Sunday, March 24, 2019

The race day countdown: why NOT to do it

With something like marathon training, where you are working toward a specific event on a specific date, it's easy to lose focus on what's happening in the present. As runners, we begin counting down to the marathon months in advance. I often post on Instagram: "Just 5 more weeks until race day!"  We are always very aware of how far away this event is, and it's easy for race day to become the day we are waiting for.

When I was training for Shamrock, I was often overwhelmed with how much I had to juggle. Not only did I have to fit the training into my busy life, but the weather threw in some curve balls, so I would have to adjust for that-- sometimes running after work or using a treadmill. During the past few months, I found myself thinking "after the marathon I will do x, y, and z".  I think I do this with most marathon training cycles, but I was more aware of it this time. It felt like certain things in life just needed to wait until I no longer had 70-80 mile weeks on my plate.

Now that the race is over, and I am getting to some of the things I pushed off, I realize I need to work on not focusing so much on that marathon date. A very simple example is taking a trip to Bed, Bath, and Beyond to purchase some kitchen items that needed to be replaced. Sure, I could have bought them online, but I wanted to go to the store, browse the items in person, and use all my 20% off coupons! Although I enjoy shopping, this task just seemed like too much to do while I was running all those miles.

One of my friends wanted to run with me the weekend before the marathon and I told her no. My only reason was that I didn't want to have to schedule or coordinate something. I was feeling stressed out (as I blogged about previously) and I didn't want something else that I had to plan for. I didn't want to have to be somewhere at a certain time.

In reflecting on these two examples, and my overall mindset in the four weeks leading up to the race, I was feeling really over-scheduled and wanting to put everything off until after the race. I want to avoid this in the future for a number of reasons:

1. I don't want to wish my life away
The countdown to race day is always exciting, but it can be a slippery slope. If I have six weeks to race day, then that's six weeks of quality living I have to do and I want to savor and enjoy those weeks. Whether I am running, going to work, spending time with friends and family, blogging, or playing the piano, I want to be happy in the moment. If I were to live from marathon to marathon, then the rest of life would pass me by!

2. I don't want to feel stressed out by my training plan
I think this is mainly an issue during winter months when I have to adjust when I train due to snow and ice. Or if there isn't enough light in the morning to do the whole workout and get into work at a reasonable time. As I posted previously, the running itself isn't the issue-- it's the logistics. I think this will continue to be a challenge in future winters, so I will need to figure out a way to be more relaxed and accepting about moving runs around. I think that the planning and scheduling of runs got to be so much, that I didn't want to make any other plans that weren't absolutely critical. So I kept thinking "after the marathon I want to do x, y, and z."

3. The marathon isn't that important
I work really hard to prepare for a marathon. I spend 8-10 hours a week training. It's important, but it's not THAT important. I don't want to be constantly thinking to myself, "March 17th is THE day!" All days are important. Some days are more exciting than others. Some days are easily forgotten and others are extremely memorable. And yes, marathon day is really exciting and fun, and it's great to look forward to it! But I think it's a mistake for that date to be a shiny object when I think about the months and weeks ahead of me.

As runners, we need to balance the excitement of looking forward to race day with the reality that we live in the present. I need to work on this. Running is not life; running is a part of my life.

Monday morning recovery run
After I DNF'ed the marathon on Sunday, I stayed in Virginia Beach and just chilled out. Greg and I
had dinner with one of my best friends from college who lives there and it was really nice. The next morning, we did a 3-mile recovery run on the boardwalk at sunrise. It was beautiful and calming.

My coach and I both thought I was ready to dive back into training, as if this had been a half marathon. Typically after a half marathon I don't need much recovery time and I am running hard again four days later. On Tuesday I ran for 90 minutes at an easy pace and everything felt really smooth and good. Wednesday was an easy 70 minutes, and on Thursday morning I went to the track. I was scheduled for five mile repeats but I quickly realized that my legs were not as recovered as I thought so I cut it off after just two, and those two were much slower than the target. Friday was 75 minutes easy, and I noticed my legs were really dragging.

