“It’s not always a competition,” I say to my children on an almost daily basis about something. My two boys race to get their clothes on, slurp down cereal, run to the bus stop. It is always a competition with them and as a mom it is exhausting trying to keep up with the feelings of the loser. But at the same time, I totally get where they are coming from. I am a typical type A, highly driven, stress laden, competitive person. I made everything a competition from day one. Grades, friends, boys, sports, heck, I was even the damn Prom Queen. Because. I. Always. Win. And happens when a highly competitive person doesn’t win? Emotions happen. Lots, and lots of emotions.
I had a hard time in college. I went from being a big fish in a small pond to a mediocre fish in an ocean. I had to work so much harder at everything and it turned out that I wasn’t prepared and I didn’t have the guts to pull it off. My grades were decent, my track times were decent, my relationships were lukewarm. And since I wasn’t a stellar anything anymore, I spiraled into a horrible black hole of depression. None of it was necessary of course. Looking back now I see that my GPA (3.7) was completely fine. I set a lot of great PRs on the track and I learned a lot about running while on the team. I performed much better than I gave myself credit for. It wasn’t poor performances that got me down, it was the stress of trying so damn hard.
This temperament makes being social difficult. I don’t have fellow athletes; I have arch nemeses. When I see times posted from former teammates, I can’t help but compare myself (especially if they used to be faster than me). Oh, she’s had two kids since college, well I’ve birthed four! Oh, she ran a 3:32, yeah, well, I ran a 3:22!He runs 35 miles per week, puh-leeze, I run 40! I know, unhealthy, right?! But it’s my nature. I am driven to go a little faster, go a little farther than someone, anyone else. This need to out-perform keeps me going, which I suppose is a good thing, but I do worry that it will lead to either injury or another bout of depression. Being a competitive person means that I am switched on almost all of the time, and, frankly, it’s exhausting. It’s also not sending a very good message to my kids.
I’m trying to turn over a new leaf, to take on a different outlook. Yes, it’s a race & times matter, but it’s about bettering myself, not being better than someone else. I’m going to have to stop comparing. I’m going to have to stop analyzing data and stalking runners on Athlinks. I’m going to have to start practicing what I preach. I know…I know… I need to start being a gracious winner inside and out, AND I need to be a gracious loser. If I won’t stand a tantrum from a six year old who came in 2nd to the bus stop, then I really shouldn’t be tantruming over someone who wanted it more and edged me out.
I think I dislike marathon recovery more than I dislike marathon tapering. I’m bored, I’m restless, and I just want to GO! But I know that to keep myself healthy I need to stay put. It’s very frustrating. Tapering is hard because you have a big race looming over you and you’ve just spent the better part of 3 months working your butt off to get ready for it, and now all of a sudden you are slowing down, cutting mileage and resting! Agggggh!
Recovery time sucks for a different reason. I am still on a race high. I had a great training cycle (some bumps, but not too bad), a great race, and an awesome finish time. And nothing hurts. And I’m hyper and giddy and ready to go again! But I did just deal with an over-training scare. And I do know what happens to athletes who push too hard. So I am forcing a rest.
But I’m not tired!
I admit it; I’ve got the post-marathon blues. I’m just floating along with no real direction. I miss training. I miss racing. It was only a week and a half ago, but feels like forever. I reminisce. I sorta-kinda feel like I don’t have a purpose. Which of course is ridiculous considering the fact that I have work to do, three kids to schlep all over town, and a growing chicken farm to balance. Oh yeah…and a lot of laundry and dirty dishes.
I am making a point of at least trying to enjoy my down time. I am actually LOOKING at the trees when I go for walks. I LISTEN to the birds. I FEEL the sun and wind. Connecticut is beautiful in the Spring and I’m trying to enjoy it. I know that if I give in to my desires and start training again I’ll just get hurt. And then instead of simply slowing down, I’ll be forced to stop altogether, and that won’t do me any good in future races.
I’ve found little info on what to do AFTER a marathon. The advice is vague if offered at all. So, I’m going to offer my own experiences. I hope they help!
