Sunday, February 12, 2012

Attitude Adjustment

It's very tempting to write a post that recaps my training over the past few weeks, complete with split times and mileage totals, but I'm going to tackle a different subject matter.

I've had many, many successful training cycles. Suffice it to say, I'm good at training! I'm very consistent and dedicated to running and I have been since day one. In the past four years, none of those training cycles resulted in a good marathon. None of them. So I'm not going to address my progress with this cycle (at least not in this post) because it's not the kind of progress that I really need at this point.

I need a healthier mindset. I've been working on this for about two years now, but change doesn't happen over night, so I'm still working on it. What do I mean by "healthier mindset"? When I met my husband back in 2009, my attitude about running was as such:

  • Followed a training plan to the letter and was disappointed with myself if I didn't make my weekly mileage goal.
  • Didn't listen to my body and would do all runs as scheduled, even if I was tired or I felt an injury coming on.
  • Very focused on time as the only indication of a good run or race, disregarding how the run felt
  • Very competitive with others and frustrated when I saw other people get faster at running while I wasn't progressing as much.
  • Everything in my life revolved around my running. It was my top priority.
  • Needed to "prove to others" that I was fast
  • Had to qualify for the Boston marathon because that was the ultimate determination of whether or not I was a fast marathoner.
Doesn't sound like much fun, does it??? A lot of this is deep within my personality, and I don't intend to change who I am at my core. I will always be competitive, dedicated and self-critical. I will always care about how others perceive me. But the extent to which I allow these elements of my personality overtake my mindset and ultimately wreak havoc on my marathons can certainly be lessened.

So what progress have I made in this journey? Although I've always known that my running had an unhealthy aspect to it, I didn't see it as problematic until May 2010. That's when I realized I needed to make some changes.

Stage 1: Drop the BQ Mentality
Ever since I ran a miserable race at the Bob Potts Marathon back in May 2010, I realized that my attitude needed some major work. I had been obsessed with qualifying for Boston and every time I didn't qualify, I'd feel cheated because I trained so well and knew I was shape for the time required. I had gone into every race over the past two years with high expectations and when something went wrong, like the weather, it would just be a huge blow to me. I later realized that the weather was only one factor contributing to my bad marathons-- the pressure I put on myself to qualify for Boston was also wearing me down.

I was able to just say "screw Boston" and focus on running the best marathon I could. The qualifying standards for Boston got faster and I didn't care. In fact, I was glad they did because the race was filling up too quickly. I didn't really look at it as pertaining to me. It was just something else going on in the running world-- it didn't relate to me because I was doing my own thing.

In the fall of 2010, I ran the NYC marathon alongside my husband as his first marathon. I obviously wasn't trying to BQ there. A month later, I ran the St. Jude Memphis marathon without a real time goal, but the race was ruined anyway by digestive issues. And then came the multiple stress fractures, so there was no marathon in the Spring of 2011.

Stage 2: Ditch the Training Plan
The stress fractures, ironically, were very good for my running career. Because of them, I was introduced to pool running and regular swimming and I learned that I could keep up my fitness even without running for 4+ weeks. If I could go for 4+ weeks with just pool running and elliptical, surely I could do that for a few days if something in my body felt "off".

I now felt like I was no longer dependent on a rigid training cycle to keep fit. The best approach would be to take things one day at a time and see how I felt. That's how I approached my comeback from the stress fractures, and it's how I've been training ever since.

Along with ditching the training plan and adding pool running + swimming came a lower weekly mileage average. In 2008, 2009, and 2010, I would typically average my training cycles in the low 50s and peak right around 60. And I was obsessive about getting that target mileage every single week.

No more! Starting last summer I began training with Capital Area Runners, and the coach prescribes weekly intervals and tempo runs, but the rest is up to me. This approach to training has taken the pressure off. I take things one day at a time. I often even start my runs not knowing how many miles I will run or how many intervals I will do. I just go by feel. It's been great not only for my body, but for my mindset because the pressure has diminished.

