Every marathon book will tell you not to try something new during a marathon. No new shoes. No new shirt. No new food. Don’t try anything that you haven’t tried before in training. Something new? Not quite. I was trying get back something I’d lost. My 7th marathon was May 7, 2017. Eugene, OR. Track Town USA. […]
Fixing my marathon mindset
Every marathon book will tell you not to try something new during a marathon. No new shoes. No new shirt. No new food. Don’t try anything that you haven’t tried before in training. Something new? Not quite. I was trying get back something I’d lost.
My 7th marathon was May 7, 2017. Eugene, OR. Track Town USA. Historic Hayward Field.
But hey, no pressure…
Improving my marathon time was always a goal, yet I had moved my PR (personal record) only once since beginning the marathon distance. After running Chicago (#1) and Marine Corps (#2) both in October 2014, I set a personal record of 4:37 in Vancouver (#3) in May 2015. Things were looking up! Keep training, keep running, and you’ll improve your finish times, right? But I didn’t. Marathon #4 was New York. My slowest to date. Marathon #5 was Big Sur. Tough course, but crazy beautiful and maybe the most physically challenging course I’ll ever do. Worth the effort in every way, but not a PR. Marathon #6 was Chicago in October 2016. If there is a marathon I’ve liked the least – it is this one. I was out of the race mentally early on. I lacked focus and the race effort got away from me. Afterwards, I felt that I may not be capable anymore of running a marathon that I was satisfied with. I was showing up to start lines tired and over-trained. Something had to change.
How had I gotten so far away from my time goals and feeling as if I was now declining rather than improving? I was working harder, running more miles, running faster at shorter distances, I was fitter… yet not coming remotely close to my time goals. Since my last PR, I had run marathon times that were from 10-26 minutes slower. How could I fix this?
Each time I’ve carved out a marathon training plan I’ve added in something more. Something to make me better. More miles overall. One plan trying 3 20-milers instead of 2. Experimenting once with doing slightly more than a 20 miler rather than ‘just’ 20. Speed work. Core work. Cross training. Hills. Strength training. Stretching. Foam rolling. Joining Fast Track Racing Team. Joining the Oiselle Volée team. I started running with music. Things were getting more and more complicated. I realized in hindsight that when I felt more successful my running looked different than it did currently. How could I get that back?
I studied my marathon plans for #1 (Chicago), #3 (Vancouver – PR) and #5 (Big Sur). Chicago #1 was my simplest training plan as a beginner. Vancouver was my PR. With Big Sur I felt my training & effort matched the experience. I noted that the training plans where I had been personally successful had less overall mileage and a little less mileage on the long runs than training cycles where I felt tired and burnt out.
I adapted my training plan for Eugene from these old training plans combined with a plan I’d been eyeballing that included more cut-back weeks. I no longer wanted high mileage followed by more high mileage. Having more cut-back weeks helped me. I was better rested and better recovered. I found it much easier to tackle distances like 16, 18 or 20 when the long run on alternating weeks went down to 13. In truth the plan called for cutting back the long run to 10-12 miles on low mileage weeks, but if you’re Type A, 13 might make you feel less anxious about your mileage. And don’t think I was relaxing out on those 13’s… there were specific paces to target and I was always happy when they were over.
At some point in this training cycle I stopped running with music. Even on long runs. Even on the treadmill. I went back to focusing on things like cadence, form, breathing and outdoor scenery. I started to feel more focused. I was actually engaged in the run again instead of what song was in my ear.
I fired up my metronome app again to work on cadence. I’d used this in the past, but gave it up when I took on music. If you run past me on a local path nowadays and hear clicking, I promise it’s the metronome on my phone folks, it is not my knees or hips!
I added in a meditation and mindfulness app at night. Even just for 3-5 minutes. But I feel it has helped. I am re-leaning some aspects of mindfulness that I lost over time in the busyness of life and the chaos of pursuing endurance training.
I gave myself permission to stop comparing myself to others. I am happy to talk about someone’s personal running goals, finish times or paces, but I no longer let it get me down if they are faster or seem more successful than I at a given race distance. Someone else’s success does not make me a failure. Letting go of that one is big.
