I remember running my first and only sub-3 marathon in 1995. I had trained incredibly hard for 6 months to pull it off. I'd avoided restaurant meals, many glasses of wine, and many social events to make sure I got enough rest, so I could train properly. After that race was over, I took a break. It wasn't deliberate, but in the next year or so, I gained a lot of weight and didn't run very much.
At the 1996 Boston Marathon, I lined up in my corral with a fairly low number. I think it was 1576, out of 35000 runners. I was fat and out of shape, and I was also fighting a cold that day. I remember one runner coming past me early, looking at my race number, and sarcastically asking me who I bought the number from. I told him that I'd earned it with a 2:57 marathon and he laughed at me. For a moment, I thought about going after the guy, trying to start a fight, and just giving up on the run. But, the reality was, I looked nothing like a sub-3 marathon runner.
Even on the day I ran sub-3, as I passed a group of 3 runners in the early miles, 1 of the 3 told me I should slow down. He told me I was going too fast, too early "for such a big guy". I weighed 168 pounds that day - about as low as my racing weight ever got. I told him that I'd trained hard to run sub-3 that day and I intended to do it. He didn't respond, but he didn't need to respond either. I knew what he was thinking.
I eventually finished 19th of 499 finishers that day (Avenue of the Giants Marathon in northern CA), and the runner who'd made the comment found me after the race and asked how I'd done. After hearing my result, he graciously apologized for his comment.
As I've gotten older, I've found that any setback gets tougher and tougher to overcome. Since my prostate surgery 16 months ago, I've managed to set a number of new PRs in the gym. But, my two heaviest lifts - deadlift and back squat - are not back to where they were. My best deadlift since that surgery is 415 vs. a best of 440. My best back squat is 365 vs. a best of 375. But, other than those 2 lifts, I've improved on a lot of other lifts. I recently improved my front squat from a best of 275 to 305, and I probably could have done 315 that day if I'd had more time.
But, since that PR, in March of this year, things have gone the other direction. I've found myself feeling more tired at times. I was sick in March and I had lingering effects from that illness for 4 weeks. I'm scaling the CrossFit workouts more than ever. I'm basically just trying to get through the workouts, not lose any more fitness, and just be consistent.
Last night, one of our coaches, a woman my age, asked me how I was doing. I responded "old, fat and tired". She laughed and walked away. And then, she came back to talk some more. She reminded me that "at our age", we can't expect to always be at a peak. If we are smart in our training, we will recognize when we feel up to training hard, and we will also recognize when we need to take it easier. I'm certainly not capable, at age 53, of re-producing any of my racing times from my younger years. I'm OK with that. What I most want is to be healthy and active for a long time. To do that, I've got to be smarter in my training than I was when I was younger. I also need to remember that the long-term timeline is going to include some peaks and valleys.
This week is a valley. The next peak is just over there somewhere.