Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Well-Read Runner: Changing the End Game

Hola, runners!  I just realized that it's been a rather looooong time since I did any updating on my training for the upcoming Flower City Half Marathon.  With only 24 days til the race (eeeek), I am at the height of my training right now.  It's safe to say that this training cycle has been full of roller-coaster-esque ups and downs.

You may remember that, back in Week 1 of training, I decided to try to go sub-2 (under 2 hours) in this race.  My PR is 2:05, though on a very flat course, whereas Flower City has a substantial hill section in the middle miles.  So I immediately went into heavy training mode: lots of track intervals, lots of tempo runs, lots of hill repeats, lots of race pace training runs.

At first, I was excited for this plan.  I'd never done dedicated hill training before, and it was fun to try.  However, the novelty wore off quick.  I started getting run down, feeling constantly tired, more sore than usual.  I started dreading my runs.

Then, this week, I had a revelation.


This revelation came in 2 parts.  Part 1 happened on Tuesday morning, when my alarm went off at 5:15am for what was supposed to be a 9x400m speed workout.  I DID NOT want to do it.  I was THIS close to just rolling over and skipping the whole thing.

Then I thought to myself..."What if I just go out and run...for fun?  No intervals.  No speed work."

I jumped out of bed so fast, I almost sprained an ankle.

I went out and ran a totally carefree 3 miles.  Didn't even wear my Garmin.  Couldn't tell you what my pace was.  (Okay, I could if I looked it up on Nike + (which I always have on during runs), but I didn't even look at my pace on it afterwards.  So I really couldn't tell you.)  It was an awesome run.

Part 2: Wednesday the alarm went off at 5:15am again.  I had 9 x hill repeats on the schedule.  Nope, didn't want to do that either.  I went out and ran 4.5 miles for fun.  (I have started to LOVE running in the early-morning dark.  So quiet!  So peaceful!)  It was amazing.

It was during this second run that I had a serious mental talk with myself.  Do I REALLY want to run Flower City sub-2?  And if so, why?  I've run 3 half marathons so far, and at all 3, I have felt HORRIBLE at the finish line.  I'm not talking mentally (I've PR'd each time, which is a mental boost), but I mean physically--I felt like I wanted to puke.  I don't enjoy any of my post-race time because I'm so busy trying to keep myself from vomiting that I just want to go home and lie in a dark room.  After my last one (Winter Warrior), I finished the race at 6pm and ended up on my couch feeling like gastrointestinal death until 11:30pm.  I remember standing in line for my medal and willing myself not to be sick on the person in front of me.  Yes, I PR'd.  Was it worth it?  Is that what I want a race to feel like every time?

Some would say yes.  I mean, look at Shalane Flanagan at the Olympic marathon trials last month.  Girlfriend collapsed at the finish line.  She left EVERYTHING out on the course.  It was epic, phenomenal, inspirational.  But you know what?  That was for a spot in RIO.  I am not going to Rio anytime soon.  Like, not even on vacation.
This was an incredible finish to watch!! (Photo credit
I thought about the first "big" race I ever did.  It was the Boilermaker 15K back in 2008.  I had only started running in 2006, and had never done anything beyond a 5K up to that point.  My husband and I trained using a beginner Hal Higdon program.  It didn't call for any speed work--just putting in the weekly miles.  We had no Garmin.  We had no Nike +.  We just did our miles and high-fived every time we completed a training run.

You know what?  By my current standards, my Boilermaker time sucked.  1:44.  Roughly 11:09/mile.  But you know what else?  I.DID.NOT.CARE.ONE.BIT.  I ran 9.3 miles without stopping!!  On an 85 degree day!!  I got to enjoy free beer and cookies at the finish with my husband!  It was a freaking awesome day.
Went back in the archives for this one! Boilermaker 2008.  It was SO hot.  But I had SO much fun.
So I thought hard about my goals during this week's Wednesday morning run.  In the age of social media, it is easy to lose sight of what you REALLY want.  I follow a lot of running bloggers, and I love them--they are insanely inspirational, they give me new ideas for training, recovery, and racing all the time--they are amazing.  However, 99% of them are following strictly laid-out training plans for races almost all the time.  And it's easy, when you're reading their blogs and following their Instagrams and perusing their Tweets, to think that that's how running has to be all the time.  Hit it hard, #tracktuesday like a boss, leave it all on the road, and keep chasing those PR goals.