I told myself to stop holding onto the marathon ‘times’ of the events in which I hadn’t performed as well as I wanted. Instead, I chose to focus on 2-3 positive memories or experiences about each of those events that made me feel good. Having family cheering me. Travel. The satisfaction of knowing I can push through when things get tough. Those experiences are more important in life than a specific finish time for any event. I chose to give those memories more weight in my life than my finish times.
Lastly, I chose to approach Eugene as my “running with gratitude” marathon. I was grateful to have the opportunity to travel again to the Pacific NW. Grateful to meet up with several Volée teammates. Grateful to have completed 7 marathon training cycles without a significant injury. Grateful that I would finish the last 0.2 of this marathon on Hayward Field. I saw Pre’s Rock. I had the Willamette River right out my hotel window. I spent a morning in Hendricks Park. All I can say is, I was just truly happy to be there.
Whether it was the ideal weather conditions of the day, the new (or perhaps I should say ‘old’) training plan that I had used, or whether it was my renewed focus and ability to be more mindful and actually enjoy the moment… it did all come together that day for me with a new PR of 4:33.
Next up? Breaking 4:30!
Right foot, left foot, repeat. Life requires an aid station or two…
Following the Chicago Marathon this year, I had a specific blog post in mind, but it never got written… I thought I would write about perseverance. How badly I wanted to quit that marathon – more so that I’ve ever wanted to quit anything in my life. I considered walking off the course as a DNF (did not finish), and thought I’d describe how and why I didn’t give in. I was later given a photo my friend snapped of me at mile 25 (above). In her shot I was happy to find that I still had my head up and was moving foward despite running a race that had depleted me many miles before. I wanted that photo to be the inspiration for my post-Chicago Marathon blog because what I saw in the photo was perseverance.
Sometimes, things don’t go as planned. I never wrote the blog I anticipated. It turned into this one instead…
I did have a difficult Chicago Marathon this year. I was on pace for my time goals until the halfway point. For the first time ever in a race, I found I was unable to tolerate taking my energy gels. This threw me. I’d never had that happen before. How was I going to keep my energy levels up? What about bonking? Wait, am I off pace now? Is it getting hot out? What mile is this? I couldn’t stop the anxiety and distractions that began to take over my thoughts. I was sunk, mentally.
At mile 15, I wondered why I should keep going. I wouldn’t even be that sore if I stopped at mile 15. I could go out for a meal with my family, recover, I could even start up my regular running routine later in the week like nothing happened. I could sign up for another marathon in the spring. This race would not be my PR (personal record), so who cares? I’d run Chicago before. I had completed 5 other marathons. I didn’t need to prove anything to anybody with this one. Why go through this pain?
At mile 15 I decided I should at least get to mile 18 before deciding to quit. Quitting was serious business and I didn’t take to it lightly. May as well keep going until the next aid station and see what happens from there. Cartoon text boxes above my head at this point might have read: Miserable. Hot. Nauseated. Tired. Spent. Defeated.
Did you know that from mile 15 to the end of the course the Chicago Marathon has very little shade? I’m being generous… there is actually no shade. None. And there may even be sun. And there is 100% chance of pavement. Pilsen? Chinatown in your 20th-something mile? Coming back home to Grant Park on a boulevard that feels at least 8 lanes wide? Trust me friends, the next hint of shade after mile 14 is your car… First time Chicago Marathoners will thank me later for that public service announcement. Plan accordingly. You heard it here first.
At mile 18 I resolved to push through to mile 21. One of my running teammates was a volunteer at the mile 21 aid station. Just get to 21. Don’t think about anything else in life right now except getting to 21. These next 3 miles are your job. There is nothing else in your world right now but getting to mile 21. Wasn’t pretty, but I found 21. Got a hug from my friend, vented about how bad my race was, and gathered what was left of my wherewithal to keep going.
Another of my running teammates is a photographer. She photographs the finish line of the marathon. She was my final motivational target. 5 miles to get to her. You run 5 miles all the time. You can do this. You have to do this. Your family is waiting. You can’t tell your kids you quit a marathon. How can you explain to your kids that it’s ok to quit at something? This is just 5 freaking miles. People are tracking you on their phones – you have to finish. Start running again and do not stop until you cross that finish line…
Right foot, left foot, repeat.
