Lessons Learned From Marathon #4

It is somewhat unbelievable to me that in a few months (May 17, 2013, in fact) you can call me put the title “Dr.” before my name (although I am far from being able to do anything actually super useful…sorry, guys, you’ll have to wait until 2020 for that).

What’s even more unbelievable to me? The fact that I’ve run 4 marathons in 3.5 years of running. I went from running hater to jumping on the marathon bandwagon to injured marathon hater to fairly relaxed I’ll run what races I feel like at the moment runner.

I hope that rapid change is just a product of being a 20-something and that I’ll stay in my current “happy with what comes my way” running mindset for a while.

But, regardless, in my short running life and, in particular, with my marathon experiences, I’ve learned a thing or two. Most of my running education has been through the help of others – friends, mentors, the RC, so on and so forth.

Now, while I’m no running guru (I mean, I have a coach) and by no mean do I have all of the answers, here are some running thinks I’ve thought about. Maybe they will help you or maybe you’ve already discovered them yourself. Regardless, here goes. Some are practical and some more food for thought.

1. IT IS OK TO WALK THROUGH THE WATER STOPS

If that’s your thing, that is. If you eschew that, skip to #2.

In my first 3 marathons, I ran through all of the water stops. I’ve got a pretty good turn-cup-into-spout method, but drinking and running sometimes raises my heart rate even higher than it already is.

During the Richmond Marathon (#4), I walked through all of the water stops (starting at mile 4, then every other water stop from there so like every 4 miles or something). I felt like I was able to take down fluids better, not spike my heart rate, and not cough/choke/etc.

I thought I wouldn’t like the break in momentum, but I actually liked it. Gave me a 5 second mental break, too.

I’ll prob keep walking through water stops in marathons. No shame.

2. DON’T OVERCOMPLICATE YOUR RACE STRATEGY

For Richmond, I had a loose pacing strategy. I do like having a plan as it gives me structure…and what type A personality out there doesn’t like structure and check boxes?

In earlier marathons, I used to get really bogged down by pace, strategy, etc and sort of let that mentally drain me. If I had a time machine, I would go back and tell myself, “Look, this is really just putting one foot in front of the other, you speed up if you feel good, you slow down if you don’t feel so good, nothing more complicated than that.”

When I was left watchless at mile 16 in Richmond, the above was my new “race plan” and it worked pretty well for me. It kept my anxiety way down.

3. USE A VISUAL CUE

I have to thank Believe I Am for this one.

In days of yore, I thought sports psychology was a bunch of hand-waving and fluffy talk for the weaklings. And I was not a weakling! I was a girl of science! I would live or die by times on a watch because that is data and data does not lie! My success would lie in the watch! Go, science!

Anyways, as I’ve had race successes and failures, I’ve noticed that I do better when I have an image or thought to anchor my mind on — a constant during the ups and downs of the race, something to help dispel bad thoughts and replace them with good ones.

For Boilermaker 2011 it was a balloon going off into the sky and for Richmond it was this butterfly that basically represented (to me) that I loved that I was doing something awesome that day.

Pick a cue, a mantra, or something to anchor your mind. And don’t think sports psych is only for wusses. It actually works, even if I can’t give you cold hard Garmin data to prove it.

4. USE A GOAL TIME TO MOTIVATE YOU BUT LET GO OF IT ON RACE DAY

Did I dream of a 3:35 or 3:40 marathon when I was training this fall? Of course! It motivated me to go the extra mile, go a little faster, push myself a little harder, to foam roll twice a day (ok, that was most paranoid fear of another IT band injury).

But, on when I toed the line last week (or, let’s get real, was 20 feet behind the line), I was pretty much detached from any strict goal time and was mostly hoping for somewhere between 3:35 and 3:45, which I thought was a realistic range given my training. And, I think that helped me make better decisions during the race.

I’ll keep setting time goals – chasing times is what makes running fun (for those of us that will never win anything). But, I’m hoping I can maintain that freedom while racing I found last week in the future.

5. HAVE SOMEONE TEACH YOU HOW TO RACE

If you’re not naturally good at it, which I was/am not.

Fortunately for me, my friend Courtney ran a 4 mile race with me during our 2nd year of medical school. I think her words to me were something akin to “look, racing isn’t fun, it is painful, and if you don’t feel like quitting at some point or feel like you’re about to throw up, you’re doing it wrong.” I ran that race and did, indeed, throw up at the end, but had never been happier. This makes me sound like I have a probably psychiatric disorder, but, in truth, I was happy because I felt like I had finally raced a race.

So, thanks Courtney, for helping me become that girl at end of a race.

Find a faster friend. Run a race with them. It really helped me.

So, that’s some of the things I’ve learned. I still don’t have most of this running thing figured out, but I’m starting to do a bit better. And, don’t worry, I still ask a lot of my #sistersinsport or running brain trust for advice.

Final thoughts on what I’ve learned from my 4th marathon? Chasing the times and chasing the joy don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

TELL ME: SOME RUNNING [OR INSERT SPORT HERE] LESSONS YOU’VE LEARNED?

Until next time…

PS: Thank you for all of the kind, wonderful comments on my marathon. Each one has meant so much to me.

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8 thoughts on “Lessons Learned From Marathon #4

  1. Lots of good tips, especially #4.
    On race day I start to question everything so I always repeat the mantra, “Trust your training!” It is important for me to remember that I put in the work so I need to let go of the self doubt. Loved this!

  2. I have no shame and walk through every water stop. I always have because I was told that it won’t really slow your time down in the end. Plus, I am not good at running & drinking at the same time. I usually spill everything down the front of myself and hydrate my shirt/shorts more than myself.
    I really need to learn how to tackle #4 better. I get way to fixated on a time. It consumes my every thought- even on race day.

  3. i’m a huge advocate for walk breaks. i only ran 1 marathon where i actually ran the entire time. even in my BQ race i took 2 20-second walk breaks. i needed the mental break. i think walking gets a bad rap but i know a lot of runners that PR’d while incorporating walk breaks!

  4. Can’t agree more about number 3! I’ve started using mantras both in racing and in everyday life and it really helps to change my attitude and perspective!

    Great post!

  5. I LOVE #4. Def putting that in the mental bank. And I must say that I understand your not wanting to take off the butterfly I am tat, I put one on yesterday for my race and totally feel the same way about it!

  6. This is awesome, Meggie! I agree 100% with each one. That one of the things I love about running and marathons – always new thing to learn. I’d say the most important thing I learned this time around is that you don’t know what you’re capable of unless you try and believe you can do it. And a lot of that is positive thinking, dealing with pain and really loving what you’re doing.

    I am excited for Dr. Meggie!

  7. I definitely need to learn how to race. But I’m liking the walk through water stops thing – I used that on my 20 miler and even the last half marathon (prepping for marathon) and it does help mentally. No shame.

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