Sunday, March 4, 2012

A Timely Post

Ah time. What is the meaning of time? Okay, seriously, I am not trying to get all philosophical here, but I have been doing some self-therapy and self-exploring lately on this very topic. As I continue on my journey to transition from super obsessive, stressed-out runner to a calmer overall mental state, I've been thinking about where time fits in.

Pace Tattoo Targets a 3:40 for RnR Arizona 2009
To start, I began thinking about what my marathon time used to mean to me. I had to get a 3:40 or less. I had to! I knew that an 8:25 average pace would get me a 3:40:59 and an 8:23 would get me a 3:40:00 and I thought about these numbers constantly. I fantasized about crossing the finish line and seeing those numbers as I crossed. In training, whenever I got below an 8:23, I knew I was running faster than marathon pace. That was a magic number for me. During marathons, I wanted to start conservatively, but that usually meant a pace of 8:27, dropping to 8:20 by the end. You see, I had it all planned down to the exact pace of every mile.

And-- I felt entitled. I felt like I had done the training, I was in good shape, and therefore I deserved a specific time. If something went wrong on race day then I would feel like a huge injustice was done to me.

After the Bob Potts marathon in May of 2010, when I ran a disappointing 3:53, I started to realize how unhealthy this obsession with time was. I was tired of putting so much stock in a marathon time. It was just making me feel awful.

Next up was the NYC marathon which I ran for fun with my husband, followed by the Memphis Marathon four weeks later, which wasn't a target race. It wasn't until the fall of 2011 that I gave the marathon another serious try. Knowing how unhealthy my time-based thoughts were, and being a black-and-white thinker, I went in the complete opposite direction. Time doesn't matter at all. This is about enjoying the race and having fun. I don't have a time goal. I don't care about my time. I'm not stressed! I'm totally cool.

Lies, of course. And they will always be lies. Deep down, I didn't truly buy into that, and so I stressed about the race, didn't sleep well and wound up bonking shortly after the halfway point. Once again, I was making rules for myself about how stressed I was allowed to be. Rules about how I couldn't focus on pace or time. I definitely had made progress from 2010, but the absolutes were still there. I was lying to myself which made it even harder because I had to deny that my time mattered at all.

This left me wondering, so now what? I don't want to be obsessive about a time goal, but I don't want to lie to myself and say it doesn't matter.

I started to think about why it did matter so much to me for so long. For years, I would often ask myself why I cared so much about getting a specific time. And the answer was always "I just do!" When I really thought about it, I saw my marathon time is the validation of all my hard work. "Prove" that I was as fast and as capable of a runner as I believed myself to be. But at the same time, I knew I was working hard, so why the need for validation?

Looking back, I think it was insecurity. I needed that marathon time to proof to myself that I was capable. I also needed for everyone else to know that I was capable. I used to do the same thing with my weight. I needed the scale to read out a particular number to validate that I was thin. That I was "good" at being in control of my eating. And of course that's not a healthy attitude!

Back to my original question: what does time mean to me now? And what do I think it should mean to me? The second question is easier. I do consider myself an athlete and I am a competitive person by nature. I don't want to change who I am, so I think time should matter to some extent. I think I should set my sights on some kind of target range (as opposed to an exact time) and then on race day, focus more about the strategy/execution than that ultimate goal.

What does it mean to me now? And do I have a goal for my marathon in two weeks? I don't really know what time means to me now. Still thinking about that one. Maybe the answer is simply "it doesn't mean as much as before." I don't think I need it to validate that I've been working hard. I've had some fantastic workouts so I know that my fitness is solid. I haven't given much thought to my marathon time during this whole cycle, so I guess that's a step in the right direction. I also realized that I don't know how the paces line up with the times. I haven't spent any time on the pace calculator trying to correlate specific paces with finish times. Now that they've lowered the BQ standard, I actually don't know the specific pace of a BQ.

Why haven't I looked? Because it doesn't really matter based on what I am trying to do time-wise. I think I can run an average pace of anywhere from 8:00-8:20 so I'll start slower than 8:20, run conservatively the first half and then see how I feel. Our coach has a pace chart for workouts and I have been using the 3:30 paces as a guideline. I've never not been able to hit them, but at the same time, I don't expect a 20+ minute PR.

2008 Shamrock Marathon-- A Success!
Regarding PRs, it's been four years since I've run a good marathon (although I technically set a 40-second PR in May 2009). Shamrock 2008 was the last time a marathon went well for me and I have run plenty since then. I do believe that everything happens for a reason so I have let go of my anger around this. I think the purpose here is that I am being pushed to become mentally healthier. Just like I had to experience so many relationship failures in order to work on myself, and ultimately meet my wonderful husband.

My first seven marathons were all huge successes, so I know I'm capable of a strong marathon performance. I just need to make my marathon time less of a priority and my relationship with myself more of a priority.

I don't expect extreme taper madness this time, but it's definitely okay to get a little nervous and anxious. I think most marathoners get that way! I don't feel entitled to anything-- especially given my low-mileage approach. I am fully aware that anything can happen on race day, and I am prepared for whatever the day may bring. I just want to be okay. No matter what time I get, I want to be able to fall asleep the night after my marathon at peace with myself.


  1. Good luck in Shamrock Elizabeth! You always work so hard!

    I hope you enter it relaxed and enjoy the race!

  2. Brilliant post, Elizabeth, my favorite one from you for sure. And here's something, just last night I started reading one of those Toughness books I bought "10 Minute Toughness" and couldn't put it down, it's got fabulous stuff about visualization and goals, it's just great.

    But a really important point it brings up, which your comment "focus more about the strategy/execution than that ultimate goal." thoroughly agrees with, is this:

    There are 2 kinds of goals, product goals and process goals (process being how to achieve the product goals). Think about the product goals (the final time) in your training and off time, but when you're in competition, it's much more effective to think of Process goals as focusing on Product goals can make you tense, increase your heart rate, feel negative...exactly the opposite of what you want. So you've got the right idea, perfectly!

    Anyway, love your philosophizing on this subject. Well done.

  3. I think writing this post during your taper was a great idea. Maybe reread it in a week too. I hope you keep this kind of mentality for race day too. Good luck in the Shamrock!

  4. FWIW, what helps me a lot is just to think of my races as a celebration, if that makes any sense? I've done the hard work; now I just kick back, enjoy, and see what happens.

    If I run a super fast time, all the better; but even if I don't, that doesn't invalidate the work I've put in and the fun I've had.

  5. Good look on your up coming marathon in a couple weeks. Try to focus on running strong through your race and not make time your main goal.

  6. I hope you run a fun, relaxed race. I am excited to see how you do. You have worked hard and I am impressed with your training. Good luck!

  7. This sounds like a great attitude to have heading into your race. And I like what Cris said about the race being a celebration of your training instead of a time when you have to prove something about how hard you've worked.

  8. great post, I'm wishing you lots of luck!

  9. I'm wishing you the very best! :) You've come really far in the past few months,not just physically but mentally. I know you will see the benefits of that in your upcoming race. :)