When I started running half marathons, I told my friends and my coach I had no desire to run full marathons. It wasn't the distance, or that they required more training time, or that running 26.2 miles at once seemed impossible. It was just that I love running half marathons. I love the combination of speed and distance, and I loved that I could basically race one every other month (not that I did) without injury.
However, we all know how it goes. 5ks are the "gateway drug." Then you're running 10ks. Then you're running 13.1. My best friend and coach, Amanda, qualified for Boston in her first marathon. My great friend and first coach, Terra, is a former pro triathlete. She'd never run a full marathon outside of running them in the Ironman distance, and she qualified for Boston in her first full marathon. If it's true that you're a reflection of the people you spend the most time with, then I'm looking darn good.
I started to crave longer distances. 14 felt good. Then 15 felt good. And if I had two close friends who could not only run marathons, but qualify for Boston, then it didn't seem so impossible. The problem was that I was a pretty decent half marathoner and I kept getting faster.
I registered for my first 26.2 in September of 2015, while I was training for the Detroit Free Press International Half Marathon. I registered for the Glass City Marathon with the goal of qualifying for Boston (F18-34, 3:35:00). When you took my half marathon race times into consideration, this didn't sound like a crazy goal. A 1:36:36 half marathon (my 2015 Freep time) predicts a 3:23:18 (avg. 7:46) full marathon. My original plan was to run conservatively and average 8:00/mile. Training was going great, but I'd never run a full marathon before, so I didn't know how much I didn't know about pushing through when it got tough mentally, or when my legs were exhausted, or when I just wanted to stop.
The hardest part was learning to SLOW DOWN, and it only got harder when I ran a 1:34:30 half marathon a month before my first 26.2. I was now predicting a 3:18:53 full marathon, and I think I got greedy. It didn't matter how many times I read that you have to go out slow in the first half of a full marathon; I went out and ran the first half of Glass City averaging 7:30-7:40, because that was the pace my March half marathon predicted I could run. Needless to say, I crashed halfway through and ended up finishing in 3:34:54. I still qualified for Boston, but no where NEAR my original goal of 3:23:18, or even my B goal of 3:30:00. It was the most inconsistent race I've ever run, and I'm a negative split half marathoner through and through.
Even after that experience, I've still had a LOT of trouble slowing myself down. I went to the Henry Ford Human Performance Clinic, where, after testing, Eric prescribed me slower paces than what I'd been running while training for a half marathon. Even thought these paces felt right, I still kept pushing, because, in the back of my mind, I was worried I wasn't working hard enough, and because I still had half marathon training in my head. For example, a long run while training for the 2015 Freep half marathon might have included several 2 mile repeats at 7:20-7:30. Now, running 8:15 for 18-20 miles seems so slow, and makes me worried that I won't be able to achieve my goal of averaging 8:00 at the Detroit Free Press Marathon in October. However, I've crashed on some long runs and some speed work lately, and I KNOW the slower paces are right. I KNOW I'm pushing the faster end of the paces too hard.
Part of the reason I'm having trouble adjusting is also that I've been tossing around two conflicting schools of thought regarding the long run. On one hand, the goal is to practice race pace and become more economical and running race pace. On the other hand, YOUR LONG RUN ISN'T YOUR RACE! The purpose of the long run is to train the body to burn fat, increase aerobic capacity, train the body and mind to keep running past fatigue, etc. If you run race pace during your entire long run for 18-20 miles, you're going to burn out before race day.
I finally ran long run pace during my 18 last Saturday. My goal race pace is 8:00; I averaged 8:20. The result was that I felt GREAT. No stopping or walking, no pain, negative splits, and finished with gas in the tank. I'm looking forward to 20 this Saturday. Sure, I'm still a little worried I won't be able to hit my goal paces at the Freep, but I have to just run where my body is and trust the training and research. I'm back to running happy, and that's the most important part!