Sunday, February 1, 2009

New Perspective on Training and Racing

After having such a miserable experience at the Rock 'N Roll Arizona marathon, I kept saying to others and myself that I learned nothing. Usually a bad experience can be chalked up to "a learning experience" but I didn't think that was the case with this one. I didn't do anything wrong. I hydrated properly and took in plenty of electrolytes. I tapered properly and I set a goal for myself that was a bit of a stretch, although not unrealistic based on my training. If I had it to do over again, I probably would have gone out slower. But I had no idea the heat would affect me so much so it's not like I made a bad decision.

As the days went by I started to think more about it. And I thought to myself that at least now I could sympathize with people who had bad marathons. People who hit a wall or bonked. Not because they didn't train properly, but because of the weather or cramping or stomach problems, or whatever. I had had really awful half marathons, but never a bad marathon until just now.

The more marathons you run, the more likely you are to have bad ones. This is because there is an element of luck involved and there are things that the runner cannot control. When I first started running marathons, my first six were each PRs. And then my 7th was a "fun run" which I still finished faster than anticipated. It just seemed natural that the more of them you did, and the more you trained, the better and better the marathons would get. This is probably true if you look at marathons over several years, but for any one individual race, it's not necessarily true. And maybe the "good ones" that you get are much better than the "good ones" that you had when you first started doing it. But the more you put yourself out there, the more chance you have of things NOT coming together on race day.

I've been really depressed for the last week. Not about the marathon in particular, just in general. I think the marathon is definitely playing a role, though. I was talking to my friend Christopher about the topic of investment vs. payoff. I've never made such a huge investment in terms of time and energy to have it not payoff at all. Not even with a PR. That's why I wanted to run the next marathon just four weeks later. So that I could still make use of that huge investment. So I could get some form of return on it, in the shape of a PR, no matter how small.

But ultimately, it's not the smartest way to go about getting a PR. With marathons, you can't just say "that was awful, let me have a do-over tomorrow". It takes time to recover from the marathon, and by the time you do, you are not at the same fitness level you were at on race day. So it takes more time to build up again. And if you want to improve your fitness level, even more time to go beyond where you had been. I experienced a bit of this when I got sick and had to bail out of the Hartford marathon. I couldn't just jump back into training after having been really sick for four weeks.

I've never been so frustrated with marathoning and training in my whole running career. But that's how it is, and I need to accept this reality if I want to keep at it, and I do. Most people who have run 8 marathons can probably cite at least one "bad" race where they were really well prepared but things blew up. Where they had trained hard for months and months, and it just ended in a bad experience for them. I'm not any more "cursed" than the next runner.

Part of my love of running comes from the fact that if I work hard, I see gains. I love being able to accomplish things all on my own and have an objective measure of my improvement. I like to achieve my goals, and I like to be in control of achieving them. Maybe this is really an opportunity to grow not in terms of my "fitness level" but in terms of learning how to better tolerate not being in control. In the years before I started racing, I was anorexic. It was my way of maintaining control over my life by closely monitoring every calorie I consumed. And I recovered when I discovered how wonderful running was. But in a sense, it was a replacement for that feeling of control and structure that I had while I was anorexic.

I've always known about the lack of control that comes with race day weather and other factors. But I guess the real lesson for me here is that I am not exempt from bad marathons because I train well-- and I need to value my investment in training just as much with or without the PR to show for it. There are some people who get outstanding marathon times and don't train properly. There is a lot of grey area here. And even though running is very numbers-based, there are so many factors that contribute that cannot be quantified or represented in a spreadsheet.

Christopher said he didn't think I would PR at Last Chance for Boston in two weeks. Simply because it was too soon to be recovered and ready to perform at my peak level. And another friend of mine, Steve, cautioned me that I could end up with an injury, and then really be in a worse place than I am now. I clung to that race, even paid the $75 registration fee, because I needed some hope that my investment wasn't completely a waste. But on the other hand, I don't want to do something stupid that could worsen my situation, just because I was stubborn. Additionally, my right hip is still achey from the marathon, and I haven't been able to run quickly since the marathon because of it. Just really slow short runs. So, I'll need to think about it more. If I can't run at least 10 miles today, then I don't see how a marathon PR is possible in two weeks.

I'll keep you posted.


  1. I am a new reader of your blog and I really like it! I just want to give you some encouragement. You are right about all marathoners having disappointing experiences. For you to have not had one up until this point is really remarkable! Hang in there! When you do have a PR it will be all the sweeter!

  2. Thanks for reading. I am going to add you to my blog list, too. I am really bad about keeping up with people's blogs-- but I try my best! You are right about the PR being all the sweeter. I almost feel like when I got my current PR, I "stole" it. I only put in 6 hard weeks of training, and there it was- faster than I even expected!

  3. I tell myself that I am not a better runner because of my time. I am a runner period. Just because someone ran 3 minutes faster than me does not make them more of a runner than I, and the same applies to my own times. I always have goals, but my running is not defined from those goals or achieving. Easier said than put into practice, but you know who and what you are.
    Kathleen -

  4. Hey, I really agree with you on a ton of points. I had a similar experience to you at a marathon I ran last year. I had trained to point I knew I would run my time I wanted, but in the end it was not to be.... I think you are going about this well. Get recovered from this race, and think about another one maybe in the fall. As for the Last Chance race, you could always run it as a training run or fun run. Give yourself something to put some distance from this last race. Or you could shoot for a smaller PR, maybe half the time between where you are and what you need for a BQ. Looking forward to hearing what you decide to do.

    Take Care,

  5. Green - Your comments are spot on. This is how I felt in the fall with my back-to-back disasters. I was in your camp too. A lot of marathons, and amazingly only one with really bad weather and really no injuries during a race. I guess we are lucky!

    You're going to rock the house at NJ.

    Since you already paid, would you do it as a Long run that day. Just to see the one mile course? Or maybe just run the half?

  6. Greenlee - oops, I forgot my signoff id.


  7. Hey Sweetie, I loved the honesty of this post and your disappointment is so understandable, but don't think this training cycle was a waste. Even if you don't manage the race you were training for within the next few weeks, the work you've done is cumulative, it doesn't go to waste. Sure, it will lax a bit if you don't keep working it full on, but it'll be easier to get to that same level the next go 'round, leaving you primed to surpass it.

    So rest well, chicka, this is just a bump in the road to a marathon freak like you. :-)

  8. Sounds like you are taking the time to regroup, that's a good thing. It is exactly what i have been doing since I got injured. I'm using my blog to write about my injury comeback, ha!
    You will get hat PR and BQ!!!

  9. I think you were very wise to scrap the marathon four weeks would have been a "revenge marathon" of sorts (and believe me, I KNOW that feeling of wanting to get back out to erase the race that didn't go as planned) and you're really setting yourself up for a great race now when the time is right.

    It's not the easy thing to do, but I think you'll see a huge payoff for getting in the full recovery and racing again at 100%. You'll be a hungrier, tougher runner from this experience.

  10. Marathons not going as planned? Hmm does Boston 2018 ring a bell LOL.... While one can focus on the narrow things like our marathon time (or whatever distance we ran), I think the more awesome thing about this entry is that you had a bigger lifestyle issue you were trying to control and running helped you get past that. If anything, I think that is the most awesome part of this entry and how running has helped you in so many ways!