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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Learning to Run the Marathon

Learning to run 26.2 has been a true learning process.  I say this as a runner, coach, teacher, and student with a BA and MA.  I've done a lot of learning and teaching, and learning how to run a marathon has been the hardest thing I've done.

Part of the difficulty is always comparing present-and future-Megan with past-Megan.  I ran a half marathon in 1:34:30, so I "should" be able to run a full marathon in 3:18:53 (see my post from 9/2016 for more detail).  I'd get frustrated when, no matter how hard I worked, I just couldn't "live up to my potential."  I ran my first 26.2 in 3:34:54 and qualified for the Boston Marathon by 6 seconds, but it was ROUGH.  I walked a lot.  I was in a lot of pain.  I went out too fast and slowed down a lot in the later miles.  I ran my second marathon in 3:47:48, 12:54 slower than my first.  I ran my third marathon in 3:32:15 and finally qualified for Boston with, hopefully, enough additional time to actually register for the race.  To say the marathon is humbling and unpredictable is an understatement.

Anyone who's ever trained for and run both half and full marathons knows that training for and racing 13.1 miles is very, very different than training for and racing 26.2 miles.  Running 26.2 miles demands so much from your body.  Nutrition that fuels your muscles and your brain.  Cardiovascular fitness to pump blood to your muscles.  Respiratory fitness to get oxygen to your muscles.  Muscular and skeletal fitness to move your body over 26.2 miles.  Muscular strength.  Flexibility.  Mental and emotional toughness to keep going when it hurts and all you want to do is stop.  No race has ever broken my heart the way the marathon has.

But that's what's so great about running.  If you love to run, then you'll keep chasing that dream because you can't bear to let it go.  And if you commit, and put in the time, and analyze your successes and failures, and learn and adapt, you WILL get better.  You WILL see results.  You might feel stronger.  You might run faster.  You might get to mile 25.5, realize you need to haul ass to qualify for Boston, pull your mental shit together, and run like hell, even though you're exhausted.

But it takes time.  You can't fake a marathon.  Nothing has demanded as much of me as training for and running 26.2 miles has.  In retrospect, I ran five half marathons before I truly broke through in my sixth.  I'm not sure why I thought my first full marathon, or even my third, would be "the one."  I mean, math would dictate that, if I'm running twice the distance, it would take twice the number of races, and I should still be holding out for marathon number 12 for the real breakthrough.  Luckily, I ran a unicorn race at the Glass City Marathon in April.  And I can feel myself getting stronger, physically and mentally.  A 20-mile long run doesn't send me to the ice bath and bed for the rest of the day.  I'm getting faster.  I'm running smarter.  And I'm so excited to see what happens at the Chicago Marathon on October 8.  It might break my heart, but no race will ever take away my hard work, and no finishing time will ever negate how much I've learned about myself through this beautiful sport.


Sunday, April 30, 2017

2017 Glass City Marathon Review

I got to the starting line of the 2017 Mercy Health Glass City Marathon with more than a few tears of gratitude in my eyes.  This training cycle was filled with so much fear and self-doubt.  My first two marathons weren't good races the way my half marathons have been good races.  I questioned whether my body and mind were meant to run 26.2.  I felt like I was slowing down.  I had some really rough tempo runs.  But this cycle was also filled with the love and support of so many people on my team.  My coach and best friend, Amanda, who gave me tough love when I needed it and got me there ready to BQ.  My massage therapist and friend, Erin, without whom my body would have fallen apart and I would have lost my mental shit.  My good friend, Geoff, who helped me remember to keep it fun, but who has walked this road to the BQ with me for over a year.  My own runners, Bethany and Leah, for making me feel so confident as their coach and sharing their own accomplishments with me.  And, finally, my husband.  Words can't express my appreciation for his belief in me, sacrifice, and embracing this running life as his own.  When I got to the finish line last Sunday, I truly felt like I shared my success with our whole Detroit running community, especially the Be Bold Crew and RUNdetroit.

It was a feeling of FINALLY doing everything right!  I set several goals for this training cycle, and I crushed them.  Nutrition?  I finally ate enough and consumed enough carbs.  I implemented a science-based race fuel plan.  I took my iron supplements.  I figured out that I can drink Tailwind through the race and get the nutrition I need without eating.  Strength Training.  Didn't get to classes as often as I wanted to, but got the work in at home.  Finally drank more water.  Religious massage, stretching, and rolling.  Almost-daily meditation with the Headspace app.  I've never felt more capable of soft-focus and presence.  Better sleep.  And listening to my body.  If I was sick, I rested. When I had horrible ankle pain two weeks before the race, I biked.  And I appreciated every run, even the ones that took some reflection to process, understand, and learn from.

