Personal Growth Through Reflection.
Today, I want to share an experience that will hopefully resonate with those who feel that disappointment or frustration in the hope it helps them navigate through the emotional rollercoaster that can follow when things don’t go as we had hoped.
Many of you are aware that the Chicago Marathon 2021 was not a fun experience for me (see photos below for enjoyment). I went into the race with high hopes of breaking 2:32 or at least scoring a PR. I’d worked my ass off all summer. I had woken up in the darkness every morning for months on end to get my miles in. I had put my heart and soul into every workout and long run, even when the summer heat begged for me to give in. I had even done my strides, strength work and stretching (yes, even I don’t enjoy them, but I do them). I had turned down delicious cookies, and free beers knowing that race day would reward me. Approaching Chicago race day, I was fit, healthy, and ready. I had deserved this PR.
As race day approached and the weather forecast shifted to 70F+ degrees and high humidity, I was angry. It was like someone had changed the exam at the last minute with no explanation. Suddenly I was being asked to play the tuba instead of the trumpet. It didn’t matter though I thought, I’d trained like never before this, I was going to get my PR no matter what. I’d still play that tube like it was a trumpet, how different could they be? It wasn’t long before things went south. Everything just felt harder than it should have, yet I continued to push through ignoring everything my body was telling me. By mile 18 I was destroyed. My dream was over, I felt cheated, it was so unfair. Only a beer at mile 25 along with seeing my wife and son gave me a reason to smile.
I walked away from that race wounded (literally and figuratively). This wasn’t how it was supposed to go. What pursued was a full blown inquiry. I analyzed my Strava data and training logs for days on end, searching for answers of where it all went wrong. I spent hours and hours reading race reports of others who had failed and (sadly) found comfort in knowing others suffered too. Then I made another bad decision, I signed up for another marathon a few months down the line while still injured. And guess what? That ended in disaster too. Lesson learnt.
Fast forward a year to the Richmond marathon and I was again presented with unexpected weather conditions. This time however, thanks to my experience in Chicago, I adjusted. I didn’t try to play the tuba like a trumpet. Instead, I accepted the new challenge and applied the concepts I knew to make it work as best I could. Here are some of the strategies I applied this time around which I feel helped this race be more successful:
Dedicated 12weeks to base building before beginning my 16 weeks of marathon specific training – This was the least exciting training ever. Lots of easy runs, with the rare low intensity fartlek, hill repeats, or slow tempo run thrown in every couple of weeks. The result? My marathon specific training block was strong. I was consistent and stayed healthy throughout. I was patient.
Minimized my steps the day before the race – Chicago I trekked everywhere (even a 2 mile walk to pick up lunch and back, followed by several hours at the expo. This time I only moved if I had to.
Carried fluids (Maurten drink mix) with me for the first 3 miles – It was annoying, but I knew how important hydration would be in the heat.
Took both Nuun and Water at EVERY aid station – Sometimes I even took an extra water to throw on the back of my neck (a thermal regulator). Although one time I did get water and Nuun confused and threw the Nuun down my back instead (would not recommend). I also took water from spectator tables along the way (THANK YOU!)
Started more conservatively and didn’t panic – I reigned in the pace and kept it relaxed right from the get go. I watched others around me, 20-30 of them, cruise ahead and after a mile I was alone. In the past I had felt pressured to stick with a group from the start, running a marathon alone is daunting. This time I felt confident in myself that I could go it alone and that the pace of those just ahead of me was too quick for my race strategy. Throughout the race I paid more attention to what my body was telling me rather than what pace my watch was showing, at least until the latter stages. I was disciplined.
Ran in the shade – At every opportunity, where legally possible, I reared to the side that was most covered by the shade. Keeping my body cool and out of the sun was important to me.
My Richmond race wasn’t perfect. There was no PR, but from mile 13 onwards, as I went past runner after runner as they faded away, cramped up, and spewed on the side of the road, I knew I’d ran a great race. Running is a journey and this training and race gave me immense satisfaction that I’d grown so much in a year. This is why I encourage you all to reflect on your own training and races and why I send all our athletes a Post Race Reflection Form after each race. PRs are nice but that personal growth is invaluable. I can’t wait to see where this journey takes me next year!
What lessons have you learnt from your training or races?