Sunday, October 19, 2014

Marathon training: Lessons learned


I've been thinking a lot about last week's marathon. I was just so happy with the outcome that initially, I could think of nothing else. I went to work and was praised and patted on the back by my co-workers. I was flying high. Of course, it took no longer than the first family I saw on Monday to slam me back down to reality. The mother: "I heard all of you out in the hall talking about your marathon. But I've got 4 sick kids here, and I'd really like you to check the 5th as well. I'm sure you're really excited but can we get moving here?" Boom.

I wasn't quite ready to let go of my euphoria, but that was my reality check. The marathon was over and life goes on. Throughout the week, I began reflecting back on the race. Here are some of my insights. You might recognize some of them as my mantras!


Trust the plan-In the beginning of my training plan, I struggled with the plan Becky laid out for me. Lower mileage than I had run for my last marathon training plan, and even some weeks with no long run at all--instead a long bike? Hello? Becky sternly told me I needed to trust her judgement. And looking back and at my result? I am so glad I did. For this 52 year old runner, with 25 years of miles on these legs, this plan was the most effective training plan I could have used. But it might be different for other runners. So lesson number one is: trust the training plan you have decided to follow. Don't mix it up in the middle of the plan or throw in extra runs to make up for missed or poorly executed runs. Don't compare your plan with another runner's plan. A good running plan is made with some flexibility for bad days and bad workouts. I strayed only once from the plan, towards the end, when I skipped a scheduled bike ride for a much needed therapeutic 5 miles. Otherwise, I followed that thing to a T.

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Start out slow-I read a lot of running blogs. One, written by Dorothy Beal, sticks in my mind. She says to start out slow. Painfully slow. Give yourself a chance to let those legs warm up. Don't get caught up in the rush at the beginning of the race. Run your own race. In the past, I have always gone out too fast, and crashed and burned. Not wanting to repeat that pattern, I started out at a comfortably slow pace, and fell into a rhythm, about 9:15-9:30 min/mi pace fairly early on. I needed 10 min/mi to make my 4:30 finish, and knew I could run comfortably a little faster, building myself a cushion. That strategy worked well for me, as I had to make a few unscheduled pit stops during the race.

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The wall? what wall?- Besides going out too fast and crashing/burning, I have had issues with fueling. I have so much trouble choking down gels as the race goes on. I'm not a puker, but my stomach does get a little queasy during a long race. I learned about Tailwind from my ultramarathoner friend, Ashtyn, and started learning more about it. I decided to experiment with it on my long runs and found that by following the instructions given to me by Tailwind, that I should consume on pack in 24 ounces of water per hour, continuously sipping it throughout the race, I NEVER HIT THE WALL! As a matter of fact, by mile 23, I realized that I wasn't going to hit the wall. I also did a lot of mental preparation before the race, and knowing that my fueling was going to be effective, I didn't think I was going to hit the wall. Studies show that marathoners who think they are going to hit the wall do hit the wall. No wall for me. No how.

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The Oatmeal
Technology is not always our friend- So many people told me not to listen to music at the marathon. The Chicago marathon really is a sensory experience. But it can get in your head. As soon as we took off, I heard people screaming and knew I was going to need to shut all that out to focus on my race. So I turned up my music. The one thing I didn't do was put my phone on airplane mode. Stupid me. My phone rang several times as my medical assistant was trying to call me to tell me where she was so they wouldn't miss me. The other thing that happened twice is that my music stopped. The first time, I stopped to fix it and found my flashlight stuck on. I couldn't find the icon for it and couldn't turn it off. A spectator finally helped me, but I wasted a few minutes trying to troubleshoot this. In addition, I planned to use my Garmin for pacing, which was a great idea...when it could get a signal. Because of the tall buildings, my pacing was all over the place, according to my Garmin. And at 4 hours, it died. Guess I have to run faster next time!

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I can and I will- I repeated this mantra during my training and throughout the race. I don't care how corny it seems, my mantra made me believe that I could and I did.

Running a marathon is 95% mental. I even have a song on my playlist by Fort Minor:

This is ten percent luck, twenty percent skill
Fifteen percent concentrated power of will
Five percent pleasure, fifty percent pain
And a hundred percent reason to remember the name!

I did a lot of prep work for this marathon--physically and mentally. I knew physically that I could run a marathon. But mentally, I needed to be strong. For her part, Becky also did a lot to prep me in this regard. The stuff she had me do was so physically challenging that I had no choice but to believe that I was getting stronger. When I began crushing my speed sessions, I knew I was ready. I also did a lot of reading on mental toughness. But the most comically effective strategy was Becky telling me during my training that for every word of self doubt that came out of my mouth, I would have to do 10 burpees. We all know how much I hate burpees. And as much as I never had to do them, the whole idea of it really motivated me to stay positive and strong. At mile 23, when my hamstrings were screaming at me to quit, the thought of me getting down on the ground in the middle of Michigan Avenue to do 10 burpees made me laugh at loud. I also had Rage at the Machine singing Killing in the Name: "f-no I won't do what you told me".


