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!










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.

NYC Marathon 2015: Mile 16


#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 ;).

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Big Sur International Marathon 2016 – Starting Line

#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…”.

NYC Marathon 2015:  Getting to the start line of a “point to point” course is an accomplishment in itself!
NYC Marathon 2015: Heading to the start line on the lower level of the Verrazano. 





Marathon training: embracing the chaos

“Controlled 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.

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Controlling the chaos at Big Sur International Marathon 2016.