In early November, my father got sick and was hospitalized. Within a few days his condition had progressed and it became unlikely that he would recover. Over the course of about a 48 hour period we had to absorb the news that he wasn’t going to make it, we had to support him through his transition out of this life, and then begin to transition ourselves into the next iteration of our own lives without him. It hurts. It’s hard. No one wants to be in this situation. No one wants to go through this, but at some point we all do.
We make it through the next hour, the next day, the next moments and the next…
Grief can bring times when it’s hard to get up and do what needs to be done. You may feel lost for a bit. You may not want to do things you normally would love to do. Eventually, you find your way foward. You put one foot in front of the other and keep going. You find little increments of normalcy or joy that remind you of the good in your life. You see the presence of people who support and care for you and you let them pull you along. You somehow find your way. As the saying goes, life is a marathon – not a sprint.
Aid stations. Just get to the next one. The rest of your journey will sort itself out once you get there…
Right foot, left foot, repeat.
3 Lessons Learned From The Marathon Starting Line…
#1 Start Slow – Finish Fast.
Something I tell myself at the start of every race… I am still striving to master this skill and that is why it sits at the top of my list. The marathon in which I fully execute this principle will likely be followed by a celebration of epic proportions.
Spoiler Alert: If you’re spectating along a marathon route and see me drinking a Coke and chatting with my family, you may safely assume “start slow – finish fast” will have to wait for another day.
#2 Enjoy Yourself!
This is your moment! The final 26.2 miles of your training cycle! Your goal race! Don’t forget to enjoy it.
My last four marathons I’ve taken time to enjoy specific moments at the starting line. Taking time to look around the crowd, even making small talk with others. Enjoying the cityscape of an urban marathon or the outdoor setting of others. Taking a few moments to soak it all in. I’m here. I made it!
I’ve learned that I enjoy being mindful of the many experiences that build memories about a given event. If a have a great race, that’s awesome. But whatever happens with the race has become separate from my overall enjoyment of the event itself.
Within the starting mile of the Big Sur Marathon, I ran past Jeff Galloway and his group on a walk interval. I was running like someone shot me out of a cannon and here was Mr. Galloway’s group looking comfortable, confident and focused on their run/walk intervals. In contrast, I was anxious, running too fast, and not mindful of the situation around me. I figured one of us was executing the start of this marathon wrong, and it probably wasn’t Jeff Galloway…
I took a moment to center myself and suddenly realized how amazing the smell of the forest was while we were running. I thought to myself that I may never run Big Sur again so it was time to start making memories and not just run a race. I spent the next 4 miles trying to store memories of the sounds and scent of that redwood forest. No one was talking, just running. All you could hear in that stretch was the footfalls of the runners and inhale the breath of that forest as your own. Amazing.
Marathon Tip: If are a 4-4:30 marathoner and you pass Jeff Galloway at any point along a marathon course, reassess your strategy immediately ;).
#3 Getting To The Starting Line Is One Goal Met.
I’m 45 years old. I commute 2+ hours a day to a full time job. I have two school-age kids to keep up with. I have family and friends. Getting to the start line of a marathon is sometimes goal enough.
I believe toeing the starting line is one goal met. It is an accomplishment that should not be overlooked. Getting to the starting line may mean you were chosen out of a lottery, ran a Boston qualifying time, or fulfilled the obligation of charity fundraising just to get a race bib. Getting to the starting line means you completed a difficult training program. Getting to the starting line means you made it through training uninjured, or at least not injured enough to have to pull out of the race. You made it. Take a moment and be proud of yourself for that.
When I ran the NYC marathon in 2015 I struck up a conversation at the start line with another female runner who was about my same age. Her last marathon was 10 years prior. She had 4 kids and hadn’t felt she trained and prepared as much as she should have. She was doubting herself. We continued to make small talk while walking up to the Verrazano bridge. Right before we crossed the starting line I reminded her, “You made it to the starting line of the New York Marathon today… not everyone can say that… whatever it took for you to get here today is enough to be proud of…”.