This race was my unicorn.  I've been chasing it since I decided to run a marathon in the summer of 2015.  And I finally learned what the unicorn metaphor means in marathoning.  I'm a very self-reliant person.  If something goes wrong, I assume it's due to my own mistake or under preparedness.  And so it went with my first two marathons.  I assumed that I simply wasn't ready enough or good enough to reach the time goal my half marathons predicted.  And that was really frustrating.  I now realize I'd done everything I could.  I was just chasing something so difficult to achieve, most people never bother.  I wanted that GOOD marathon.  And this was my unicorn day.  Beautiful weather.  Friends.  My ankle/foot didn't bother me once.  I was sick the day before; woke up feeling fine.  My race nutrition worked.  My legs weren't dead.  I knew the course.  The race itself was wonderful.  Great course, great course support.  I found someone to run with almost the entire time who I truly hope to remain friends with (thank you Lindsay).  And what a race it was.  I ran almost a straight 7:58 average until about mile 22.  I had a few slower miles, but when I realized I could earn my ticket to Boston if I hauled ass, I managed to get my final mile in 8:00.  I even sprinted it in AND airplaned it.


I can tell you I am SO FREAKING PROUD of myself.  I worked my ass off, more than I've ever worked for ANYTHING.  I got past the bad runs and races.  And, with a smile that I still can't wipe off my face and tears that keep coming to my eyes a week later, I earned my unicorn.  3:32:15.  A great marathon.  And, as long as nothing changes too much, Boston 2018.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Running is HARD

Running is hard, yo!  So is the sidewalk.  Today's tempo run was tough.  I mean, "this is stupid, why am I doing this?" tough.  Last week, I experienced some serious self-doubt during my tempo run.  "These paces are too fast; I can't do this.  I'm not going to hit my goal time at Glass City."  So I reflected in my log, talked to my coach, talked to a friend/runner I coach, rocked my long run, and approached today's run with, hopefully, a fresh perspective.

It was windy.  I've been sick all week.  It was 20 degrees, but it's been in the upper 30s until today and I under-dressed.  Detroit is busy and I kept having to stop at lights.  But I was doing okay.  Then, during the recovery between tempo repetitions, I wiped out.  Again, for the third time in the last three and a half months.  I slipped on some ice and threw myself to the side to try to fall on snow instead of cement.  I put a hole in my new Brooks tights, cut my knee that's already sporting a nasty scar from my fall in November, and landed on my face.  I knew this, not because I could feel a cut or bruise on my face, but because my face was covered in snow.  The longer I stood there trying to wipe the snow off and assess, the colder I got, so I started running again.  I stopped and asked a man if my face was bleeding, because it was so cold I couldn't feel anything.  He said no, but he looked really worried.  I turned around to run home and I totally lost my ability to push through the self-doubt.  "I can't hit these paces; I can't do this.  I'm not going to hit my goal time at Glass City."  For a while I was able to just have fun running "Spicy McHaggis" (Dropkick Murphys) miles, but then the wind really kicked in and I was freezing.  I got back to my house and I'd only run just over 7 of my 9 miles.  And I said screw it.  This wasn't enjoyable in any way.  And I went inside.  I quit.  This was NOT Happy Legs, Happy Heart.

Once I defrosted, I had a nasty bruise and swelling on my hip.  Self-doubt, disappointment, discouragement.  I talked to my coach/friend, talked to another friend, talked to my husband, and I felt a little better.  I finally wrote it up in my log.  I realized the first three tempo miles were at a good pace.  My coach and I came up with a concrete solution to run next week's tempo run on the river walk, where there aren't any lights.  Pizza.  And now I'm writing about it, because that usually helps.

Listen.  Running is hard.  Sometimes it's easy, and that's awesome.  But the way we handle the hard spots are what differentiate us.

“You don't become a runner by winning a morning workout. The only true way is to marshal the ferocity of your ambition over the course of many day, weeks, months, and (if you could finally come to accept it) years. The Trial of Miles; Miles of Trials.” (John Parker, Jr.)

I'm embarrassed to say I quit today.  But here's hoping I crush my long run on Saturday and come back stronger next Thursday, ready to run those tempo miles.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

All the Small Things

All the Small Things

I finalized the details for the 2017 Glass City Marathon and Chicago Marathon, and this year it's about All the Small Things.

1.  Nutrition.  Eat enough to fuel the runs.  Carbs and calories to fuel, protein to recover and maintain strong muscles.  Real food.  Iron and vit. D supplements.

2.  Strength training so my muscles are strong enough to run a strong 26.2.

3.  Hydrate

4.  Stretching, rolling, and massage

5.  Meditation.  Listen to the body.  Tune in to the brain.  Chill the you-know-what out.

6.  Brain training.  Brain Training for Runners (Matt Fitzgerald).  I'm very much a science and data person.  Teach my brain that I can run 26.2 miles in 3:30 or faster without disrupting homeostasis or causing harm.  It's a real thing.  I can reflect on times in my life where my brain consistently looked for the option that maintained comfort and avoided confrontation or discomfort.  Time to retrain the brain.

7.  Sleep.  7-8 hours.  And this thing, because I'm tired of waking up to a screaming alarm clock:  Philips Wakeup Light

And, of course, RUN!  A great plan from my wonderful coach, Amanda, with a goal to increase my average weekly mileage a little from previous training cycles.