But maybe...the PR isn't MY current, deep-down goal.  I know, what a thought, right?

After thinking long and hard, here are my TRUE goals...the ones that I know would make me happiest on April 24th:

1. Finish with a smile on my face.  A smile that shows the fun I had on the course, and that shows how happy I was to run strong without making myself physically miserable.  I mean really--I JUST RAN 13.1 MILES!  That's something to really and truly smile about!
One of the only race photos that I have of me a 5K, during which I did not check my pace once. I felt great...and I PR'd.  Coincedence?
2. Run the whole race without stopping to walk.  I know this may not seem like a big deal, but in all 3 of my past half marathons, I overdid it so much in the early miles that I had to walk in the later ones...even though I've almost NEVER had to walk during a training run.  Again, this is all because I push too hard during the race and burn out.  I don't want to do that this time.  I know I can run 13.1 miles without stopping--I KNOW it.

3. Run without my current pace showing on my Garmin.  I still want to wear it because it's fun to look at my race stats after the run is over, but I don't want to look at my pace during the entire race.  I want to run a comfortably strong pace.  If I feel like I'm overdoing it, I'll slow down.  If I think I have some gas left, I'll speed up.  End of story.
The only race pic of me at Winter Warrior...yup, checking my darn Garmin!!
4. Run the kids 1/4 mile run with Small Fry afterwards, and be able to enjoy it.  I've been so afraid that by trying to sub-2 this race, I will end up in Wanna Vomit Land again after the finish, and not be able to have fun with Small Fry when he races later.  I don't want that to happen.

So that's that.  I've decided that the last 24 days of my training will focus on mileage, not speed or hills.  I'll still put in the miles--long runs will continue as usual, and I'll still be running 3 weekdays in between them.  But it's time for me to find the fun in running again--and I think that means taking a step away from the limit-pushing.  It's time for me and the road to become buddies again, not adversaries.  I run because I love it...but for me (at least right now), loving it does not include constantly trying to reach that next level.  Sometimes, the level I'm on is just fine.

Maybe I will PR anyway (I PR'd in the 5K last September when I didn't care about my pace at all--another very telling situation).  Maybe I'll be slow as molasses.  But I'm determined to have a GREAT race day, no matter what.

Runners, have you ever struggled with your training goals?  Do you ever find it hard to focus on your true goals when social media barrages you with everyone else's?  What would you say was the most fun race you ever completed?


  1. I love this post! And I wonder if you'll end up PRing once you've released the stress and pressure of trying to PR! I'm in a little bit of the same place with signing up for my summer triathlons. Am kind of dreading the strict training and am a little burned out with it all....but am considering just entering a race or two for fun and bagging the strict training plan.
    Also - I know I owe you an Olympics email - we were traveling last week and I'm catching up on everything - I haven't forgotten, just a little slow!

    1. I wouldn't be surprised if that does happen (though also not upset if it doesn't)! It's funny, I am running my first full marathon in September, training starts in May and I find myself looking SO forward to it because I am going into my first marathon with no time goal. No time goal = no speed work. Just putting in the miles. That's the kind of training I want right now!
      And no problem on the Olympics email, whenever you get time! :)

  2. Sounds like a plan to me!

  3. I love EVERYTHING about this post. I feel the same way!!! There have been many times when training for races that I realize that I am hating everything about running. I don't want to ever lace up my shoes. Then I have to reevaluate my goals. I'm not a fast runner, so now matter how much time I put into it, I won't be getting sub 2 hours. Heck, in my last half marathon I came in last (granted I limped most of it with a bad flare up of planters fasciitis, but still.....). And after my last 2 half marathons I had to pull over in the car on the way home because I was so sick to my stomach. I began to wonder why the heck if was doing these long distance runs. My body revolts in every way that it can. Ever since that race in November I've been focusing on 5k distances and I've been enjoying running again! Last fall I actually signed up for a 10 mile race at the beginning of June and now I'm kicking myself for it. I don't want to do distance running right now, but I will because I set that goal for myself. After that.......running for fun ALL the time!
    I hope you do awesome at the race and you are happy however it turns out. I bet you'll do amazing!

