Reflections on Four Years of Running
Thursday, June 13, 2013
Four years ago this month, I ran my first race, a 5K "fun run." I signed up for that race strictly as motivation for my weight loss exercise plan. It never occurred to me that I would (almost instantly) love it so much or that those 3.1 miles would change my life so completely.
One month later, I had discovered Jeff Galloway and was training for a marathon.
My evolution as a runner has been interesting. My goal for that first marathon was just to finish. I ran with a Galloway group and almost always at a comfortable pace. That was absolutely the right strategy, although the long runs were still challenging because they were SO long. My goal for the first marathon was to finish in 5 hours, which I did (4:59). I trained for 6 months and ran 26 miles in training before the race. But even so, while the first 20 miles of the race felt good, the last 6 were challenging. With the naiveté of a beginning runner, I figured that with more training, those last 6 miles would get easier AND I would get a lot faster in races.
Not quite. You sort of have to choose between those two -- "get easier" (yes, if you run at training pace); "a lot faster" (only if you can maintain your peak pace by dealing with a lot of discomfort). Training doesn't make marathon peak runs easy; it just makes them possible.
Now, discomfort is NOT pain (always, always slow down or stop if you feel pain). And it is not exhaustion that makes your form deteriorate (that's when most runners get injured) or prevents you from recovering before the next run. But it does mean that the run isn't "easy" and quite frankly not really fun at the time.
Once I realized the truth of this (after about marathon #4), I wasn't sure if I really wanted to embrace that level of discomfort. Plus I had issues with my feet that had to be addressed first. It took me at least a year after marathon #4 to re-embrace my goal to qualify for Boston. All I can say is that, for some strange reason, discomfort doesn't feel quite as uncomfortable as it used to. That is definitely a "brain" thing. It takes time. I'm glad I haven't rushed the process.
I have set small goals along the way. The first one was just to run a marathon without slowing down in the last 6 miles (at whatever pace I had to choose to make that possible). Next was to speed up in the last 3 miles (which meant going slow enough in the beginning to have gas at the end). After that, extending (gradually) the number of miles I could sustain at race pace. (I still haven't quite made it all the way to 26.2). These goals have made it possible to feel a sense of accomplishment, even though I haven't reached that BQ pinnacle yet.
I guess my point is that there are lots of ways to make running interesting and lots of different kinds of goals that allow you a sense of accomplishment. That, in the end, is what makes it fun for me. It really is about the journey.