If you’re not injured, then set a time frame. I haven’t been injured from a marathon yet, but I have walked away very unhappy. The recovery time from a marathon can feel like hell when all you want is redemption from a bad race. It can also feel like a mean taunt when you’ve done well and are excited to go again. But rest is key to fast times, so go ahead and do just that. But mark it on your calendar so you don’t drive yourself crazy wondering when it’s over.
Create a Recovery Plan. You planned your workouts. You planned your meals. You may have even planned your pit stops, and now you are suddenly drifting just because you are post race. There are a few post-marathon recovery plans out there, but you don’t need anything formal. But I have found that simply writing it down helps me feel focused. I’m a planner. I like to know what’s happening next. I like things to be in order. I hate free for alls. Even though my Recovery Schedule isn’t anything fancy, I still like to plan it out, write it down.
Go EASY! I know several people who run marathons back to back. And guess what – they are always in pain! Go easy. Go so much easier than you think is necessary. The day after a marathon, do nothing. Take the day off from work. Skip chores. Watch a lot of TV. The first week post-marathon shouldn’t include any running at all. I do go for walks every other day. And I do what I can to avoid stairs. Weeks 2 & 3 after a marathon I run super easy pace (I’m talking at least 3 minutes per mile slower than your race pace) for 30-40 mins every other day. I won’t add any weight training or faster runs back until Week 4.
Do something else. Now is a great time to jump in the swimming pool for a few laps or hop on a bike for a ride. Make plans for your next training cycle. Scope out new races. Look into new recipes. Plan a non-running related activity.
Enjoy the down time. It’s tough to work so hard and then suddenly not. But rest assured, you are not being a slacker and you are not losing fitness. Enjoy yourself and those around you. I know my family is pleased that I’ve finally stopped talking about running. And, in a way, I kind of am too.
To say that I was nervous about running the GoodLife Fitness Toronto Marathon would be an understatement. The race was five days ago and my stomach still flip-flops when I think about it! I was a hot mess of nerves leading up to the event. Basically anything that could go wrong, did go wrong, which wasn’t helping my state of mind at all.
But I knew that focusing on the negative (like getting lost in the middle of Toronto and running for two hours instead of twenty minutes the day before a big race) wasn’t going to help me achieve my goal, so I did what I could to turn what I could into positives, even if it meant lying to myself. The weather forecast continued to predict nasty weather: cold, wind, rain, a possibility of snow flurries. I carried on about how great this was. I loved foul weather! The worse the sky was, the better I’d run. I looked forward to getting wet. (NOT!) I was on day 28 of my cycle, but this was really a good thing. I always feel a huge tension release once my period starts, so this was perfect timing. (NOT!) The start line was a full 45 minute drive from where we were staying. That meant I had all that time to sit in a warm cozy van – maybe even more time if there was traffic on the freeway. That had to be better than standing in a starting corral freezing, right?
Deep breaths, Mazy.
On Saturday, my family walked from our rented condo on Hanna Avenue to the Enercare Centre where the Expo was taking place. We were running a full hour behind schedule since I had gotten a bit lost on my run, so we missed meeting up with our friends who had also come from CT and were running the marathon as well. Because we were late, we went through the Expo ourselves. Packet pick-up was a little awkward. Before entering the arena I was halted by a kid with a tablet & required to fill out information like my name, address, phone number. It turned out I was signing up for some sort of raffle for a free gym membership. I tried to explain that we were from the States and it was unnecessary – even if I won I wouldn’t be able to accept it, but the kid just kept taping on the tablet. Fine. I was entered. And now I have to figure out how to unsubscribe from these Emails.
There weren’t a whole lot of people at the Expo, so there wasn’t even a line to get my bib. And I was surprised I didn’t have to identify myself in any way. In previous marathons I’ve always had to present a picture ID when picking up my packet. But, the part I found most strange about the ordeal was that I then had to take my bib, walk to the far end of the expo center and have another set of people “activate” it. Now, perhaps this was to make participants walk through the Expo and see the vendors, or perhaps the coordinators were expecting more of a crowd. Either way, those handing out the bibs could very easily have had the device to activate bibs in the same location and done it all right there, causing less confusion (and fewer personnel). Also, the table handing out T-shirts could have also been located in the same spot for convince sake.
