I’ve reached the point in my marathon training where I wonder: 1. why do I keep signing up for marathons, and simultaneously 2. how I can get so excited by long runs that feel good, that I’m mentally picking out the next race to sign up for.
If you follow me on Instagram, then you know that my 16 mile run last weekend was rough. I was walking before I even finished my first mile, my legs felt heavy, and my body was tired. I really had a hard time with my mental game going into that run and it took its toll on me last Sunday. I was nervous (as I always am) that this was going to be a trend, so I started to think of ways to turn it around for my 18 mile run this weekend.
First things first, I talked to my coach, Jess, to get her thoughts. Looking at my run details in the coaching platform, VDotO2, she said I likely went out too fast. She also suggested breaking my run out into some out and backs rather than one long out and back. I had talked to a few others who had recommended this strategy, but it made me a little nervous because I have a hard time with the mental mind games of seeing my ‘starting point’ over and over. But after thinking through other locations to potentially take my long run, this seemed like the best strategy. Alright, how could I make this work in my favor?
I reached out to friends that regularly run that same trail on Sunday mornings to see if and when they’d be heading out. Maybe we could coordinate it so that I could meet them after my first turnaround? They confirmed that they were going out at 8am. Perfect. I can make this work. My plan was forming so I coordinated a few other tricks to get myself ready.
The night before my run, I packed my hydration pack and laid out my pre-run breakfast so that I could make a quick exit from the house. The trail is about 30 minutes from my place so I didn’t want an excuse to get a late start. I filled my water bladder, threw in some SIS gels, a honey stinger waffle, and a granola bar. I created a new playlist in Spotify. Sometimes I can listen to audio books on long runs but the one I’m currently listening to isn’t a great distraction when I need a good push. Rather than risk it, I mindless playlist (one I’m not familiar with) could be what I needed. Finally I made my tentative plan:
- Arrive to the trail between 6:45 and 7am to get started on my run. Get a few solo miles and turn around to be back to the start by 8:15
- Meetup with my friends that were getting together at 8. Catch them shortly after their start.
- Join them for a couple of miles and then when they turn around, continue onwards until my own turnaround point to ultimately hit my 18 miles.
This plan would only result in two out and backs which seemed mentally manageable.
I set out running on Sunday morning shortly after 7:15am, after arriving and warming up at the trailhead. I figured I could get in about 2.5 miles, turnaround, and be back at the start to meet my friends, getting myself 5 miles to start. This plan worked out perfectly as by the time I caught them, they were just approaching their starting point on the trail. I started chatting with my friend Steph, who I felt like I hadn’t seen in forever, and we just fell into an easy rhythm. I ended up turning around with her and running all the way back to the start, where I was able to grab an energy drink that I had left in my car. I quickly downed it, said ‘goodbye’ to the ladies, and with approx. 10 miles down, set out for my final miles.
My last four out felt generally good. The 4 mile turnaround point took me over one of the larger hills on this rolling trail, so I knew I’d be taking it on twice as I turned around to head back. But it doesn’t compare to the hills at Umstead so I just powered through it. On the way back, I had to start some mental games to get me to the end. Passing people I had run past on my way out, greeting other runners and walkers out on the trail, and running to the beat set on my new playlist. By the time I reached the last few steps to hit my target, I was feeling really good but also totally ready to be done.
Lessons learned: I actually ended up doing 3 out and backs, which I had previously thought would not be mentally possible. After finishing my second set and parting ways with my friends, I had felt so pumped up that it really helped me start my third set strong. Running ‘just’ 8 more miles seemed so much more reasonable. New tunes were also a great addition. I had changed phones in the last few months and never really re-setup my playlists. This has made me rely almost solely on books, podcasts, and every once in a while, just an album of one of my favorite artists. While this can be ok, I recognize that I need to be able to change things up depending on the day and what my goals are. If I’m pushing a little harder, audiobooks can be hard to stay focused on both the content and my own energy levels.
I’m so grateful to have had a strong long run at this stage in the game. I was worried that all of these runs would be a struggle, and while 18 miles will never be easy for me, it’s good to know I can still keep it enjoyable. The marathon distance still isn’t a favorite, but as long as I have these bucket list races like New York and Big Sur that I want to check off my list, then I don’t see them ending anytime soon. The training is the hardest part as the race day has enough distractions all around, so I just need to keep working on strategies to get me through them and feeling good within my own training.
I’m looking forward to the week ahead. I’m teaching just a handful of classes this week, and already have some adventures planned for next weekend that will take me to the trails for my long run.