Sunday, May 6, 2012

Science Project

I did a little science project today. I attempted to run the Potomac River Marathon with the goal of simply finishing strong-- no matter how slow.

Back in 2010, I was registered for this same race, but since the weather was in the low to mid 70's with nearly 100% humidity, I decided to run it as a training run, and stop at the halfway point. I ended up feeling better than expected, so I actually ran 18.5 miles that day, and then stopped because it was just a training run.

As for my science project, here is a side-by-side comparison of these activities.

Weather  70-75 degrees, 100% humidity.  60-65 degrees, 85% humidity 
 Recent Crystal Run 5K Time   22:21 22:00
Goal  Training Run Finish Strong

In other words, I am in much better shape now than I was two years ago, and today's weather was cooler. Logically, one would expect my paces for today to be faster. Especially since today was technically a race and I wasn't trying to save my legs for anything else. Were they faster? Absolutely not.

 Mile    2010 Pace  2010  Heart Rate  2012 Pace  2012 Heart Rate
  1  8:42 145 9:05 152
  2  8:37 155 8:54 159
  3 8:42 162 8:58 163
  4  8:55 163 8:53 167
  5  8:44 165 9:02 167
  6  8:40 164 8:59 168
  7  8:36 165 8:59 170
  8  8:51 165 9:11 169
  9  8:34 168 9:34 166
 10  8:26 170 9:55 163
 11  8:48 171  8:52 167
 12  8:27 173 8:53 173
 13  8:21 172 9:10 172
 14  8:03 174 10:27 166
 15  8:18 174 9:13 169
 16  8:16 178 10:28 164
 17  8:31 178 9:44 167

When I stopped the run in 2010, the folks at the water station were asking me "Why are you stopping? You're in the lead! You look so strong!" I smiled and said back, "I feel great, but you know, I'm not on pace to BQ, and that's what I'm after. I'm registered for another marathon in two weeks, and I'll try to BQ there." Today, the people at that same water stop said "Are you okay? Can I get you some ice?" And it was hard for me to reply initially.

In case you didn't guess, I did not finish today's marathon. Really, what would the point be? I wasn't going to finish strong. I felt like death at a pace of 9:45. Three weeks ago, I ran a 21-miler at an average 8:58 pace in much warmer, sunnier weather. And my legs felt fine the next day-- no lingering soreness.

What I'm getting at here is that this is a very physical manifestation of something 100% mental. Mention the word "marathon" and something happens in my brain and subsequently my body that makes me incapable of even running at my easy training pace. It's not lack of sleep. It's not dehydration. It's not the weather. It's not my fitness level. It's not over-training. It's not nutrition. It's not going out too fast. It's in my head and whatever "it" is, I can't get it out.

It's not as easy as just trying to relax. The more I try that the worse it seems to be. In fact, today, I was in high spirits, completely just in it to have a good race. Time wasn't even an element here. I wasn't focused on time, I wasn't obsessively looking at my Garmin. I just listened to my music and treated it like a long run. But it didn't work.

I'm plenty nervous for races at other distances, and yet I can run those with no problem.

It's happened at every marathon attempt in the past 4 years and it's getting worse and worse. Seriously, my fastest mile was an 8:52?!?  I do many easy training runs where my slowest mile isn't even that slow.

2012, Photo by Cheryl Young
When I stopped at mile 18.5, I watched the runners go by. Almost every one was looking strong. I felt like death. I couldn't even communicate properly when I first stopped. Why me? Why can't I just be normal like everyone else? Why do I have to have this flipping complex about the marathon?

I think my next approach will be to come at this whole running thing with a completely different mindset. I need to make it about finding my power through running. It's not about the PR or the time on the clock. I am happiest when I am running strong and feeling the power within me. I kept trying to find that today and it wasn't there. I wanted to get into a groove with the running and it never came. In most of the photos, my form was completely off (I chose one of the few good ones for this blog). I just looked like I was struggling so much.

I won't stop running them. I'm not a quitter and I won't give up. I will figure it out. Maybe not in time for Richmond this fall. Maybe not in time for a Spring marathon. But eventually, one day, it will happen for me.


