It was early in my marathon training when I finished a mid-range distance run with an amazing pace. Suddenly my ego had an idea. Maybe I could run a personal best at Grandma’s Marathon in July. Seemed reasonable. And I spent every long run chasing down my elusive pace until on race day I had beaten myself up too much and the weather conditions were too harsh. I missed my goal by 15 minutes. So did most everyone else that day in Duluth, Minnesota. Although that comforted me, missing the chance to PR stuck in my craw for a little bit.
I took two weeks off and went right back into marathon training for October’s Niagara Falls International Marathon. And right away I was in trouble. Because it was a hot, humid summer in Western New York. I had trouble balancing my sleep needs (because baseball games don’t have a clock and the baseball gods didn’t care so much about my training plan) with running early enough to beat the heat and humidity.
So I did something new. I made up my own training plan. I followed mileage and interval runs from one plan but decided to incorporate heart rate zone training, meaning my long runs were slow. Incredibly slow. So slow I had to have long talks with my ego. But by staying in a lower heart rate zone I was able to survive those 15 and 18 mile runs in 80 degree temperatures and high humidity. It may have been the only way I could have survived the training.
I worried this was a bad idea as my pace at times was painfully slow. My tempo and interval runs were also a bit slower when compared to last year. Although last year I was training for half marathons. That’s a different athletic animal all together and though I knew that intellectually it was soul-opening to experience it. I’ve run marathons before. That wasn’t new. What was new was doing two in one calendar year, learning how to manage the miles and how to face everything that came up during those miles.
Because marathon training takes you places you don’t always want to go. It’s not just the physical pain. The physical pain is easily enough dealt with. It’s the emotional places you go that are challenging, the wandering mind that dredges up well-worn stories, old wounds and my personal tag-team gremlins of doubt and perfectionism. Add to that a small bout with tendonitis in my knee the last three weeks and getting to the start line on Sunday is a triumph in itself.
When I decided to try heart rate zone training, my boyfriend said it sounded like a good idea. Why not try something new? What would be the harm? And then the biggest point of all: My mortgage payment does not depend on my performance. If I PR or am the last finisher, it doesn’t matter. It’s all the same.
Still, I needed to wrap my head around this marathon. I needed the right perspective. I needed positivity to combat all the doubts I already had and were sure to multiply by a factor of 10 during taper week.
That’s when I listened to the latest episode of the podcast “How Was Your Run Today?” and found what I needed to hear. Among the many things the guys discussed with Chris Heuisler (Westin Hotel’s National Run Concierge) was setting race goals and your mental state going into a race. When co-host Bryan discussed his goals for a half marathon he just ran they were (1) to PR, (2) to finish in under 2 hours (3) to finish. The different levels of goals were great, Chris said, but they were all outcome-based goals.
Chris likes to add other goals to his race-day plan, like to high-five 10 kids on the course or thank five volunteers. Maybe you promise yourself that after a tough mile you go hard for the next two.
There are a million different goals to set. There are a million ways to win. And it all goes back to why I’m running in the first place. There are vague reasons I run — “staying in shape” and “to be healthy.” There are physical reasons I run — to test my limits, to challenge myself, to discover my own strength. There are emotional reasons I run — to clear my head, to soothe my soul, to express and interact with my feelings whether they be joy or frustration or fear. I don’t run because it’s easy. I run because it’s hard. And it’s evidence to myself that I can do hard things.
I was listening to a podcast from writer Elizabeth Gilbert and she turned the popular phrase, “What would you do if you knew you can not fail” on it’s head. Instead of that, she posed asking: “What do you want so much that even if you knew you were going to fail, you’d do it anyway.” If I fail at running (and boy have I failed at running!) I would still run. And more than that, I am probably the only person who would categorize anything I’ve done, or failed to do, as a failure. Well, except for maybe the 1 percent who are just asshats. And you can’t count the asshats because they don’t try anything at all.
Here is what will happen for me on Sunday:
1. I will have a great race.
2. I will have a great story.
3. I will have a great race and a great story.
Inspired by the running podcast, I’ve decided on the following goals for Sunday:
1. Finish the race.
2. Run strong, steady and with gratitude.
3. Smile at each water stop and say thank you.
By running strong and steady I am hoping to have even pacing through the race. By running with gratitude I remember that I am lucky to get to do this, that I am healthy enough and safe enough and in the right opportunities to train for and complete a 26.2-mile run course.
I have two mantras for the race:
1. Strong and smooth.
2. You do you.
This is my race and it’s about running the best I can on the given day in the given circumstances. And making it a “win” is completely within my own power.