There are 67 days to go until the Boston Marathon. Each day that the time ticks down leaves me feeling just a little more nervous, but I feel like I’m finally hitting my stride in this training cycle. It feels a lot different than when I was training for Berlin last year and I think for a while I was expecting the two cycles to feel the same, but I’ve realized now that I’m chasing bigger goals in different weather conditions that things are bound to feel different.
I am scheduled to run a half marathon on March 17th in Cary, Illinois. The March Madness Half Marathon is touted as the most challenging half marathon in Northern Illinois and for good reason – the hills are intense and keep on coming. I’ve run the course twice now this cycle for training runs and fortunately the second time was better than the first which means I’m improving, but it’s scary to think I’ll be trying to race on the course in just over a month. I don’t feel ready yet. While I never expected to PR at this race because of how challenging the course is, even if it was flat I don’t think I’m in PR shape. It’s then I realize that I’ve only truly been training for Boston for the last month and in just a month’s time so much has changed and my body has been adapting. After running the course last weekend I came home and told Ross, my husband, that I was so tempted to ditch the race and sign up for another half marathon happening the same day on a much flatter and faster course in the south suburbs. “I need a confidence booster,” I said. “Last cycle I had the August half marathon in Minnesota where I PR’d just 6 weeks before Berlin and it gave me so much confidence going into the marathon.”
I explained this to my coach last night on a phone call and something she said to me has stuck with me since. “You’re going to be training at paces slower than you’re used to because of the hills you’re running on. The half marathon will be a good test of your effort over the hills which is similar to what you’re going to encounter in Boston. You won’t be paying attention to your pace as much as you’re going to have to be paying attention to your effort on each section of the course to run a smart race.” This is why we have coaches, friends. They give us tiny nuggets of advice like this that remind us that we’re doing just fine and the plan will work. I do notice changes happening already. When I ran a stride workout last week on a flat course, I was cruising after doing all my runs on hilly routes. 7:22 pace overall for 6 miles felt nearly effortless and it is runs like that that will build my confidence. Just this week I ran a hilly speed workout over 9 miles averaging close to my goal marathon pace and by the end things were feeling really comfortable and I unintentionally ran my “cool-down” at marathon effort over hills.
It’s hard for me not to have check-ins this go around like I did when training for Berlin. What helps me is to gain confidence from reading last year’s journals and analyzing data from the paces I was running this time last year. I’ve definitely grown and improved as an athlete and am starting at a different place than I was at the start of 2018. I’m starting to look at the positives of the Cary half coming up – the first couple miles start off on a downhill just like Boston will so it’ll force me to run a strategic race to not burn myself out before getting to the hills. I’ll have to learn how to work downhills and conserve for uphills and this knowledge of tactical racing will serve me well on Boston’s challenging course. Every marathon and half marathon I’ve raced to date has been relatively flat so this isn’t something I’ve had to deal with before so in a sense I’m growing as an athlete by expanding my capabilities.
I know the hardest weeks are ahead of me in February and March but I think over the last couple of weeks I’ve finally shook the funk that I started with at the beginning of this training cycle. A super low mileage October and November made December a challenge getting back into shape post-injury but it’s amazing how quickly our fitness returns once our body is healthy and we consistently complete workouts. I’m staying the course, trusting the process (and my coach), and will keep showing up every day because that’s all I can ask of myself.
Here’s what I plan to work on over the next few weeks in my own training: