After clicking the submit button or signing on the dotted line, it’s only a matter of time before the training begins for your next race. On the surface, every training cycle appears to be very similar. It all starts with picking your plan. I’ve had races where I didn’t follow any specific schedule but follow a general structure (i.e. run a certain range of miles throughout the week on a set number of days with a longer run on the weekends), others where I used training plans from books or websites, and now I am following a custom plan from an online coach. I think its common to be very secretive when it comes to setting a goal for yourself for an upcoming race. Maybe you want to finish, or finish with a PR no matter how big or small, or you have a specific set time you want to reach.
I’m 9 weeks into my marathon training for my 3rd time running the Chicago Marathon, and I have to admit that it has been a roller coaster of emotions. Many are familiar and ones that I have felt frequently in past training cycles – excitement, anxiety, happy, sad – you name it! But then there’s this constant conflict that continues to fill my mind. There’s a part of me that is so grateful and thankful to be running any miles at all after being stuck with Achilles tendinitis and plantar fasciitis, but then there’s fear. Fear that I will be plagued with injury again. Fear that I have already “peaked” and I won’t PR. Fear that the ultimate goal of qualifying for Boston is so far out of reach. I have found myself spending hours and even days dreading upcoming workouts on my schedule in fear of the mile repeats and tempo runs in the low 8’s or sub 8, close to 7 paces.
Last weekend I sat with my boyfriend and parents at dinner. After my boyfriend started a sentence with “When Lisa qualifies for Boston…” I stopped him right away. A wave of panic came over me and I started to second guess myself, stating I wouldn’t be able to do it. I was instantly brought back to memories of high school track, more specifically the 4 x 400. I am not a sprinter. While some may say, well…the 400 isn’t really a sprint. Let me further stress. I am really not a sprinter. Over the years, I have come to realize that distance is not my enemy, but speed terrifies me.
One year I had the opportunity to run in the Penn Relays and I was excited, but again, terrified. That year, my high school track team had a very small mid/long distance team. Somehow I had the 4th best 400 time, and I was honored to be able to go. (honestly, I may have been 4th out of 4 400 runners on my track team, but who’s counting? 😊)
The day finally came, and I tried to mask how incredibly nervous I was on the inside. The stadium was incredibly intimidating and once I took off, I saw my optimistic “you got this” mindset shrivel up and disappear. I remember after that trying to tell myself that it was okay. But in my world, it wasn’t. There was nothing really riding on this. I don’t think there was any expectation that our team would place or even do really well for that matter. But I’ll never forget breaking down in tears. The only person I had really let down was me, the toughest critic of them all. Luckily, I had incredible support and I remember my coach taking the time to sit with me and talk me through it. She said everything you are supposed to say as a good coach and helped clear my head.
When I used to think back on this anecdote, I would think “how embarrassing” “how stupid” “the stakes were so low” “Why did I even care?” Over the years since discovering my love of running, eventually long-distance running, I don’t view it the same way.
Now when I think back on that story I think to myself, “you’re lucky”. Lucky to have found something that I am that passionate about to help me to always keep striving to improve and be a stronger runner, not necessarily faster, but stronger. Do I put too much pressure on myself? Yes, there are times when I need to put myself in check, but I realize that if you find something in life that you are truly passionate about and that you are always inspired by, never let go of it.
Fast forward and thinking back to me snapping back at the mention of me qualifying for Boston I realize that I was over the top. As I described, it’s okay to have that passion. Let it motivate you. Let it drive you. But don’t let it take you down. I know that it is possible. I also know that if I don’t end up with a Boston qualifying time this year, the world continues to turn. Running is something that I choose to do. All things considered, the stakes are incredibly low. I am my own worst critic and would be the only one disappointed. I will have learned so much through this marathon training cycle regardless of what happens. I know that these are memories to cherish and that, like my Penn Relays high school anecdote, I will look back and be proud to have discovered running and to allow my passion to drive me through every mile, even the toughest ones.
As I sat on the plane home from my trip to see my parents, I decided it was time for one of my favorite movies, Spirit of the Marathon. Now if you haven’t seen this, please stop whatever you are doing and watch it immediately! Kidding – but it is very good. The documentary follows 6 marathon runners, from novice first timers to seasoned professionals all training for the Chicago Marathon. Now I have seen this way more times than I can count, but I always need to be careful when I watch it in public on a plane. The last part of the movie covers the marathoners experience during the race itself, and I don’t think I’ve ever made it through without tearing up – this time was no exception. It always brings me back to one of my favorite running quotes “If you are losing faith in human nature, go watch a marathon” – Katherine Switzer
It’s all about triumph and proving to yourself that you are so much stronger than you think. It doesn’t matter if it’s your first one and you are trying to just finish it, or if you are competing to win it all, it’s so inspiring. Maybe I’m a bit crazy for feeling all these emotions, but I have to say I am truly thankful. Running continues to bring happiness into my life, even if at times it breaks my heart. Whether it’s running or something completely different, if you find something that you are truly passionate about, hold onto it always.
Boston may or may not be in my future, but training for a marathon (any race for that matter) is a truly wonderful thing. You could even train for the same distance over and over again, but I guarantee you will learn something new about yourself each and every time.