Lately I have been averaging in the high 30s/low 40s, but the runs have been more focused on quality than they had been previously. Most importantly, I don't care about what the specific mileage total is. I like to look at it in my training log and be aware, but I attach no value to the number.

Stage 3: Have No Time-Based Expectations
When I ran the Milwaukee Lakefront marathon last fall, I had come a long way in changing my attitude. I had no time goal, I didn't care if I qualified for Boston, I hadn't obsessed over my training. I went in feeling confident and just knowing I would nail it.

The problem was, everything was now "perfectly aligned" for me. Wait. . . that's a problem? Well yes. Today was the day. I had so many issues with illness and injury and weather and finally I had the perfect day where I was in great shape and the weather was cooperating. Despite not having a time goal, I just felt like I had to do well. My marathon time just had to line up with what my shorter distances had been predicting for years.

But the race was a complete disaster. I went out slowly and the only explanation I could find was that I had stressed myself out too much and didn't get the sleep I needed in the weeks prior.

It's hard to have no time-based expectations. I know where I am at fitness wise. I know exactly the time I "should" be able to get. How do I just ignore that?

By telling myself that nothing is guaranteed in the marathon. Nothing. I've learned it the hard way.

There is still more "attitude work" needed with this cycle. Truthfully, I know I will always be competitive and driven so I will never go into a race completely stress-free. It's just not in my nature. I've really enjoyed the low-stress attitude that I've been having toward my training lately, so I am going to try and bring that with me on race day. I'm actually trying not to even think about race day. I would love to just wake up one morning, prepare myself to drive to a long run with my team, and then have my husband tell me we're actually going to a marathon instead.

Race day is just another training run. The only difference is that when it's over, I get a week-long break from running!

I'll return to blogging about my workouts soon enough, I just felt like writing another one of those "OMG it's going so well posts" wouldn't be very significant. Training almost always goes well and it's not where I need to improve.


  1. Great Post!!! Sometimes we def. put too much pressure on ourselves.

  2. Thank you, thank you for this post. I could identify for a lot of things written here. The way you feel about BQ is the way I feel about Sub 3. It really is quite maddening at times. I'm planning a break from marathon training after my next one, too. Sometimes we just need to give ourselves a break. :)

  3. You're like a zillion times faster than I am, but gawwwd I can relate with this. I've only had 3 marathons, but I'm not proud of any of them. I'm going into my next with zero expectations, in fact, I took it one step further by planning to run with it a friend so that there can't be any negativity, it's all for her, to get her through her first marathon. Brilliant, right?
    I'm glad you write posts like this, to keep yourself accountable for these thoughts.

  4. So true - I feel the same way, sometimes I get caught up in needing to hit the miles and forgetting about how my body feels. I don't know anything about training for a marathon but I do know its a long distance to train for and run. I am sure you will get that BQ someday!

  5. I am sure this post speaks to a lot of people on many different levels!
    I however and sitting out from running for the last few weeks, as I have seriously made a mess out of my kne during my last marathon training cycle.

  6. I approve of this post.

    I do find it helpful to see my key races as "celebrations" of my training, if that makes any sense. Not "OMG, now I HAVE to perform" but more "yay - lets see what happens."

  7. Amen, I also approve of this post. This sport is so much more mental training than physical a lot of the time, and you really nailed it.

  8. I think that mental training is so much harder than physical training. There's no good plan to follow. But it sounds like you are taking the right approach and doing lots of smart things to take the pressure off.

    I like the idea of your husband just randomly driving you to a marathon one weekend instead of a long run! I know it may not be practical, but I can see the appeal.

  9. You are well on your way to a more confident, happy race season. I like Cristina's celebration of running mentality. During a race look for course photographers, give high 5's, enjoy the scenery and remember how much you love this!!

  10. Love, love, love this post. I can relate to everything in it - thank you for keeping my perspective in check.