Final training step: a good night’s sleep

All the miles have been run. The hard part’s over, right?

Not yet.

My race is Sunday. It’s Friday. I put in my last 40-minute
light run this morning.

Since the week before summer began, I’ve been targeting the
inaugural Bozeman Marathon. I awoke at or before 6 a.m. four or five times a
week all summer long in order to get my runs in. My daughter, who is 5, was out
of school and my wife leaves for work around 7:45 a.m. It was either run at
dawn or not at all.

I hardly needed an alarm to rise so early. The only time I
set it, I was up 15 minutes before. Show time!

And on the rare occasion I didn’t wake up in time, that was okay. “I must have needed the extra rest,” was my reasoning.

The morning runs were exhilarating, for the most part. I’d
rather have tired legs and not enough rest than get a full night’s sleep and
be cranky, wondering when I was going to run again.

I did long runs, tempo runs, easy runs. My peak week was
nearly a month ago. Everything has gone well beyond how I planned it.

But I can still blow it if I don’t sleep well tonight. I
know from experience.

Sunday marks my 14th marathon, so I know the
drill. The final weeks of tapering always include stale legs and wandering
thoughts. And even if training goes well, the night two days before the race is
just as important as a 20-miler.

If you sleep well that night, then you’ve gotten plenty of
rest in the bank for the marathon. If you don’t, you may be in trouble on race
day. That’s because hardly anyone sleeps well the night before. There’s either
not enough time (most marathons begin near dawn) or you’re too keyed up to

But that’s perfectly normal. And most people can run well
coming off a poor night’s sleep. But two in a row? Again, that’s asking for
trouble. I found this out the hard way in 2003.

It was my first Boston Marathon, and third marathon overall.
I had just come off a sub-3-hour race in Keene, N.H., the September before and naively
thought I could break 3 at Boston.

I was living in Vermont at the time, so coming back to
Natick, Mass., for the weekend before the race was a sort of homecoming for me.
I visited friends and tried to keep busy.

But on the Saturday night before the Monday race, I slept in
a strange room (my older brother’s old room at my parents’ house in Natick) and
the ancient, forced-heat radiators were cranking (and creaking) a little too
much – the room was hot. And I didn’t sleep well.

I had this excited, nervous feeling in my stomach the whole
weekend. Even with a 20-minute nap on Sunday, I still wasn’t sufficiently

The race on Monday wasn’t until noon and I didn’t need to
get up early, but I was awake way too early and couldn’t fall back to sleep. I
was too worked up for the big event.

When I arrived in Hopkinton for the start, I didn’t feel
right. While waiting in a seemingly endless line to pee, someone in front of me
kept looking in the other direction. Probably looking for someone he knew at
the end of the line. He just wouldn’t stop, and even though he wasn’t doing
anything wrong, it was annoying the heck out of me.

That’s when I realized how cranky I was. It was something so
simple, but it drove me nuts. I usually only get cranky when I’m tired. Uh-oh.
Not enough sleep, damn it.

I tried to get myself out of this odd state by jogging a
little after I found my corral near the starting line. But I couldn’t shake it.

Instead of taking it easy after the gun went off, I still
thought I could run sub-7s for a goal of a 3-hour race. And I did – for about
13 miles. It was a little hotter than expected, but I should have held back

By the time the screams of the girls in Wellesley died down
near the halfway mark, the group of runners that was around me for the
previous few miles began to pull away. When I reached the bridge that goes over
Route 128 in Newton, my legs cramped up. I had to start walking. Race over.

I eventually crossed the finish in 4:04, after walking most
of the final 6 miles. No shuffling. Just walking. Lesson learned.

Soon, it’ll be time to get that much-needed rest. I still
have a busy night of work ahead, writing up high school football games and
putting together pages at the Chronicle. I probably won’t get home until 11:45.
Then the pressure will be on to sleep. I should be tired by then; I didn’t
sleep well last night. That hasn’t happened in months. I haven’t run so little
in a long time as well, so maybe that’s why – I just wasn’t tired.

And maybe I got the bad night’s sleep out of the way.

I’ll plead with my daughter before she goes to bed tonight
not to come into our room tomorrow morning. At all. Until someone comes out. No
jumping on the bed asking “is is morning time, daddy,” and no continuously
opening and closing the door.

She’s pretty good about being quiet in the morning if my
wife and I ask her to do so. And she’s had her first full week (minus Labor
Day) of kindergarten – plus the sun that rises on her east-facing room doesn’t
come up until 7:30 – so she’s due to sleep in a little herself.

I just want to sleep until 8.

Writing this blog probably isn’t taking any pressure away,
but it does help to get what’s to come off my chest.

I won’t do any more running until the gun goes off Sunday at
7. But hopefully plenty of sleeping.

Until then, zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.


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