Anyway…like I said, there was certainly an underwhelming crowd in the expo center and very few vendors. It was the same basic stuff seen at all running expos with the same persistent non-runners attempting to hawk their Made-In-China It’s-On-Sale-Only-For-Today crap. There are a few running related things I’ve been on the lookout for (a visor, foamy slip on sandals, a tank with pockets) but either no such things existed or they were fresh out of my size. Ah well. We were about to walk out with nothing but a bunch of promotional postcards when I saw her; Kathrine Switzer!
She was standing behind a table with a blown up copy of her iconic photograph from the 1967 Boston Marathon. She was chatting to a lady as she signed books. Books! My other weakness!! My husband immediately started fishing around in his pocket for the Canadian bills and I excitedly waited my turn. She signed my copy and shook my hand. She gave me advice for the following day. She was just so pleasant! Then she told me to come around the table so she could take a picture with me. She then gave me a hug and told me she knew I’d do well. And suddenly, for the first time in weeks, I knew it too.
So we spent the rest of the day attempting to relax and fighting off the excitement that was building. I continued to guzzle down Gatorade and water. I ate an early supper of pork chops and pasta (the same pre-race meal I’ve been eating for the past 20 years), and went to bed super early. Well, I laid down super early. I didn’t sleep, like at all. I was too excited, too nervous, too pumped.
I gave up trying to sleep at 4:30 am and got up, made the terrible hotel room coffee, mixed up instant oatmeal with a crunchy granola that tasted a bit like car exhaust. I swilled some more water. “A bottle in the belly!” I had to get down as much water before the race as I could since I had decided to forego the hydration pack after all. I was to meet my friends in the street at 6 am and we would drive up to the start together. I put together a pack of warm clothes and dry socks, face wipes, and granola bars for Hubs to bring to the finish line. The skyline was just beginning to illuminate as I stepped outside. I was smacked in the face with a bitter, forceful gust of wind.
Shit. This was really going to suck.
Before long M and her husband had arrived in their rented van. J had already been waiting with me in the shelter of the main lobby. There was next to no traffic this early on a Sunday morning, so we had zero issues getting to the other side of town. Roads were blocked off and it was a little unclear where we needed to go. We got as close as we could to the start area and S pulled over at a Starbucks to let us out. “Good luck!” he called as he merged back into traffic. The three of us stood a little stunned in the wind. We agreed that we would all have to pee several times in the next hour, so we headed into the coffee shop.
We wandered into Mel Lastman Square where a large building with ridiculous toilet lines kept runners shielded from the wind. It was cold, but it looked like there would be breaks in the clouds, and it definitely wasn’t going to rain. My friends were both checking bags, but I hadn’t brought much with me. I’d finish my water then toss the bottle in recycling before we headed to the start. I had on pants that I’d be okay losing, though M insisted I put them in her bag before checking it. I wore a full zip jacket that I planned on wearing until after the gun went off to keep as warm as possible and tossing once we got going. At 7:10 am the gear bags were loaded up on a big truck. We found a bathroom with no lines down a hall and ran to it. Others caught on and like lemmings, a whole crowd of runners flocked down an obscure hall to a single stalled bathroom. At 7:20 am we made our way out to the start where the crowd buzzed. M and I had lost J in the bathroom melee, but he wasn’t seeded in the same corral as us anyway. This was M’s first marathon, so we sought out the pace leaders together. She wanted to keep her eyes on 3:40, 3:50, and 4:00. My strategy didn’t involve a pace leader, simply my watch and breathing.
