...can be exceptionally difficult to do when they are screaming at me to stop. I became intimately acquainted with the mental aspect of marathon training today. There's always a bit of a mental aspect to any long run - like trying to tell yourself that running outside in the freezing rain is good for you. But today's 20-miler went far beyond that.
I started the morning like I would for any other long run... Got up early and had my standard pre-long-run brekkie (oatmeal, banana and hot tea). I even used my lucky Harry Potter mug. Don't scoff. It's a very cool mug (given to me by my even cooler friend, Robin). Look what it does when you pour hot water into it:
I checked the weather forecast - it looked perfect: sunny and above freezing. I was ready to manage some mischief for 20 miles. Or so I thought.
I had planned out an extremely hilly route (over 1000 feet of climb). Not because I enjoy pain, but because of specificity of training. My marathon will be hilly. The best way to train for that is to run hilly runs. Pretty much all of my long runs have incorporated lots of hills, so it wasn't a new thing for me. I honestly wasn't too concerned about the hills. I have developed a complex technical strategy for running hills that works well for me - I slow down when going up, and speed up when going down. Okay, I didn't say it was genius. But the basic premise is conservation of energy - keep it easy on the ups, use gravity to my advantage on the downs, and be left with more energy later on.
And so this is what I did. Usually, my routes tend to flatten out a bit after about 8-10 miles. This route did not. The flattest part was the last 3 miles. By then, I was already beyond exhausted. I started to doubt myself at Mile 13, because I had basically just run 13 solid miles of rolling hills with a very stiff wind to contend with (and we all know how I feel about wind). At Mile 15, I reminded myself that I only had 5 miles to go, but it still seemed impossible. I kept waiting to get my second wind. It never came. Every uphill, no matter how small, was a battle. The wind always seemed to be against me. My legs did not want to go anymore. Thoughts of self-doubt and failure flooded my mind. I wondered how I would ever run this marathon when I wasn't even sure I could get through this 20-miler. I wondered why this run seemed exponentially harder than my 18-miler last weekend. I wondered what I had done wrong. I wondered if I would even be able to finish, or if I would have to call someone to come and get me. The negative thoughts gnawed away at my confidence, which just made me feel more exhausted.
This is the mental aspect of the marathon. There was absolutely nothing wrong with my legs or my feet. They were tired, but otherwise okay. I knew I had the ability to do this, but I would have to will myself to do it. My brain wanted to tell my body to quit, but I had to tell my brain to shut up and let me run. As the cliche goes, I dug deep. With 3.5 miles to go, I played mental games with myself, telling myself to "just get to that Stop sign up there..." and "Okay, now get to that white mailbox". With 2 miles to go, I started to see the light at the end of the tunnel. With 1 mile to go, I was finally out of the wind which instantly boosted my spirits. With 1/2 mile to go, I could physically see the end (the Tower in Peoria Heights). I did not have anything left in me for a final push. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Zero. But I finished. I won the mental battle.
I'm still not sure of my ability to run this marathon. Not after today's run. I am fairly certain there's no way I could've done another 6.2 miles today. However, I have one more chance to run 20-22 miles in two weeks. Next weekend is a much-needed recovery week, and I will "only" be running 14. I need this recovery. I think part of the reason today's run was so hard for me was because I have been steadily increasing my mileage for the last 3 weeks and, well, it's hard on the body. So bring on the recovery week, I say!
And it's worth noting that today's run wasn't all bad. Indeed, my lucky Harry Potter mug brought me much luck. First of all, I didn't trip and fall like a goon. Secondly, I saw people I knew along the way (including my husband, who was getting ready for his own run, and a coworker, who honked at me and rolled her window down and waved excitedly at me). Third, I didn't have to deal with any unusual pains or injuries - my sesamoids kept quiet. Fourth, aside from the wicked wind, it really was a nice day. And finally, I finished!
For all my geeky followers, here's my run map and data. Will I run this hilly route again? Probably. But first, I will have TWO cups of tea from my lucky Harry Potter mug.
Peace. Love. Train.