Life is Short, Marathons Make it Feel Longer
This past weekend at The AACR Philadelphia Marathon was absolutely chock full of my norm…self-doubt.
My training leading up for this event was far less than ever ideal. A back injury & related hamstring strain, the maximum mileage I posted in one week was a maximum of 70km (this is very minimal for any marathoner). I did, however, fit the bare minimum of 1 long run each week: (5 x 25km runs, 1 x 28km and 1 x 30km) with minimal speed and hill work (which seemed to flare it the most), and substituted some cross-training and strength work.
This time around, I did most of my training myself, as my regular running buddies were on a different marathon schedule. For most of my long runs, my hubby (thankfully!!) drove me somewhere far and I ran home (thus, no excuse to cut it short) by myself 😉
The weeks and months before, my massage therapist and Chiropractor relentlessly strummed away on my ridiculously tight hammy, like a guitar string. I tried almost everything to release it. I had days of relief and then it would creep right back out of nowhere…
To boot, (full disclosure): exactly one week before the marathon I spent three (glorious) days at an all-inclusive resort in Mexico for a family wedding. Hey, there was no way I was not going to resist indulging in some Margaritas and Pina Coladas on this amazing beach. Though we had a fantastic time, this is typically not recommended during the final days of a marathon taper…but hey, why not – life is short!!
I flew to Philly on Friday, November 16th simply hoping for the best.
To boot, out of ABSOLUTELY nowhere, two nights before the race I woke up I the middle of the night with sharp shooting pains in my diaphragm (I somehow put a rib out in my sleep…) I sincerely could not take a single deep inhale whatsoever. I went to marathon expo again that day to find a therapist and thankfully got a chiropractic adjustment. I also bought some $40.00 “miracle cream” at the expo and slathered that stuff on like hoping for a miracle.
The night before this marathon (for the first time ever) I had a dream that I dropped out from the race and did not even start. Still not being able to take a deep breath, I woke up Sunday fearing this could very well be my reality. I looked at my husband and said: “well….this is going to be a long day…I will just take it slow and hope for the best…”
I sauntered out of the room with my garbage bag draped over me to keep myself warm on the chilly fall morning. I walked, with my music in my ears, and the closer I drew to the course, somehow, the more at ease I became. My heart started to flutter with excitement as I came close to other runners. All of my doubt started to be overwhelmed with my love of racing. I started to make conversation with many people around and felt at home.
On Sunday, when the horn finally blew – all of that anticipation, the fear, the doubt subsided. The first 3 km were quite uncomfortable as my diaphragm was still in a full-blown cramp, my hamstring was only partially nagging, but I was aware. Somewhere around the 4 km mark, everything relaxed, I found my pace, and I just ran as hard as I could.
My race-plan involved 4 quotes that I muttered to myself in my head, over and over..and over:
- “light and limber”
- “relax, own your pace”
- “you are going to be okay, this is supposed to be hard”
- “SHUT UP legs”
Also, as mentioned below – when the tough moments hit (for me, kilometers 30-42), I counted breaths.
The result.:A personal best: 3:22:27, not great, but for now I will take it.
After 18 marathon-(plus) distance races under my belt, and years of racing at a competitive level as a national team rower, I have learned a lot about myself and what happens “upstairs” (my brain), leading up to the race, and also during.
In a nutshell: I…am a self-doubter.
I reflect now on my experience with this past weekends’ Philadelphia Marathon and felt the need to write about what goes on through my head before and during a marathon for my own personal reference, and hopefully for you to learn something.
My Mindset Before a Race, and During Training
I am nothing close to a superstar, I am simply a mid-pack runner. I push myself only as hard as I feel on the day, preserving my ligaments and joints, abused from years of competitive, high-performance sport. Very few competitive cells are left in my body, sucked dry after years of National Team sport. But I do LOVE the feeling of a hard effort, and feel at home with my heart beating out of my eyeballs. One thing I know for sure is that I will never stop loving to explore my limits.
With this in “mind”, the days and weeks leading up to a race for me are very predictable, and those that know me when say it is now just comical. Though I am not proud of it, it is sincere, I CONSISTENTLY doubt my abilities.
Now, much different from my past – my approach to sport is very light-hearted and non-competitive. I train only enough to ensure that I can safely complete the given task without injury. Though I love training, I have learned to balance my life leaving plenty of time for all other things my life has to offer: time with loved ones, travel, cocktails, yoga. That being said, I often feel relatively unprepared. The talented people I run with put many more miles, blood sweat, and tears into their training. Though I do put a good effort in, much of my performance relies on muscle memory.
My Mindset During the Race
There are a few things in life I wish I could bottle. I wish so badly that my brain worked the way it does during a race. I believe it is one of the only times my mind is calm and relaxed. Time and time again, something magical happens; inevitably, somehow my brain shuts off and my body finally “shows up”. My heart takes over, and my doubting mind has learned to shut off while I embrace and LOVE the moments. At the same time, I am proving my own self-doubt wrong.
I still have so many positive GO-TO’s etched in to direct my brain DURING a race to keep me on track:
- I love being surrounded by like-minded folk
- I love worrying about nothing but putting one foot in front of the other
- I love pushing my limits on the day.
- I love absorbing the energy of those around me. I feel like being a part of a race is somehow like osmosis – the ecology and energy of others around me gave me the energy, and I likewise help others.
- I love proving my own self-doubt wrong
Inevitably, there are dark moments during a race of any sort, especially a marathon. I also have some simple go-to’s to get through those.
- I stop looking at my watch for periods of time (I count my breaths, every 4th footstep is one count and I start with 300 and count up to 1000). While I am counting, I do not look at my pace one bit and just run as hard as I can.
- I always have simple quotes that I pre-plan to go through my head
Now, if only I would stop wasting so much energy doubting myself. Oh, well. No one is perfect after all, and we all create our own reality.
Next up a winter of snowy training for the 2019 Boston Marathon in the spring and the Muskoka 70.3 Half Ironman in the summer. I wonder what those tapers will consist of??
Life is short, marathons make it feel longer.
Safe and happy winter trails to all!