It might go without saying that training for a marathon is hard. But for me, it’s hard in ways that I never expected. The mental effort that goes into training is almost as draining as the physical effort: trying to balance work, home, and months of training (working in long runs, tempo runs, recovery runs, cross training, meals, rest) and takes more out of me than I imagined. As I’ve gotten older, it’s only been harder. But this is one of the things I love about the marathon – it’s a challenge like no other distance. I’ll never be someone who can run multiple marathons in a year, but every year or two I start feeling the need to push myself harder and target a marathon.
I’ve recently hired a running coach, who has stepped up my training to a new level. After slacking most of last year, and more recently after weeks of slow, low-mileage runs, allowing my body a chance to recover, I’ve been given clearance to build up mileage and start mixing in some speed work. I ran a mid-week Fartlek that was pure joy. I felt strong, I hit all of my paces, and enjoyed the entire workout. I was pushing myself, really working hard on the fast intervals, but that was the fun of it.
Yesterday’s long run was a very different experience. I’ve always taken my long runs slow and easy. This week my coach added in a 4-mile segment at a faster pace than I’ve been running. Not a lot faster (15-45 seconds/mile), but I expected it to be enough to notice and make me work for it. No problem, right? I wish.
As sometimes happens, I started my run on dead legs. I ran two miles as a warmup, looking for my groove, but it wasn’t there. At the start of the third mile a peppy song came on my iPod, I started the paced four-miles and hoped for the best. Only half a mile in and I was struggling. I was in my goal range, but just barely and I didn’t see how I could maintain the pace.
I thought about bailing and trying the run again the next day. I thought about splitting the four miles up into smaller segments and spreading them throughout my run (even though I was told to run them together). I thought about revising my goal pace. All of this because my body was trying to tell me I couldn’t do it. It was harder than it should have been (that much is true – most other days the pace wouldn’t have been such a stretch), and I didn’t believe that I could tough it out.
Finally, I had an insight. Belief that I could do this shouldn’t be a feeling. Feelings are transitory – they come and go and can’t be relied on. Instead, it had to be a choice – I would stubbornly choose to believe that I could do it, even when I didn’t feel as if I could. It was OK if I wasn’t at the fast end of my goal window, but I was going to run all four miles within the prescribed range.
I made the choice to believe in myself and my ability to dig-deep when I have to, ignored the excuses that were still swirling around in my head, and got it done. After, I enjoyed how good it felt to have done it (slower than I wanted, but still where I needed to be), and how good it felt to take it nice and easy for my last few miles.