In the meantime, the "life stress" that I mentioned in my previous post has not gone away yet, but the end is in sight. When I woke up on Saturday morning, just rolling around in bed, my legs felt a little achy. I had a long run on schedule and I decided to bag it and take a rest day. I guess I didn't initially realize how much the 13.8 miles took out of me on Sunday. I figured that doing a long run on dead legs would only put me deeper into a hole, and wouldn't provide much training benefit. My coach suggested I take Sunday off as well based on this feedback, so it's been a weekend full of relaxation and catching up.

Greg and I went to Bed, Bath, and Beyond yesterday and got the kitchen items we needed. I got a massage which further emphasized that my legs were not in great shape. Today I am tidying up some clutter in the house and getting a pedicure. I might go for a walk this afternoon just to get the blood flowing to my legs. My hope is that these two days off will restore my legs and I can have a quality week next week before tapering for the Cherry Blossom 10-miler.

As for right now, I am not going to focus too much on that race. I need to get my legs revitalized and enjoy my weekend!


  1. Excellent post...just goes to show you have come a long way as that described in Boston Bound. "Balance" in life and your pursuits is well as "acceptance" of the way life or yourself is at any given time. the latter is Taoist, and like you say..."living in the present."

    The DNF for last race...not concerned that is the decision you and every runner must make each day whether it be training runs, or the race itself...whether to try and push through and do the distance, or accept not best to do so, for whatever reasons. So a good post about living in the present, cuing in to your body/mind feelings, and making adjustments based on that so as you living a "quality" life. Good perspective!

    Regarding "revitalizing" your legs, I have the following to propose, when even the thought or trying a simple recovery run seems ominous. For recovery and getting simple accentuated blood flow to work out the breakdown by-products or kinks in leg muscles...try doing a "Walk/Run" (W/R) routine. With me recently in the heavy phase of marathon training for Boston, I have even approached my warm-ups and cool-downs for the intensive training runs, simply using W/R. Normally will start out fast walking for 2-min at brisk pace (4.3-4.5 mph), then do 4-min running starting very slow (6 mph) and each minute gradually increasing that speed. Repeat 2nd cycle and slowly getting that run speed up a bit faster until at 2-mi mark, I got my body/mind used to the speed I know to run for the workout.

    In the case of CD's, I sometimes even opt for a 2/2-min W/R ratio. The point is, not stressful, but it accomplishes the goal of either gradually warming-up, or easily cooling down and working out the breakdown by-products or stiffness in muscles. In the aftermath of a high-intensity run race like marathon or other, and noticing you just don't have it to do the standard recovery run or other routines, a simple W/R schema can go a long way to restore you physically, mentally and get you back quicker to your normal run-training workouts.

    Give it a try!

  2. I really love this. I can completely relate. It is an important day but always thinking in the future makes it hard to live in the moment. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Proud of you Elizabeth! Living in the present is key. There are times I start my run and don't want to go too crazy and then a half mile in the elements tells me to push it, other days I have to tell myself the conditions aren't right and I must for my body's sake not do this. Which is why I think it took courage for you to say naa.. I'm dropping out of the Shamrock race.

    I just pray the stress is letting up as you state because I think it's truly amazing that someone whose been running for years is doing their best as a master's runner and I know you have more in you. It is truly amazing and it is all about balance for us non-professionals that need to get up and go to work every day.

    Also I think that's the first photo where I see you in jeans and your hair looks awesome. That's Elizabeth the model right there :) Always cheering for you, running or anything else in life, if I know about it

  4. Totally agree. I want to enjoy the process, not just zero in on the goal. I think that's why I get bored or in a slump if I have a long training cycle and don't throw some additional races in. I like to race, and putting all my focus on the end race instead of enjoying some along the way reduces my enjoyment of the training cycle. Hope all the stress is sorted soon so you can focus on Cherry Blossom. I love the ten mile distance so I'm looking forward to your recap!