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!