Marathon training: embracing the chaos
Marathon training. What’s not to love? Runs that are measured in double digits or by hours. Routinely covering 30-40 miles a week, maybe more. Injuries. Pseudo-injuries. Reading up on how to avoid injuries. Setting your alarm to go off before dawn. Falling asleep by 8pm (ok, maybe that’s just me and my pre-dawn alarm talking). Needing a nap during the day but there’s this little thing called a ‘job’ getting in the way of that nap. Hill repeats. Speed work. Cross training. Stretching. Foam rolling. Eating. Let’s be honest – eating a lot. The stress of juggling work, family, friends, and a marathon training plan… Things get a little chaotic.
“Controlled chaos”… that’s what I like to call the time period from about 10-12 weeks out lasting through marathon day.
The controlled part is your training plan, your guide. Your vision every night before you go to sleep of what you want the next workout to look like, to feel like. Your vision of how you want your actual race to go weeks down the road. Your vision is under your control. Planning ahead is under your control. Carving out a training plan is under your control. Executing the training plan is under your control.
In my mind the chaos is everything else. Things happening to us that are outside of our control. Unforeseen life events that don’t have a spot on our training plan. Outside influences that interfere with our vision, with our ability to execute our carefully made plans.
Chaos usually seems synonymous with mayhem, disorder, unpredictability – right? Why would someone preparing for a marathon want to embrace chaos?
Filling the void
I recently looked up the origin of the word chaos and found one interpretation indicating that it is derived from the concept of a gaping void, a chasm.
I don’t know about anyone else, but as a marathon runner the idea of encountering chasms and gaping voids is not exactly what I consider to be my comfort zone.
Then again, isn’t that why we train for so long and with such purpose?
Our training process is designed to bridge the chasm from where we are now in our physical state to where we want to be months down the road. We may be seeking a new challenge, a new accomplishment, a renewed sense of who we are and what we’re capable of. We may even find ourselves filling a void that we didn’t know existed until we started down this path.
“Controlled chaos”… Establishing your plan. Visualizing your success. Following through on your training plan, filling in the gaps along the way. Pushing through barriers and challenges. Believing in the process. Showing up to the starting line prepared. Executing to the best of your ability on race day. Looking back on your accomplishment and seeing how far you’ve come.
If this is chaos, it sounds pretty good to me.
More than a marathon photo…
My marathon photo is on the Pebble Beach website!
I suppose if I were a photographer, or I lived in Monterey County, or if I worked at Pebble Beach, this wouldn’t seem like such a headline. But, none of those scenarios apply to me. I live in the Midwest, I’m not a photographer, but I do run marathons… most recently the Big Sur International Marathon.
OK – so I’m not even in this photo… What’s the big deal?
Yes, I know. It’s not a photo of me. It’s a photo I took while running the marathon from Big Sur to Carmel.
What you see in this photo will depend on your view, your perspective. Some may see the beautiful California coast on an overcast spring morning. Some may focus on the runners. Some may wonder why I care so much about a photo that I’m not actually in…
What do I see in this photo? I see a mile long stream of runners in front of me, all working toward a significant personal goal. I see an overcast sky that I was grateful for so that we had relief from the heat and sun. I see one moment captured in time on a day in which thousands of people ran up the ragged California coast for 26.2 miles. I see that one of my most meaningful marathon photos from the event isn’t a selfie, but one that represents the experience, the journey.
Still not sure how my photo got onto Pebble Beach’s website?
By reconnecting… When I traveled to Monterey for the marathon I reconnected (after 20+ years) with someone who used to live in my small hometown of Stockton, IL – and she now works for Pebble Beach Resorts (thank you facebook). She and her husband showed me a side of the Monterey area that I would not have experienced on my own. How grateful I was that they gave of their time to share their love of the Monterey, Pacific Grove, and Pebble Beach area with me. They made my travel experience so much richer than if I had been alone as a tourist.
When my friend contacted me a few weeks later to ask about using one of my photos as part of her professional role with Pebble Beach’s website – is there any doubt about my saying ‘yes’ to sharing that marathon moment with others?
Travel marathons are bigger than just one event spanning 26.2 miles. The journey includes the hundreds of miles you ran to prepare. The journey may include a thousand or more miles of travel. You may feel like your traveling alone, you may feel at times like you’re running alone during the marathon, but you’re not. Connect with others. Reach out. Explore. Share your journey. In the end, you will have more than a marathon to remember.