As the time drew near my fingers were getting stiff with cold. I decided to try carrying my gel flask (filled with maple syrup) in my shorts’ pocket instead of my hand so I could tuck my fingers into my shorts to warm them. I was wearing a pair of cheap thigh high socks with the feet cut off and thumb holes as arm warmers, but had no gloves for fear of losing them once I warmed up. My two side pockets were filled with packets of mashed sweet potato. I wasn’t carrying fluids, but there would be Gatorade and water every two to three kilometers along the course, and I was confident in my pre-race hydration. My nerves melded with excitement as the crowd pushed in. It was almost time to go.
My plan was simple: Run an 8 min/mile pace, be prepared to slow on the hills as much as 24 seconds (miles 4 & 7 with some consideration for miles 15 & 22), start off conservative, take the down hill (miles 11 through 15), but don’t get carried away. Expect a wall somewhere between miles 18 & 20 and just do whatever you have to to get to the finish from there. I would take fluid at every aid station that wasn’t over crowded and only focus on the shoulders of the runner ahead of me. I could do this. I could do this. I could do this.
The gun sounded at 7:30 am and the crowd shuffled to the large, blow up arch over the starting mat. I waited to start my watch until I got to the timing mat, but in hindsight I should have hit the button right away. I started easy, comfortable. I was just behind a 3:30 group, but had already vowed to not be a part of it. Their chatter was already driving me nuts. The crowd of runners was dense, so dense that there was no way to rabbit out and run too fast. This, I conceded, was a good thing. Within a half mile I was quite warm and ditched my jacket by a lamp post. Discarded clothing was being collected for donation, so I’m happy to think that someone somewhere in Toronto is dressed in a sporty bright pink warm up jacket right now. I hope you like it, whoever you are!! I was coming up on the first mile marker when I realized I didn’t feel an annoying bounce in my shorts. I reached back to find that my waist band lacked a particular bulge. I had dropped my flask of maple syrup! I stopped and looked frantically over the street, but there were too many people. I couldn’t find it and I didn’t dare go back against the crowd. Panic washed over me. I had 25 miles ahead of me and no fuel. The sweet potatoes were to ward off hunger in the last 8 miles or so. I’d never used them as actual fuel before. I began calculating how I’d break them up to make them last the rest of the way. I passed through the first mile mark 13 second ahead of schedule.
I pushed the fear of not fueling away and focused on getting through the race in three mile chunks. As mile four approached, the first hill, the pace group I kept behind began talking about how they could distract themselves from it. Sure, you could see the hill coming from a long ways off, but after training in Andover, this was nothing more than a gentle incline. But this group was afraid of it. I had no time for that kind of negativity and pushed past them. I finished up four miles in 31:08. Definitely ahead of schedule.
I got through mile 8 in an hour and a minute and started talking myself down from the pace. I was going too fast! At this rate I’d burn up, especially since I didn’t have any sugar for later on. I did still have my Electrolytes capsules and two more bee pollen tablets, so I popped one of each. I’d take more electrolytes in five more miles, and the other bee pollen when I began to hit a wall. If/when my pace slowed below the target pace I’d eat a packet of sweet potato. This was going to happen!
The down hill section was indeed fast. The miles flew by, even though I attempted to hold back a little to keep from destroying my quads.
I managed to get control of myself again at the half way mark and ticked through miles 13 & 14 at just under 8 min/miles. But then we entered the city. I stopped bothering with my watch because the buildings were throwing off the GPS pacing. It was also a wind tunnel and I was being blown all over the place. On a narrow street a man, who looked like my dad until I actually got up close to him, looked me right in the eye. “The 3:20 pace group just went by. I think you can catch up to them!” I was startled. I had ten more miles to go. I shouldn’t be moving this fast. I couldn’t do this. And yet, I totally was.