  1. Aw, E, I'm so sorry you had another rough morning. I'm glad you're able to see [at least cognitively, even if it isn't sinking in] that *you* are a very strong runner. This isn't at all a reflection of how well you can run. I hope that you'll take comfort in how much you're killing the short distance races and not beat yourself up about this. You're an awesome runner and an inspiration, seriously. I admire your tenacity here and I'm confident that you'll keep doing great running things.

  2. I know you have a great marathon coming to you. I don't know what to say except maybe the marathon now has a stressful goal associated with it in your mind.

    I'll honestly say that I went through a similar period in my running and it does come back, but I think it was after I just stopped caring.

    I know you'll get it worked out. Also, you looked strong coming in, but when I started asking you questions, you were slightly incoherent, so maybe there was something else going on.

  3. Re: the incoherence-- maybe Dash is right and you should have some sort of work up? Incoherence can be a salt thing [that's what killed me in Miami]. I thought of you when I listened to an NPR show about a famous pitcher who was really good until he suddenly couldn't throw pitches at all, went to the minor leagues, failed at that, but eventually works with a sports psychologist who helps him return to his love of pitching.

    In case you're interested.


  4. Thanks JS and Dash. JS-- my coach told me that exact same story this afternoon when I called him. I will read that article. I am considering going with a sports psychologist, but it's a huge investment in time and money, with no guaranteed results.

    Dash- I don't even remember you asking me questions! I think the incoherence was just a result of me being over exhausted. It could be worth a physical, but this stuff never happens during my long runs. Just the races.

  5. It is kind of like having test anxiety. I had that all thru high school and college. I could know a subject inside and out. Put a test in front of me? Turned into a complete idiot. I am the same way with races I am trying to do well in...and honestly - aren't we all trying to do well when we toe up. It's easy to say we 'don't care' - but we all do. Running is more than a lifestyle - it becomes a true love. Something you cannot shake or only give half of yourself to. Most non-runners will never know that. I know you are a kick-ass runner. No doubt. And this will pass. The races that you don't feel that you lived up to your potential with - you impressed the hell out of everyone - finish/finish strong or not. And really what is potential? Who decides where that bar is set? I think you live up to it in every race. It might not be the time or the splits or the stride - but the heart that is behind it. That's the potential we all see when you run your races. You give it your all.

    Running is just like a marriage - there is good and bad, but those who stick it out thru both and give 110% of their heart to it - those are the inspirations...those are the people living up to the potential that so many let pass by them.

    I know you will hear a lot of the condolences via replies on your blog and or Facebook ...and I know you will appreciate each and everyone of them...but I also know you will still feel the same about today's race - Disappointed. Well...don't. Grab a glass of wine, do something that makes Greg laugh (and you laugh in return) and then go kick some ass in your next run. Give it that heart and dedication that makes you a marathoner...a runner... and mostly a certified bad ass!

  6. All I can say is, you will get this, and it will be really sweet when you do.

    I really recommend the sports psychologist. You don't have to do it forever. But you already make a "huge investment in time and money, with no guaranteed results" by competing in this sport. So why not see if this extra step makes the difference?

  7. Again, I CAN SO RELATE. I really like your analysis about this, you're not being hard on yourself, you're not being ridiculous, I think all that you've said here is very reasonable. And I'm glad to read that you're not a quitter, and you're going to keep going after it.

  8. Hang in there! I can't imagine how frustrating this must be. I'm glad you have decided to figure it out and keep at it though. Marathons are TOUGH and so much is mental. You said everyone looked strong at the end but that is not the whole truth. They may have looked strong but at that point EVERYONE is hurting. I sweat every last 10K of a marathon I've felt as though I was running through fire. The pain is surreal. You are strong!! You will figure it out, I'm rooting for you!

  9. I'm sorry that yesterday was another tough day. I am confident that you will eventually figure "it" out and when you do, you'll be able to run that great marathon that you have in you.

  10. the key to the marathon is desire, consistent training for years, and tenacity. you have all of that! it WILL come together because you WANT IT. you have the added bonus of speed so keep training, keep looking forward. good things ahead

    (it took me many years to make it to Boston. some thought I would never be able to do it, but I wanted it BAD and worked, worked, worked to get there)