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Marathon Lessons {the ponytail diaries}

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Grab a drink and get comfy, this one’s a doozy.

If you’ve been following along, you know that I set a big goal last fall to run a marathon in under 4:00. And that I didn’t succeed at the Carlsbad Marathon.


Now what?

I’m proud that, at least, I didn’t collapse in a tantrum or succumb to a down-on-myself-hate-spiral after the finish line. After all, I hit my “C” goal. (Though, to be honest, from miles 22-25, my “C” goal turned into just. fucking. finish and even that was looking pretty iffy.)

And I’m really proud that I learned a couple things — about running, about marathoning, about myself — that (I think) I’ve actually internalized and will, know you, apply going forward. Such as…

I am not a marathoner.The biggie. I find it weird I’m actually struggling with this a little bit. In high school and for most of college, running a marathon was never in my plans. I loved cross country and track, but 26.2 miles just seemed excessive. I used to make jokes about how stupid it was to run a race that commemorates a distance run by a Greek guy who dropped dead when he finished.

Then I started…well, reading running and “healthy living” blogs. And saw allllll these girls — with less experience in running than I have — running marathons and just loving them and saying how amazing and inspiring and motivating they are. And I thought, “well, if they can, I should too.” So I signed up for a half marathon, another half marathon, a couple more, and then finally signed up for the San Luis Obispo Marathon in 2012.

Just the fact that it’s been almost three years should tell you how enthusiastic I was about the distance after that. I signed up for Carlsbad, in part, because over the years, I’ve moved on from “regular” running blogs to ultrarunning blogs. These insane people make running 20, 30, 50, 100 miles on trails all at once. And I’ve recently (re)discovered my love for trail running and then I started thinking, “hey, maybe I should start trying ultras!”

But I remember how easily I got injured training for SLO and how hard it was to get motivated to do those long runs, so I figured I’d try another marathon to see how my body handled it.

I forgot to consider how my mind and psyche would handle it.

I hate those crazy long runs on weekends. Hate them. I’m so jealous of runners who are all “whee! there’s nothing better than spending five or ten or more hours each weekend running!” but that’s so not me. I’m more like “Ugh, I have so much else to do. This is gonna take how long? I’m literally spending an entire football game running. What the hell.” I’m good for about two hours — 10-12ish miles — tops. Then I start questioning my life choices.

So I’m coming to terms with the fact that sticking to 5Ks, 10Ks, and half marathons doesn’t make me “less” of a runner in any way. Lauren Fleshman’s enthusiasm for the 5K aside, you can’t ignore the fact the most of the media and messages geared towards hobby runners push MARATHON MARATHON MARATHON.

And I’m still not writing off marathons entirely. I still want to run NYC — but if I do that one, I’m planning to take at least an hour per borough (meaning five, minimum). No stress about running for time or finishing, but plenty of dance breaks, high-fiving spectators, and photo ops. (That’s if I can get over the $200+ registration fee and travel costs.) And I still want to run Boston. But that brings me to…

Training and pace groups are your friends.If I run any marathon ever again (especially if I go for a BQ), I am 100% getting a coach or dedicated marathon training group. And I am 100% finding a pacer or using the race’s designated pace group.

Do I think I’m capable of going sub-4:00 or under 3:35 (current Boston qualifying time for women my age)? Yes.

Do I think I’m capable of that completely on my own? Maybe not so much.

I absolutely would not have made it to Mile 21.5 on pace at Carlsbad without the race’s pace group. It was amazing how much easier it was to run when I wasn’t wasting any mental energy trying to stay on or hit a certain pace, wondering whether I was going too fast or too slow, not knowing how bad the hills would be, or wondering where the next aid station was. I just ran exactly as fast as the person next to me and let the group leaders tell us that there was an aid station with Gu coming up in half a mile.

If I could find such a person, I’d love to get a friend or training buddy to pace me in the future so we can plan a pace strategy around my strengths — like I think I might’ve done better going for a positive split than an even one (meaning, start slower than a 4:00 hour pace and gradually speed up).

And, while I’ve developed the discipline to get out and run on my own more days than not (compared to high school Allison), I’m still working on the discipline to train — to execute workouts and hit certain paces. So for something as major as a marathon, I would feel way more comfortable trusting a coach or training group to keep me on schedule. And having a group to run those long runs with might make them bearable…maybe?

You have to love doing the work.No-brainer, right? Every business coach in the freaking world preaches “you have to do the work.” You have to stop planning, stop brainstorming, stop thinking about it and actually do it. That’s great and all, but to succeed long-term, you have to be able to find some enjoyment in the inevitable drudgery of that work. You have to either want to outcome badly enough you’re willing to go through the misery or you have to find some sort of enjoyment in digging those trenches.

This is why I’ll never be a columnist for Sports Illustrated — because you have to put in the work of working a team beat for years before you get the chance to writing opinion columns instead of game recaps, and I have no desire to live the life of a beat writer. All that travel, the insane deadlines, the late nights, the round-the-clock social media monitoring to break the next big story? Hell to the no.

And I just don’t want marathon “success” enough to want to or enjoy those long runs.

So now? Onward…to a sub-20:00 5K.