Race week is here and the excitement is building. So far the weather looks really nice in Eugene and my body is feeling equally as good with the taper. This cycle was one of the more turbulent ones I’ve had and it’s left me with mixed emotions heading into race week on where my fitness is at. I’m in shape to PR (sub-3:07), the question is just how in shape is that and how in shape is my mental game to let me get there.
This cycle and year began tragically, suddenly losing my uncle after having seen him for Christmas just a week before. My mom’s side of the family is small, it was just us and his family, and this grief hit harder than any grief I’ve experienced before, and continues to from time to time. This training cycle became dedicated to him and when things got really hard, it’s the reason I kept showing up because I reminded myself just how lucky I am to have a healthy body and a mind that chooses to do this when so many don’t have that privilege.
In late February, my goal marathon, The Illinois Marathon, announced that it would no longer be hosting its signature event, the 26.2 distance. I was in the middle of a 20-mile run on the treadmill (winter snow and ice) that was going horribly when I got the email and called it quits at 12 miles. I’ve been open about the fact that I considered stopping training at this point, but something inside me became more and more infatuated with the idea of running the Eugene Marathon which was on the same weekend and had been on my bucket list for awhile. Because the course topography was similar, my training wouldn’t need to change and could continue as planned.
Winter was relentless this year. As someone who does not like winter running, it was challenging to continue to train in big jackets, fleece-lined tights, wool socks, and ski mittens through most of March and even half of April. What was lucky was getting the opportunity to race The Shamrock Shuffle in March on a beautiful day in Chicago; this experience gave me a lot of confidence that I was fit and would show it on a good weather day and the spark I needed to keep moving and working hard.
At my goal half marathon in Carmel the second week of April, we were greeted with snow, sleet, and strong 15 mph winds that did not make for PR conditions. I was hoping going into this tune-up to get a good read on where my fitness was at for Eugene, but it just left me with a lot of doubts after my high hamstring tendonitis (a recurring issue that has pretty much gone away but resurfaced in the cold at a high intensity effort) flared up and I basically jogged the back half of the course in finishing in 1:32 (a time in the past I would have been happy with but not reflective of the kind of shape I was in this year). I walked away knowing I did everything I could in that race given the conditions, but it didn’t make it any easier not knowing if the goals I set out for myself at the beginning of the cycle were realistic anymore since we didn’t get good feedback from this race.
It’s safe to say I wasn’t having as much fun with training as I usually do, but the marathon is like that sometimes. It’s a long distance and training can eat you up and spit you out sometimes. In 2019 I had what I consider a breakthrough year, taking a total of 21-mins off my marathon time from the beginning of the year to the end (3:28 to 3:07) and was feeling so strong. Prior to 2018 I had gone through a plateau so I had a feeling this big breakthrough would also be met with a bit of a plateau to make the next big leap, but that doesn’t mean it was any easier on me to go through it even though I knew what I might expect. That’s part of training – it takes the body time to absorb training and so big leaps don’t happen every training cycle and are the result of stacking healthy cycles back to back which is what has kept me coming back for more every time.
The last week has been fun with the weather changing and seeing a glimpse of fitness I haven’t seen for a long time. It makes me confident that a PR is in the cards with the right conditions and right mental headspace this weekend, although it might not be the sub-3 performance I was hoping for when I first started this cycle. You have to do the work to get to your goals and while there were many good excuses for why things didn’t always go perfectly in workouts, at the end of the day good excuses and bad excuses are the same in that they don’t move the needle on our goals. Is it possible I’m in sub-3 shape and I’m just not fully believing it? Yes, it definitely is. But that belief in ourselves is essential in our ability to go after our goals, as my coach has continued to remind me. The quote I’ve been keeping at the forefront of my mind this last week is, “doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will.”
I find myself with mixed emotions this week. Excited because I know I’m in shape for a strong marathon and that I’ll get to be in a racing environment again with lots of friendly faces around. Optimistic for what this means for future cycles. Proud that I continued to fight these last few months and that I’m showing up healthy and fit. A little conflicted on how I want to race on Sunday. For now the focus is on closing these last few days out strong and showing up to the starting line Sunday ready to work hard and do something that scares me.
A few overall thoughts on the cycle…
Things That Went Really Well This Cycle
- Nailing my nutrition: I worked with Meghann Featherstun of Featherstone Nutrition and learned so much about how to fuel my body especially pre and post-run. I eat before all of my runs now, no matter how short or easy, and make sure to eat within 30 minutes of finishing a run and my recovery times have greatly improved.
- Strength training: I am in the process of obtaining my NASM CPT certification so it was neat to write my own strength program this training cycle. I was consistent doing 3 days/week of heavy strength training in the first half of marathon training when mileage wasn’t as high and 2 days/week once my mileage was much higher.
- Staying healthy: I never had to take any days off due to injury or illness. There was the occasional shuffling of workouts for one-off things like feeling nauseous but I stayed healthy this entire training cycle. The only flare-up I had came in my half marathon where my hamstring got really tight in the cold and snow; it resolved after a few days and I didn’t have to take time off (I’ve dealt with this before and knew what it was so a week of easy running did the trick). Staying healthy had a lot to do with good nutrition, good sleep, strength training, and a smart periodized training plan.
- Hitting my highest mileage weeks/months: I set a goal at the beginning of the cycle with my coach to hit a 70-mile week during training. We hit 70 and 71 during this cycle and I ran my highest mileage month in March of 266 miles! Expanding my aerobic base was something I thought I was an area of improvement for my training and it was neat to see that my body could handle it and responded well to it, too.
Things That Didn’t Go as Well This Cycle
- Mental game: Ever since the pandemic, I’ve had a really tough time getting back into the groove of being comfortable with things hurting again with marathon training. Taking almost 2 years off from racing a marathon left me out of practice with being in the pain cave and I’ve been working on getting my mental game back ever since. I psyched myself out of a lot of paces in this sub-3 attempt because they seemed so scary on paper; my coach reminded me that when you get to these paces the majority of the difficulty actually comes from your mind allowing you to believe you’re capable. I believe that more than ever after this cycle.
- Long run workouts: In the past, long run workouts have given me a lot of confidence going into race day being able to hit goal paces in the middle of being on tired legs. This cycle I had no long runs or long run workouts that ever fell on good weather days; it’s no secret this winter was never-ending and as someone who does not fare well in the cold (I’ve gotten the early stages of hypothermia in 2 marathons I’ve run so far – my body just doesn’t handle cold well), it was really challenging to keep showing up knowing I’d likely have a problem breathing (thanks, asthma) and to never feel strong in these workouts. I had several long run pace workouts where I bailed out on the pace work itself and just ran mileage.
I look forward to sharing more after the race this Sunday! It has been one of the most challenging training cycles I’ve tackled to date, but I am so happy I stuck with it because I’m fit and ready to run my heart out this weekend in what looks to be a beautiful day to race.