I drafted through the city off a young man who also admitted that he was running faster than what he’d trained for. He was from Ontario. “The wind might change when we get to the water,” he warned. A left and a right and we strode together into the park. My family was up ahead and I was so incredibly happy to see them. Because I was 8 minutes ahead of pace, they weren’t quite ready for me. They scrambled to the edge of the sidewalk and screamed and clanged bells as we passed, but Hubs never got a chance to get the camera ready. Next up was Nick’s family, who was equally as elated to see him and just as unprepared for his early arrival. But the kid was right. As we got closer and closer to the harbor, the wind became more and more unpredictable. He pushed on, but I decided to hold back. I wanted to focus on maintaining effort, not pace. And so far I was feeling like I was flying. This marathon was, at least so far, practically effortless.
I ticked through the next few miles calmly and carefully. Maintain breathing. Maintain form. It’s all about the effort, Mazy. Hold….hold……………HOLD STEADY WOMAN! But when I saw the sign for mile 20 I got excited. I had a 10k left. And I’m good at 10ks. This also meant I had gotten through the rocky part, the part of the race where I usually fell apart. I hadn’t walked. I hadn’t stopped. I was still going! With five miles to go I was back to well under 8 min pace. With a 5k left I was pushing 7:30 pace. I WILL QUALIFY became a mantra on an endless loop in my brain. I was actually going to pull this off.
I felt the pain of the distance and all those miles on pavement when my watched bleeped the 24th mile. My calves began to cramp up and burn. But, unlike every other race, I did not despair. I could handle it for two more miles. Real pain took over at mile 25, but I was now moving even faster. I was down to a 7:20 pace and gaining speed. I passed Nick going up the hill along the freeway. “Hey, there you are!” he cheered as I came up alongside him. “Wow, you’ve got a kick! HOLY SHIT!” I grunted for him to come with me. “Come on!” I started urging all the runners around me. “We are almost done!”
I couldn’t help but smile. In fact, I was almost laughing. I was in pain. Wind was blowing hair in my mouth. I wanted to eat NOW. But I was running. I was doing the thing I love to do most and I was doing it so well. The cheering at the finish chute was like a tunnel of noise. I saw my family out of the corner of my eye, and like a corny movie, everything slowed down. The world stood still a moment as I moved as fast I could. I used up everything I had left in me and kept my eyes glued to the large clock over the finish line.
Overwhelmed and fighting back a lump in my throat, I staggered through the chute. Someone shook my hand. Someone was giving me a hug. Someone put a giant medal around my neck. Someone took my picture. Nick came in shortly behind me and I gave him a high-five. I had done it. I came with a goal, I came with a desire, I came prepared, and I had done it. I had qualified, at last. I was going to Boston.
I began training for the Toronto Marathon shortly after the holidays with the goal of stepping myself closer to a BQ. I wanted to pull five more minutes off my time with the idea I could then, possibly, pull another five minutes off in the fall, hitting the qualifier. I’ve wanted a 3:30 marathon since college, but there was always one excuse after another as to why I wasn’t there yet. But finally, I was running without a looming pregnancy, without nursing, without injury. The only one holding me back was me — and not having excuses turned out to be scary in and of it’s self.
So the goal was a 3:35, but I wanted a 3:30, and I fanaticized (secretly of course) about a 3:28. I envisioned myself doing well, running strong, crossing the finish line with a kick and seeing on the clock that I had indeed done it! I trained with the idea that I would do it. And then I wrestled with the fear of disappointment.
And then, just as my training was winding down, things began to fall apart. I began to fall apart. My new shoes, despite having a hundred break-in miles, were continuing to cause pain and blisters. I didn’t have the money to purchase another pair and my back up had close to 500 miles. I had been convinced in the store to purchase a pair they had in stock rather than what I had gone in for. I was told that the shoes I wanted wouldn’t stand up to a marathon distance and I needed a sturdier shoe. But I’m used to running in light, flexible shoes so these just never ended up working for me. Without a receipt, definitely worn, and past the 15 day return period, my never-take-no-for-an-answer husband was able to get the shoes replaced AND a store credit! But now I had less than a month to get these broken in & race ready. Plus, if these shoes didn’t work out, there was no time to replace them. This started the trickle of anxiety.