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Running is fun- A marathon is hard, no doubt. But it can be fun, and this one was fun for me. I was determined to enjoy it because who knows if I will do another one? The Chicago marathon is lined with spectators the entire route and it takes the runners through a ton of neighborhoods, all with their own individual personalities. So it would be a waste not to enjoy it! I waved to the drag queens in Boystown and got a "heyyyyy" and a kiss blown at me. Saw Dr Dribble, who dribbled 2 basketballs for 26 miles. Saw my medical assistant and a couple friends and stopped for hugs. Smiled through Pilsen at the amazing crowds and the guy with the giant bowl of pretzels. Saw the dragons dancing in Chinatown. And even when my legs stopped working at the finish line, I didn't let that throw me. I begged the medical staff to let me go as soon as the cramps went away, and when they did, I headed to the Goose Island truck for my post race beer. Found my friends. And never stopped smiling.


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Be grateful- Running is a gift. To be able to train for and run a marathon is something very few people can do. We as runners take it for granted because it is what we do. But during the race, I passed several blind runners being led by guides. I thought about how hard and scary it would be to run a marathon and not be able to see where you are going. I'm grateful for my friends and family who supported me during my training. And I am most grateful for the thousands of volunteers who lined the course--the ones who filled my water bottle for me every time I asked. The woman who put my medal around my neck made me feel like I won the race! The medical volunteers who watching for anyone who was struggling. When I fell down at the end, there were people right there to pick me up and put me in a wheelchair.

In case you need to feel better about your accomplishment!

Will I do another marathon? I'm not ruling it out. But for now, I'm just basking in my accomplishment. I cannot put into words what it feels like to crush a goal like this. I don't know that any other race will feel as good as this one did. For now, I'm planning on a half marathon in Florida in March. You know me. I'm not much of a planner--I'm known for just jumping into races at the last minute. I started my marathon training late but had no trouble pulling it off. I'll just keep a nice little running base going in case something suddenly comes up!




26 comments :

  1. Yep, all great lessons. Yikes on what that mom in the office said. Reality for sure!

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    1. That's the life of a medical provider. Luckily most parents aren't like that but the few that are really make it tough.

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  2. All great lessons for sure and good tips. I've seen a few friends try to add in extra runs or pile in missed runs together-usually ends up in exhaustion or injury

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    1. All the time! I've been guilty of that myself...not this time tho.

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  3. Great lessons learned!! I love your mantra. I need to remember that at my next race! Congrats on your marathon!!

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    1. Thanks! We learn something from every race, the good and the bad, right?

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  4. fabulous post!!! I couldn't agree more with these lessons learned! I want to share on twitter and tag you, but can't find it on your site. You are on twitter right?

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    1. I'm not on Twitter, I guess I should be!

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  6. yikes, that woman must've been really stressed out. excellent lessons learned!

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  7. These are wonderful lessons, Wendy; thank you so much for sharing them. I'm getting more and more excited about my own race, as I read all of your reflections, and I will definitely come back and read this again as I get closer to my race. I love that you mentioned trusting the plan...that's a tough one for me and I've got to stick with what I've got going on right now and run this first 26.2 before I try to reinvent the wheel! Thank you again for sharing this and for linking up with me this week; you are inspiring, gal!

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    1. Thank you Tara! It's getting so close for you. The most important advice I can give you is to have fun and enjoy the experience! I didn't do that the first go round and it made a tough race even tougher.

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  8. I am so amazed by your and your accomplishments. I have enjoyed ready your progress throughout this training - the highs and lows. I love that you never hit a wall. I hope that when/if I decide to run a marathon some day that I will take your experiences to heart and learn from you. Thank you and of course - Congratulations on a super job well done!!!

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    1. Thank you! I love that I never hit a wall too!

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  9. I LOVED this post and so glad I found you! I ran Chicago in 2012 and it was AMAZING and I felt the exact same way - it was so much fun! And yes on the going out too fast. Training for my 4th and determined to NOT do this again. So far I've maintained negative splits on all my long runs so I think if I just stick with the program and don't let the crowd carry me away, I'll be fine. Oh, and yes on the real world not getting how miraculous your experience was. Seriously.

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    1. I'm glad you found me too! :) And seriously LOL'd when I read your comment about the real world not getting it! Because you did! LOL!

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  10. Wendy, you have been so incredibly inspirational to me during this training cycle. I loved this post and really got me thinking about MCM this coming weekend. I have some lofty goals, but not sure my body is going to cooperate. Only time will tell. You rock mama.

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    1. Sue, you've got this!!! I know you are going to have a great race!!!! <3

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  11. Which half in Florida are you thinking about? I do quite a few there every year.

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    1. I signed up for the Sarasota Half Marathon in March. Have you done it?

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    2. No I haven't done that one. We have so many locally in March it will be hard to pick.

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  12. You have a lot of great times here! I think that trust the plan is so important. I think that's a big reason why I wasn't nervous at all before running Chicago. I knew I had followed the plan and it was time to trust all of my hard work. And I loved that you explained listening to music during the marathon. While I was running I was a little amazed that people were listening to headphones because I was feeding off the crowd. I can see how that would be distracting for some runners and that headphones would help a lot!

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    1. I knew the crowds were going to be an issue for me. I really wanted to focus on running, so I chose to run with them.

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  13. It's tough to start slow, still learning this. Interesting that you skipped long runs on some weeks. Thank you for sharing these practical lessons.

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    1. I just followed the plan laid out by my trainer. Some weeks she substituted a long bike for a long run. So there was always an endurance activity. I learned a lot about control and letting go of control!

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