Clock work

Technically, this is my first week of “training,” which really means that I am following a “plan” (quotes are used because those sound like real runner terms and I am far from being classified as a “real runner”). But I’ve been preparing for this race since September and have been running in Lesotho since I arrived in October 2011.

In rural African villagers, there is no MapMyRun or DailyMile – I doubt Google Maps could even find this place – so I used my watch when I first began running here. I ventured out to my dirt road, ran 15 minutes and then turned around. I built up my runs until I made it to the main road and ran on that for a while. My longest watch-run was an hour out, an hour back.

The only way to check my progress was to see what time I hit certain road markers, such as a pair of dips along the dirt road or the lodge on the main road.

At first, I seemed to be getting faster but then my times started to sink and I became frustrated. I’d say nasty things to myself and running became unfun.

At about the same time, I figured out that there are kilometer markings along the main road. I also calculated a rough distance from my house to the main road, allowing me to finally know how far I was running. It wasn’t nearly as far as I had hoped.

To gear myself up for ultra training and fall in love with running again, I ditched the watch. I wanted to be free from these goals – and the disappointment they bring – and just run.

It worked. I ran for three solid months with little idea to how fast I was. Instead of worrying over a number, I was caught in running’s grace and became more infatuated with the sport than ever before.

However, I knew at some point I would need to bring the watch back. My only goal for Two Oceans is to complete all 56Ks in the 7-hour time frame and I have to make sure my K times are fast enough to get me there. Plus, everything I’ve read about running and training emphasizes the need for speed and tempo work. You need a watch to do those things.

My cheap green Target watch died on me and so I purchased a cheap yellow watch at some crazy accessories store in South Africa last week. I thought about upgrading to a real watch, but decided to stick with something inexpensive for now with the hopes of purchasing a Garmin when I return to the U.S. All this watch does, besides telling time, is start and stop. It is not fancy but I am training for an ultra marathon in Lesotho, I do not need fancy.

I used it for the first time yesterday for my interval workout. Today, I planned to do 11K at an easy tempo but ended up incorporating five minutes of strides. The first half of the run was incredibly slow as my heel still hurts and my calf is now cramping from walking on the ball of my foot for a week. After the first 3K I was feeling better and picked up the pace leading into the intervals. My turn around time – at 5.5K – was slow, but I was determined to pick it up. I pressed hard to negative split and continually glanced at my watch, knowing how long it usually takes me to get home from certain places.

My second half was nearly seven minutes faster. I hauled it.

After not running for a week and feeling lame about my physical state, this run gave me a huge confident boost. I feel strong and know that I am only going to get stronger from here out.

In the end, I realized, the watch is not such a bad thing but it can push me, which I often need. Not all of my runs need to be time, and they won’t be, but that satisfaction of hitting a goal is going to get me through the next 11 weeks of training.

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