Three weeks before the race I began to slack on my workouts. I was tired and sore after every run and it was all I could do to get up in the mornings. With only two weeks left I was completely exhausted, only getting out of bed to put the kids on the bus, feed the animals, and then crawl back in to sleep. I was quickly losing weight and I had almost no appetite. I feared that I was suffering from over-training. I began to panic. If I was really this tired, HOW could I ever get through the race? Suddenly a marathon seemed like the most daunting task in the world and I was sure I wouldn’t be able to make it, let alone come anywhere close to my 3:35 time. I could rest, but not training didn’t seem like an option either. I altered the remainder of my training so that threshold runs and intervals were to be run at race pace (8:00 min/mile) and everything else was to be run at 9:00 min miles. I cut nearly every workout in half and took it incredibly easy. If I nipped it in the bud, perhaps full on fatigue could be kept at bay and I could pull this thing off anyway.
I carbo-loaded. I hydrated. I worked on gaining weight and sleeping. I cleaned my house like a mad woman to keep my mind off running. My darling children brought home a stomach bug that kept me confined to the bathroom for far too long. I was now terrified of running. I so badly wanted to do well, but I just wasn’t catching a break. Finally, with just a few days to go, I began to feel like a normal person again. But my nerves were already frayed.
On the long drive from Connecticut to Toronto I couldn’t help but think of the things I did wrong. I had greatly slacked on strength training. I’d lost a lot of weight and feared what that could mean for the distance. I ran a lot of workouts much too fast. I ran a lot of workouts much too slow. My longest training run was only 22 miles and I had only done it once in the whole training cycle. In fact, all of my weekly mileage was fairly low. Then I started second guessing myself. Maybe I should wear a different singlet. Maybe I should just wear long sleeves. Maybe I don’t really need my hydration pack. Maybe I’ll fall apart without it. Then something terrible happened.
The day before the marathon I went out for an easy 20-30 minute jog before meeting up with my friends and family at the Expo Center for packet pick up. We had walked around the city a great deal the two days before, so I felt confident leaving my phone at the condo. I ran loops around the convention centers and up and down the streets until I ran into a gate. I needed to get through the gate to head back to where we were staying, but a highway and lack of sidewalks was on the other side. How exactly had I gotten here? I had crossed a narrow bridge, so all I had to do was get back to it, keeping the CN Tower on my left and a billboard advertising a beer on my right. Unfortunately, every time I looked up, I either couldn’t see the billboard or the CN Tower was on my right. It got truly terrifying once the Tower ended up directly behind me.
I kept getting stuck on the wrong streets. I stopped and asked directions several times and people either had no idea where Liberty Street was, or they sent me in the opposite direction. Everyone was very nice to me, but also very wrong. As time clicked by and my watch continued to beep mile markers at me, I became more and more afraid. It was very cold, very damp, and very windy. I knew that being exposed to these elements for this long wasn’t going to me any good. Plus, running this far on pavement the day before a marathon was probably not ideal.
When I made it to the harbor I was nearly in tears. I knew this wasn’t where I should be, and I had no idea how far I had to go and whether I needed to head east or west. I found a streetcar map, but it only showed the train’s route, not all the streets and where I needed to go was not on any route. I was cold, wet, and very hungry. I was frustrated and scared. A woman approached and with a thick Scottish brogue asked if I was all right. I explained that I wasn’t from Toronto and that I needed to get back to Liberty Street. And no, I didn’t have a phone with me, and yes, my husband was probably freaking out by now (and I had his keys so he couldn’t even come looking for me). She held an umbrella over me as she carefully and patiently explained where I needed to go. And man, once I saw familiar streets again I was beyond elated. I got back to the condo having run more than ten and a half miles!
Now my fear from being lost dissolved into anger at myself. I knew I had screwed up my race. I was stupid to have run in a new place without a phone or a predetermined route. With everything else I had messed up along the way, this was the final excuse to ensure I wouldn’t be able to do it. I still wanted that 3:35, but I was very disappointed that I was going to have to work that much harder for it in the morning.
