Saturday’s 18 miler reminded me of something I had forgotten, something that, for me, is the hardest part of running a marathon. Worse than bad weather, worse than being sick, and worse than the blister from hell, is trying to keep running when everyone else is walking. Saturday’s long run reminded me of how much I continue to struggle with this huge mental obstacle.
Our route took us onto the race course of a new half marathon in town. We ran four separate segments, three of which put us right in the middle of the back of the pack walkers. Other than confusing some of the police officers when we veered on and off the course, no one took much notice of us.
There was one segment, however, where I was very much aware of the walkers.
There is a hill around mile 14 of our route that always gets my attention. On this particular day I was feeling pretty tired by the time I got to the hill, and was dismayed to see that it was part of the race course–and everyone was walking up the hill. My goal on that hill is always to not stop, to keep going if it kills me, and I knew it would be tough to block out all the people walking if I was going to make it to the top.
And I did. I put my head down, didn’t look at anyone, and kept going all the way up and beyond to our next water stop. I have to say, though, it was incredibly hard to dig that deep and make it happen. And the strange thing was, I wasn’t worried about that hill at all until I saw all the people walking. There was something about seeing everyone walking that made my brain go into panic mode and doubt that I could make it to the top without walking myself. Running up that hill on Saturday was definitely the hardest part of those 18 miles.
My first two marathons were both extremely windy, warm, and humid. There were lots of walkers, especially the last six miles. I did better in the first marathon than the second one, mainly because I didn’t know any better. The second marathon was only four months after the first, and I hadn’t had enough time to forget how tough it was. When the second marathon rolled around with even worse weather conditions than the first, my heart wasn’t in it. I wasn’t ready for a repeat performance in battling the elements.
Because of the strong headwind and 45 mph wind gusts the entire second half of the race, by mile 21 almost everyone was walking. A strong headwind takes so much out of you, and it was all everyone could do just to push against the wind and make it to the finish line. Michael waited around mile 23 to run me to the finish line, and kept telling me that my pace was still good, trying to convince me I had enough energy and strength left to keep running, but I couldn’t swim against the tide of walkers.
I’ve always known that the mental side of running those last six miles is what I most need to work on, and ignoring the walkers is a part of that. The same thing happened to me in Death Valley. When I’m tired, and see others walking around me, my legs instantly feel 50 lbs heavier and my brain becomes a whining mess.
The only thing that seems to work is to keep my head down, ignore everyone around me, and just keep going.
Stats: 18 miles @ 9:35 pace
Somehow after running the Boston Marathon last year, my blog–and my running life–seemed to run out of steam. It wasn’t so much that I lost interest in things, it was more like letting the air out of the balloon, very, very slowly. Last summer was much hotter than normal, and I ran a lot less because of it. I got slower, and I lost my running spark. Many of my friends were training for the NYC Marathon and I felt cut adrift–and a little sad that I wasn’t going with them. I bailed on running my planned marathon in November and focused instead on training for the Death Valley Marathon this past February (which will be an upcoming blog in the very near future). I struggled to keep up with my training partner on our midweek sort-of-long runs and couldn’t figure out what had happened to my joy of running. Unlike the Lucinda Williams song that laments “you took my joy, I want it back,” I couldn’t just “go to West Memphis and look for my joy.” Mostly I wondered, what is going on with me?
I suppose everyone goes through cycles of good running and bad running, but this was larger than that. I wasn’t depressed, everything just seemed off. It all seemed to go back to Boston. I was extremely disappointed in getting sick days before the marathon, but in the end it wasn’t a big deal. Qualifying for Boston was a bigger deal to me; running the race was the icing on the cupcake. I remember feeling the same way when I graduated from college. I had busted my butt for four years, taking it all so seriously and checking my GPA over and over, only to find myself in cap and gown wondering, that’s it? I wished I had allowed myself to have more fun in college. In hindsight, I think I did the same thing to myself with running. I had pushed myself mile after mile, always trying to get faster and stronger, but I had forgotten to have fun.
So here I am, still looking for my joy. Though I still seem to be struggling with my running, I have made some changes. It’s Spring Break and I haven’t run once the entire week. Some of that is because of my allergies, but most of it is because I just haven’t felt like it. And you know what, I’m not beating myself up for feeling that way. The pre-Boston me would’ve been mortified to take off from running for a week, but the post-Boston me is okay with being an occasional schlub. I have also decided not to run another marathon for awhile. Six is good for now. As a matter of fact, I’m not planning on racing at all. Most, if not all, of my runs will be for fun and at a comfortable pace. My Garmin died about three weeks ago and I have enjoyed running without thinking about my pace every few minutes. I have also bought a pair of Merrell Pace Gloves, which are similar to Vibrams without the five fingers, and enjoy running in almost nothing on my feet. I’ve even run a mile or so barefoot, and loved feeling like a kid again.
Will it all work? Will I be able to return to the days when I couldn’t wait to get home so I could tie up my shoes and hit the pavement? Will I find my joy again? Only time will tell, but chances are good I will, as long as I don’t forget to have fun.