In the days since the race, I’ve thought a lot about the huge range of emotions I feel regarding the experience, and I’m surprised to find that they aren’t all what I expected. So here’s what’s been running through my head, in no particular order:
1) Mental training is just as important as physical training
I am relatively self-aware, and I recognized long ago that the weakest part of my running is the mental side of things. I doubt myself constantly and rarely feel like I am capable of accomplishing my goals, so I usually think that it’s not worth trying. I’ve been lucky enough to have several fellow runners come into my life over the past few months that have worked very hard to convince me otherwise, and slowly, their opinions have started to take hold. I have spent hours talking to runners I would deem mentally tougher than me, picking their brains for advice. I have read many books, magazine articles, blogs, etc that talk about how to improve your mental game. During training runs, I practice positive self-talk and try very hard not to quit even when I want to, believing that what you do in training determines what happens on race day. I’ve seen dramatic improvements in the past few months, but I definitely saw huge growth this weekend. Faced with the task of pacing Amanda and I to a PR, I didn’t really lose my cool. I took the race mile by mile, and we ran smart. Our splits were almost perfectly even from the first half to the second half of the marathon – we only ran 35 seconds slower in the second half! That is huge, as I am queen of dropping off dramatically in the second half. I used mantras effectively: “Don’t panic. One mile at a time.” and one I stole from Scott Jurek, “Sometimes you just do things.” It seems that physically I am capable of doing the things I want to do, so maybe my dad was right when he said (approximately one million times during the course of my childhood), “You can do anything you set your mind to.” I’ve got a long way to go, but I’m recognizing the value of mental training on my journey to whatever I have in store for me in the future.
2) You think you know someone…
And sometimes, you do. Twice in the past month, in both Wisconsin and in Vermont, Amanda and I have relied upon and trusted each other in order to get through races. In Wisconsin, I was the weak one both physically and mentally. Amanda kept me moving and did her best to keep my hate spiral to a minimum, taking over the all-important task of thanking and acknowledging the spectators who cheered for us towards the end of the race when I barely had enough energy to keep my body moving forward. Because we do much of our training and almost all of our races together, we know what makes each other tick and what type of encouragement or motivation we each need at any given time. In Vermont, when Amanda felt like she couldn’t keep going, I didn’t give her the option of stopping. I knew that if I kept going and kept up our pace and stayed just a few steps in front of her, she would keep going, and she did. If she had done that to me, I probably would have quit, which is why it helps that we know each other so well. The fact that we have done so many races together also means that neither one of us feels guilty when the other picks up the slack on any given training run or during a race. If it’s a bad day for me mentally or physically, I know there’s a good chance that next time, I’ll be the strong one and vice versa. In addition to being training partners, we’re also very good friends, and that makes these crazy experiences fun. At the end of the day, we trust each other, and there’s pretty much no one else I’d rather cross a finish line with. I like to think she would say the same of me, but I’m considerably more grumpy than she is, so that’s a toss up.
3) Running fast is a different kind of fun. And by that I mean not fun.
I was talking to my friend Otter this week and telling him the epic PR tale, and he basically said something to the effect of “Isn’t PRing so much fun?” And it got me thinking. Eh, no. At least, not for me. Is it an awesome feeling? Yeah. Is it a huge achievement that made me feel proud? Definitely. Is it something I’d like to do again? Of course. But is it fun? I don’t think so. For me, having fun during a race is talking with my friends, seeing a new place, taking pictures (both mental and with a camera) and being relaxed and enjoying the outdoors. Racing is basically none of those things. I am not talking unless it’s absolutely necessary. I’m focused on what is coming up, so I’m not really “seeing” a new place, although I did try to take in the sights more this time. I’m definitely not taking pictures and I am certainly not relaxed in any way. When every mile is spent thinking about splits, fuel, where the next water stop is, how much everything does or does not hurt, and whether or not I’ll make my goal, it’s downright stressful. That’s why I don’t see myself being the type of person who ever just does a few marathons a year and makes them goal races. I like the way it’s going right now – most races are for fun, and I’m working on making those fun races faster as I improve in general. Then every once in awhile, I run a goal race and see how much I’ve improved. I would never want to run fast and focus like that all the time. More power to the people that do, but it’s not for me.
4) There’s a million different types of running achievements, and they’re all awesome.
Vermont was a huge milestone race for many people within our group. Maricar ran her 100th marathon. Kino finished up his quest to run a sub-4 marathon in all 50 states. Halbert ran his first ever sub-5 marathon. Amanda and I PRed by 14 minutes. Those achievements couldn’t be more varied, but they’re all huge for the people who accomplished them. This is one of the many things I love about the running community. No matter what your goals are or how fast, slow, talented, or untalented you are, there are a million different ways to achieve greatness based on whatever you feel is personally important. I love that! There is really a place for everyone. How many sports can say that? We all run the same course and we all get the same medal at the end, but we all have different reasons for doing it and different standards for what success is, and I think that’s awesome.
5) I seriously have a problem with being proud of my accomplishments, or “Find your fast.”
As proud as I was of Amanda and I for achieving our goals, and as huge of a deal as it was for us to PR, it wasn’t very long before I started comparing myself to everyone else. I felt like I belonged to the “fast” group for about 30 seconds, and then I just started focusing on all the people who were faster or had achieved “more” than I had. So what that I ran a 4:14? That’s a 9:43 pace. That’s not even a little bit fast in a 5k, so why am I considering it fast in a marathon? It’s stupid, because I spent so much time thinking that if I ran under 10 minute miles in a marathon, I would feel fast. Well, I finally did it, and now I find myself thinking that running under a 9 minute pace is when I’ll really be fast. You know what’s stupid? That. Because the reality is that when we get right down to it, I’m not an elite athlete, so I’ll never be truly fast. So what? I can only worry about what “fast” means to me, and it’s all relative. Right now, 4:14:21 is fast. Some day, I hope to be able to say that is a relatively pedestrian pace for me, but right now, it’s my fast, and I should be proud of it. I would never tell Halbert not to be proud of his sub-5, because of course he should be! Anyone who finishes a distance event, no matter what their time, should be proud of that accomplishment. From now on, I’m going to do my best to “find my fast” and be proud of whatever it takes to get there and whatever the result is when I reach that finish line. Otherwise, what’s the point?
Leave a comment: What’s the best lesson you’ve learned from a race or a training run?