Well, this is it; the final week before my next big race. I’ve run out of time to get faster, to get stronger. There is no more training to do. I’m tapering, resting, hydrating. I’ve made all the lists and maps I could possibly make, so now I have nothing left to distract me from the nerves. You’d think that I’d be over this. I’ve run so many races, logged so many miles, yet I still get incredibly nervous.
I’m excited, but I’m also a little bummed that the training is over. This has been one of my best training cycles and I’ve loved nearly every step of the way preparing for this race. I don’t really want the fun to be over, but I am still looking forward to the big finish.
I have everything prepped: I know what I’m going to eat for the rest of the week, the night before, the morning of. I know just how much coconut water I’ll drink each day leading up to the start time. I’ve already pre-portioned out my sweet potatoes and maple syrup to fuel me through the race. I’m ready. I’m set. Let’s go.
What am I nervous about? I’m afraid I still don’t know enough about the marathon despite this being my fourth. I’m afraid I’m over confident about my training. I fear for my lack of strength training. I’m underestimating my ability to hold a pace. I’m not confident I’ve actually put in enough miles to prepare. And then there are the silly worries; what if my hair drives me nuts and I have to keep retying it? What if my watch acts up or doesn’t connect to the GPS? What if I make a mistake and follow the half marathon course instead? What if I don’t sleep? What if I don’t get a chance to poop before the gun?
I know I will be fine. I keep trying to replay my last marathon (which was a great success) in my mind to reassure myself, but I’m not so sure it’s working. The weather is promising 50 degrees and bright sunshine. It should be ideal. I just need to take a deep breath & trust in my training. I know this. I got this. Still…my stomach is going to flip flop all week.
I know it’s a bit early for me to be tapering. I still have two weeks until the gun goes off. But man, last week was rough. I was practically bed ridden which, at first, I thought was a case of extreme over training or fatigue. I was achy and sore after every run. I was so desperately tired all the time. I had absolutely no appetite and was quickly losing weight. I was getting the chills. I started to panic. Could I get myself ready in less than three weeks to run a marathon?! Then the fever set in and I was restricted to the bathroom with what ended up being a stomach flu.
I’ve limped back to recovery, but am now taking my tapering very seriously. I’m still quite tired, so I am all for taking it easy before I crash again. I still have a handful of workouts left before race day, but am running no faster than my marathon race pace on intervals and threshold runs, keeping my easy pace actually easy, and going for an every other day approach.
Psychologically, tapering can be so hard. It’s getting close to the big day, yet the training needs to take a slow down, which gives you more time to wrestle with the nerves. After working so hard for 15 weeks, taking it easy can be almost impossible. Perhaps catching a virus has been a good thing for me. It forced me to take a bit of a break, to focus on hydrating, and to just sleep. We’ll see how it all plays out in two weeks!
Just like babies must first crawl before they walk, fall many times before mastering the skill, and eventually take off running into toddlerhood, so it is with marathon running. I’m still a newbie to marathoning. Toronto will be #4 for me, so yes, I’m still new, but I have learned a thing or two. Maybe I could consider myself an adolescent marathon runner. I have learned something very important in all three of my previous races. While I wouldn’t necessarily describe my races as “mistakes”, I certainly made a few, and while some of them were dumb beginner’s mistakes, I was at least smart enough to learn from the experiences.
My first marathon was in 2013 in Hartford, CT. I had always wanted to run a marathon, but was secretly afraid of the distance. I wanted to run it before I was 30, because I figured after that I’d never do it. Then again, I always figured IF I even had kids, it would be after 30, and after the marathon. Instead, I ran the day after my 30th birthday and a year after my third child. I followed a beginners plan and struggled with pacing, with water intake, with fueling. Every long run left me exhausted and cramped. My hydration system jostled, hurt, and caused numbness in my lower back. Every brand of gel I tried caused GI issues. I always ran too fast. My longest long run was 18 miles. I was a little concerned that it wasn’t long enough, but I faithfully followed The Plan. I figured that because most of my training runs were at or near 8:00 miles I would have no problem pulling off a 3:30 marathon. I went into the race very cocky, very naïve. I had given up on fueling and my hydration system. I was confident that I could pull it off on water stops and Gatorade alone. Of course, this didn’t work out so well. I went out too fast. I got hot, tired, crampy. I hit a wall at mile 18 and walked. I gave in & took a gel, which lead to intense GI issues. I deliriously stumbled through the finish line at 3 hours and 45 minutes. I was in pain for a week and didn’t get back to running for almost a month. It was disappointing to say the least. I ended up consumed by the “failure”. I had days where I was determined to try again, to do better, followed by weeks of never wanting to run another marathon again.
