Wire

Marathon preparation lends itself to risk. You enter training knowing that there is a real possibility that you won’t see the start line, that all the sacrifice and pain will be for nothing. When you’re punishing your body on a daily basis it’s liable to break down, and the closer you get to race day the more risks you take as the stresses on the body increase.

‘The wire’ is a term predominantly used by cyclists to describe the time when they find that balance between optimum training load and race weight. There is a point where your muscle power or stamina can be extremely high whilst bodyweight is low, thus when you race you get the best of both worlds – good performance and less weight to carry – making you faster.

The journey along the wire is a haphazard one where injury risk increases and the immune system starts to decline. The final few weeks before a big competition is the time when things can go irreversibly wrong. Get injured or sick now and there is no way to recover in time for the competition.

Heading out onto the wire

I’m starting to see subtle differences in my physiology, the extra rib poking through against the skin on my chest, the way my cheek bones seem more defined as the gauntness sets in, the uncharacteristically brown lower legs from training during sunset. I know I’m creeping out onto the wire, although I’m not intentionally trying to lose weight, it’s just a side effect from the increased training. Ironically, despite looking a little bit skinnier I'm actually becoming more muscular. By running at around 6 minute miling for the majority of my training it's making me tough and my legs and arms look pretty ripped. By appearance you might start to think I was more of a miler than a marathoner.

At present I’m trying to counteract it, I don’t need to be so thin, so I’m scoffing down ice cream every night after training and treating myself to chocolate and marshmallows. It’s a great time to be a runner – intensive training and eating whatever you want. Hunger is almost constant, so I eat decent sized meals and keep snacking throughout the day on bagels and cereal bars. Before midday I had already eaten a bowl of cereal, special K bar, cheese sandwich and a slice of cake and then also finished a slice of quiche, packet of crisps and a large cookie by 3pm. However, despite the tasty advantages there are some disadvantages.

My cough is back. I always get it, originating around the Adams apple, when I’m training hard. It’s mainly prevalent in the winter during the colder months, but it came back last night after a steady evening 16 mile run. It’s both annoying yet reassuring. I cough when I’m fit, it’s ironic, but it’s true. I’m taking it as a good sign, although I’ll be sure to get rid of it as soon as possible. What I don’t want for the cough to get worse and to get ill; that would be a nightmare. I'm taking vitamin C and zinc tablets to help my body fight any germs.

The gaunt look of elite runners, balancing light weight with extraordinary musculature

I can feel the muscle tightness in my lower legs, my left iliotibial band is stiff and needs loosening off. My right adductor is a bit sore and my calves are always glad when I spin on the bike as they get a chance to stretch out. At the moment all of these problems are just niggles, but left untreated they could become full blown injuries which would stop me from running. You start to notice as well that getting out of bed or a chair becomes an effort. Muscles try to relax and allow movement, but underlying everything is an ache and some stiffness.

You can survive out on the wire for a while, but not indefinitely. Hopefully my trip along the wire is happening at the right time and I haven’t started too early or too intensively. Time will tell.

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