Chicago Marathon: Training Reflection

So, here I am. Just days away from taking on my third marathon. The past 18 weeks are behind me and just 26.2 miles separate me and my next marathon finish. I have a bit to say, so stick with me here.

This training cycle didn’t go as planned. After a pretty strong start, I started having shin pain that I haven’t experienced in the past. It wasn’t bone pain, but actually, the muscle right beneath that was extremely stiff and caused me to lose my “spring” when running. I cut out speed work, threw my initial training goal out, and headed to the chiropractor for treatment in hopes I could get to the marathon start line feeling good – even if it meant not hitting my intended goal.

In the beginning
When I had to seriously change my training and refocus my efforts, I realized something. For lack of a better expression, I just wasn’t feeling it. I had been going through the motions of training for this big goal, but mentally I was just not into it. I thought it was the heat and humidity and while that definitely played a factor in it, I think the truth is that I was working towards an arbitrary goal that I didn’t really care about.

It’s a pretty normal runner-thing to set a big goal. We run a race, we hit a time, we want to beat it next time. So that’s what I was doing. I was going for the next big time-goal hoping I could shoot for it and land somewhere nearby.

Shamrock Half Marathon, Spring 2017
During winter training, I decided to switch gears from training for a full marathon to half and had no goals to PR. I simply ran and tried to find where I fit in running-wise in Richmond. Going into the summer, I wanted to work for a big PR.

Columbus was a bust last year with the unseasonably warm weather and it felt like forever since I had truly trained for a hard race. It wasn’t so much that I wanted a huge PR, but it felt like it was somehow time to work towards one again.

During summer training, I felt like I’d been fighting a big mental battle because the heat and humidity had made everything feel so hard. There were so many runs that I felt like I was struggling so much with what should feel not-as-hard. This entire year since moving back to Virginia has been an adjustment. First to the hilly terrain, then to the hot summer.

Patrick Henry Half Marathon, Summer 2017
After some of those hot and horrible feeling runs I felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere, but then, later on, I would look back and think, “That didn’t go as bad as I thought.” While I hadn’t planned to race my summer half marathon, it was a strange feeling to run it just to run it while in the middle of training. After having time to reflect on it, I realized that I easily maintained an 8:25ish pace for the entire race on what isn’t a very easy course. Even more, I chatted with my teammate the entire time minus the one long climb at mile 11. I remember running the half in Columbus a few years ago in perfect conditions and coming in at 1:49 and it was so hard, I was gritting my teeth at the finish to get across the line under 1:50.

It was a huge reminder of how far I’ve come as a runner and I started to embrace where I am and stopped looking to where I could/”should” be going next. I follow plenty of blogs of runners claiming they’re working towards something, but their training doesn’t reflect that because they’ve either burnt out or have fallen out of love with training. I realized this summer that I didn’t fall into either of those categories, but I did fall in with them in trying to work towards the next big thing just because that’s where it seems the path should lead. However, something still motivated me to get up super early and get out the door to run. Running is a hobby that I love and I think racing is fun, even if it’s not for a big PR. It’s just that simple.

I don’t believe I am in as good of shape as I was at this time last year. That may be perception and not reality. But in all honesty, I am in better shape than I was at this time two years ago. Simply put, just because I gave up my huge goal doesn’t mean I don’t think I have it in me to PR at all. I’m not baring my soul just to say, “I can’t believe it!” if I PR this fall because I do think I have the ability to do so.

So that’s my goal – simply to PR. Maybe that’s by 2 minutes, maybe that’s by 5 minutes. I plan to go out, run my best based on how I feel, and go after what I think I’m capable of doing after these past 18 weeks. The weather at Chicago is looking pretty warm right now. If the warmer weather takes over me during Chicago, I still have Richmond in November where I can try again if I want.

I can say that my biggest fear going into this race isn’t missing a PR, it’s giving up on myself. I will have to work hard mentally to fight through and push myself in those moments when my brain starts telling me to quit. And that can be really hard. But regardless of the outcome, I’m looking forward to what I am sure is to be an amazing experience.

4 thoughts on “Chicago Marathon: Training Reflection

  1. Hanna

    They can’t all be big PRs.

    It took me a while to realize that when people say that, they don’t just mean the outcome of the race itself. We’re not professional athletes and we can’t give all of ourselves to every 4-month training cycle we decide to take on.

    And why should we? The journey is supposed to be about the breadth of experience. Good races, bad races, surprising races, competitive races, fun races. Training cycles that are about getting into killer shape, and training cycles that are about learning about yourself or connecting with something bigger than yourself. So much of this gets lost in the results-oriented nature of our sport. Ask any experienced runner and they will tell you that no matter what social media says, those training cycles of extreme focus that end with you toeing the start line in the best shape of your life, don’t come along very often. It’s unfair to yourself to expect that every time. If you love to run and train for it’s own sake, keep doing it, and appreciate each training cycle for whatever it ends up being – that’s the real way forward.

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  2. Jennifer @ Dashing in Style

    It sounds like even though training didn’t go as planned, it was still a great cycle. You realized how far you’ve come as a runner, which can be hard to do when you’re focused on the day to day running. You’ve seen fitness gains despite the struggle with heat and humidity. And you’ve been able to adjust your race plans to shoot for a strong race even if it’s not a huge PR. All those are awesome things! I will be thinking of you. Enjoy the experience, and have a great race!

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