My second marathon came in Spring of 2016. While the 1st was a bucket list item, this one was simply to prove to myself that I wasn’t broken, that I wasn’t done yet. I ran Burlington, VT five months after having a fourth child (surrogacy) and dealing with eclampsia and a minor stroke. I had spent too much time being bed-ridden and feeling sorry for myself when my friend egged me on to sign up for the race. I worked on finding a fueling system that wouldn’t destroy my gut (fruit snacks did the trick!), but I still thought I could go without hydration. It was cumbersome, it chaffed, and I figured all the aid stations would be enough. My training went well and again I went in very optimistic. I’d stay with a pace group. I’d eat my fruit snacks every 30 minutes. I’d grab water at every aid station. I’d do well…maybe even nab a BQ. I wasn’t prepared for the heat. The RDs weren’t prepared for the heat and some of the aid stations were running out of water. I wasn’t prepared for the midrace panic attack either. Again, I went too fast and tanked. The second half of the race was a mental feat to keep myself together, alternating walking and running, trying desperately not to cry or pass out, and to simply get through it. Severely dehydrated, starving, and slightly hypothermic, I fell through the finish line at four hours. The four hour drive home was spent scheming my next marathon — my redemption.
The third race, revisiting Hartford in Fall 2016, was approached with much more humility. By now I had accepted that I would indeed need to hydrate. That I would need to fuel on the run. And that I would have to train long but slow. I gave up on pace groups since I would be running in between. I was very much attached to my Garmin, though I did keep the 3:30 pace group in sight ahead of me. Beating 3:45 and running a smart, paced out race were my only goals. There was no winging it this time. I had planned out everything; when I would take a sip, when I would take fuel, when I would speed up or slow down. Mile 18 was again, a wall, but it didn’t stop me this time. I did slow down, and I did walk in a few parts due to a nagging hamstring, but I didn’t fall apart. I pressed on, allowing 20 second walk breaks when it got tough. But I got caught up in the second half of the race and forgot to take my electrolytes a few times. Then I skipped out on fuel. I got confused as to how much I’d had, how much was left. I began to feel insanely hungry and the sugar and water didn’t touch it. I made it through the finish line slightly crampy in 3 hours and 41 minutes.
So, now with two weeks until I run Toronto, I am approaching my fourth marathon with a few thousand training miles and 11 hours and 26 minutes worth of marathoning and perhaps just as many “mistakes” to carry me through. I have learned that a long run needs to actually be long. I know I hit my wall at 18, so I need to train well beyond it so that in the race, when I get there, I can hurdle past it and get through the last 8 or so miles. I have learned the importance of pacing and that running slow is good for you! Training runs too close to race pace won’t make you faster, they will just wear you down, wear you out, and deceive you for race day. Easy runs need to actually be easy. The most important thing I believe I have learned from my past three marathons is that they are hard but I am harder. A marathon takes a lot more grit than I had at first anticipated, but I was so happy to discover that I had it in me. It’s strength of body and mind that completes a marathon, and it’s the ability to adapt and learn that carries you through your next one.
In my fairly new marathon career I’ve managed to learn a thing or two about the race, about myself, and about how to be a better runner. However, I’m very excited to see what I will learn in two weeks when I go after my fourth race. I know I still have a lot to learn and a lot more room for improvement. I’m excited to see what I can pull off in Toronto– another 26.2 miles to learning something new and to being a better Mazy.