    1. So glad this post also resonates with others! I have also thought about moving my fast-paced training to the 5K and 10K distances. Based on how my last year or two of races has gone, I think I'd be better served (as far as my own running happiness goes) by pushing the envelope on speed in those races, and then doing 15K and up for fun. For whatever reason, I just don't think my body agrees with heavy speed training for races past 10K. Even so, I still love doing them for the feeling of accomplishment they bring. So I think the answer for me is to keep them on the schedule but realize that the training has to change.
      Thanks for the well wishes! And good luck with all of YOUR upcoming fun races!! :)

  4. Those were all my goals for my last 2 Chicago marathons. I completely achieved them (along with a PR) in 2014. Last fall was tougher because the weather was a bigger factor for me (it was warm). But I still had fun and had my post race beer. Because if I'm feeling too ill to have a beer, then the whole thing was not worth it!

    1. SO TRUE!! I had a free beer coupon for the finish line of the Mystic Half last year, and couldn't use it because of my unruly stomach. What a bummerrrrrr.

  5. Most of us missed the beer because the couldn't serve before 11!!

    1. Okay yes, that was also a huge issue. Hahaha. Gotta love CT alcohol laws!!

  6. This year I decided to just run for fun. I was starting to dread running and I didn't like the idea of that as running is my anxiety drug of choice. So I've been focusing on coaching, just running to run, and my spending time with running buddies. It's helped me get back to a good place. Sometimes I catch myself comparing my current runs to ones where I was better trained, but then I slap myself out of it and move forward.

    1. That is awesome to hear. That's EXACTLY the spot I want to try to get to. It's been nice to lay off the speed training, definitely a step in the right direction for me, mentally. However, I still find it hard to completely forget about pace (after being focused on it for so long). I know I will get there eventually, but it's an effort! I am definitely enjoying my runs more now though, even with a few little changes in perspective.

  7. "I'm not going to Rio, not even on vacation." Loved that. So much of this resonates. I'm struggling hard right now too. I'm trying to hit all the training days and improve the times but life just gets in the way. I find when I focus so hardcore on the training and loss sight of the fun that's when I get injured.

    1. Agree! I started having all these issues with my Achilles when I was hitting the training hard and getting mentally frustrated. Then I backed off and so did the pain. I'm really in awe of elites who can run such insane mileage and not fall apart (though they do get injured quite a bit too, but still)...I feel like I increase my mileage even gradually and my body starts to fight it.

  8. My iPad wigged out while I was typing my comment, it was easier to do this in two parts. It's so hard to not compare yourself to everyone on the Internet (or even your much faster friends) but I find I do my best when I have soft goals not "I have to be the best everyday or else be a failure" goals. I doubt I'll ever see sub-2 with that attitude, and that's just fine by me.

    1. Yes, that's the type of mental change I want to be able to make. It has been a huge stress reliever to adjust my goals for Flower City, though I'll admit it's been hard to completely stop paying attention to pacing after being in the habit for so long. And I would eventually like to train for sub-2, I just think it needs to be at a time when my non-running life is less hectic (will that ever happen?? haha).

  9. Your post hit home for me- I'm a runner (and a book lover, duh!) and I treasure my super early morning peaceful runs. Rediscovering the "why" I run can be so freeing- especially when I've been in a funk for whatever reason. So I gained 10 pounds, so my pace dropped by 1+ m/m. Who cares? It's such a gift to just be able to walk out the door and move the way I want to- so many cannot. I did Flower City last year and it's such a beautiful course/tour of the city- I hope your new plan brings you success and that you get a smiling finish line photo and a fun run with your kiddo :-)

    1. Yes, agree!! Ever since I started to worry less about pacing, I find myself feeling a lot more gratitude during my runs--gratitude for the ability to just be out there, enjoying the morning and strengthening my body. It's nice to get back to those basics!

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