A Different Kind of Training
I'm writing this on a Friday night after a 15 mile run. My legs are softly aching, a feeling that lingers a few hours after a long run. My eyes are exhausted, but my body is still buzzing. I'm worn but invigorated.
This run is probably my longest since 2013. It took me from the Financial District up the west side to 100th street—and right back down. I usually hate out-and-backs, but it's hard to avoid them in the city. Plus, who knew Jersey could be such a looker as the sun is setting on the Hudson...!
Right now I'm training for my third marathon: New York.
I stumbled into marathons by accident. As the story goes, I had always been a middle-distance runner, comfortable doing 800's around the track and capping 'long runs' at five miles. One morning back in 2012, I was coerced to join my friend Jocelyn on her 20-mile training run. I said I would try to run the first eight miles with her, as long as she promised to go slowly.
I ended up running the entire 20 miles and a few days later she bought me a marathon entry for my birthday. I was TRAPPED.
My first race was Wineglass Marathon in upstate New York. My "training" rightfully deserved quotation marks around it; it was a hodgepodge of slow runs, speed work, and a bit of yoga. I didn't follow a plan and I probably ran no more than 30 miles a week. I think I ran two long runs, 18 miles at best, and then got injured six weeks before the race and took two weeks off. At that point, I wasn't even sure I'd cross a starting line, let alone a finish line.
By fate, karma, or some power of the reallllly kind gods, Wineglass ended up being a perfect day. I went out conservatively, negative-split, and felt amazing for the first 21 miles. The last five were incredibly tough, probably because I hadn't really tested my endurance, but in a blur crossed the line in 3:38:02—a number I had never dreamed of.
That night I signed up for my second marathon in Eugene, Oregon. This time I took a completely different approach to training: I, uh, actually trained. I began in mid-January, and pushed myself through a hellish 16 weeks of actual long runs, dynamic warmups, ab workouts, fartlek and tempo runs, and strength sessions. I don't think I skipped a day or altered my training once. The plan I printed and taped to my wall became this thing that had some sort of weird power over me, and which I couldn't betray. I sucked it up and smiled my way through the winter, though secretly I felt like my body was falling apart. My heart really wasn't in it, but I wanted to prove to somebody (perhaps myself) that I could run a fast 26.2.
You can imagine how the race went. I ended up running 3:33:37, less than four minutes faster than my first marathon, though with a million-zillion more miles under my belt. I felt terrible the whole time, going out way too fast and actually hitting the wall by mile 15. I remember searching for twigs on the ground I could "trip" on and fall so I could stop running. I felt ridiculously woozy and nauseous the whole time, and trudged across the finish line with nothing left in me but a tiny bit of strength to hobble to the medical tent.
I kind of swore I would never run another marathon.
In fact, I wrote about it on Greatist, spilling the beans that "yeah, training and running a marathon actually really sucked."
But here I am—back to long runs, long foam rolling sessions, and long days of sore muscles and an uncontrollable appetite (I've been eating appx 12 meals a day, #swimsuitseason).
At first I wondered why I was even "putting myself through it" again. Part of me thought it was because it was the NYC Marathon, a race I have been trying to run since 2012. I also BQ'd in my last marathon, but still didn't get into Boston, so perhaps there's an itch to truly earn my way to that starting line. Or maybe it's simply because I don't know how to slow down, and training for a marathon def helps people avoid having free time.
But maybe ... just maybe ... it's because my relationship with running and racing has really healed, and I'm going to be a level-headed adult about this whole training thing.
My approach this year is kind of a mix between marathon #1 and marathon #2. I'm still sticking to long runs, since I know how important they are for building endurance and having enough juice to bang out those final six miles. I'm also adding yoga, speed work, and strength into my week, in addition to shorter runs.
BUT, I am not following a training plan at all. In fact, I have no idea how many miles I ran this week unless I decide to do the math. (..... 31...). Instead, I'm trying something kinda crazy called Listening To My Body and Just Having Fun, where I'm making sure I get enough mileage in during the week, but also simply waking up and seeing what I actually feel like doing.
My hope is this takes some of the pressure off and puts my head in the right mindset to enjoy the ride and feel strong. My only hope for this marathon is this, in fact.
I don't want to care if I run a 3:25 or a 3:45 (admittedly still working on that). I do want to care if I'm feeling healthy & calm enough to take this training cycle on in stride, and love it along the way.
...we shall see!