What the perfect race means for goal setting?

When you set goals for a race, you’re told to have A, B, and C goals. A goals are the ones you are training for like a PR, placing in your age group–the ones you can make when you’re feeling pretty good and the weather is great. B goals are times in your ballpark. C goals are surviving with both your legs still attached.

The first year I ran the Sleeping Bear Marathon, my goals quickly spiraled to level C — both legs attached and a passport stamp for every portable potty on the course.

Well, I didn’t get the portable potty stamps. In fact, I had probably the most perfect race I’ve ever had, making those A goals look like C goals.

Training for the race, some of my marathon goals were running the whole race, breaking four hours, and not getting sick on my chosen fuel. Some day I wanted to try to qualify for Boston, but I didn’t think I was ready to attempt that yet.

The weather was perfect that day. I ran the every step. I leap-frogged with a guy who did check out every pit stop.  I passed the woman in first place at mile 19. I broke my previous time by twenty-nine minutes and change, qualifying me for Boston by over five minutes.

Most surprising, I never hit ‘the wall’, I just kept treading along, one step after another, even on the hills.

Whew!

Not only was I too tired to chew my hot turkey sandwich afterwards, I didn’t have any goals left. (I mean qualifying for the Olympic Marathon Trials just isn’t realistic.)

 

Over the next weeks, I wavered between euphoria and confusion. What do I do next? Do I run another marathon? What is there left to prove to myself? It can’t get better than that. Will every other race hurt that much more because I’m comparing it to this one?

So when goals are completed, what do you do next? Quit while you’re ahead or up the ante?

I’m upping the ante, shooting for more marathons and faster times, hoping that at least one more race will feel as good as that one. Never stop challenging yourself.

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Flashbacks

Last weekend I did a half marathon on the course where I did my first marathon in thirteen years. While I was prepared for the distance, I wasn’t prepared for the memories that would find me along the course.
The course followed the bike path around the lake. One lap for 13 miles, two laps for 26. When I did the marathon (my first in 13 years), I expected there would be less people on that second lap and that I would probably be running by myself for most of it. I could handle that. I did most of my training runs alone. It wouldn’t be much different. Right?
Wrong.
The first lap went well. There were lots of runners. The course was beautiful. The weather was perfect. There were spectators everywhere. My husband was biking around to take pictures and fill my water bottle, catching me every mile or so. It was great!
At mile 13, the majority of my running companions siphoned off the course to the finish line and I had to keep going.
In two miles, my kids would be cheering, so I had some motivation to keep going. I was also working on my caffeinated energy gels. Got to keep fueled up and the caffeine gives you an extra boost, right?
Wrong. Well, maybe for you.
I’m not a coffee drinker. In fact, I turn into a carsick hummingbird after a dose of caffeine. Unfortunately, I hadn’t made this connection with my energy gels. I figured my woozy stomach was from lack of fuel and water. (Let’s just say it took months to make this connection rather than days.) So I swallowed more gels. Those last miles were more unpleasant than they should have been. My husband missed me at one of his stops and didn’t catch up until I was 6 miles past him.
As I ran this past weekend, flashes of this race triggered in my head. Seeing the crowds cheering as we came around a corner and tackled a hill. Walking by a house. Walking by another house. Nobody cheering at that corner. The hill where I leap-frogged with another runner who had also adopted a run/walk strategy.  Walked by that house too. This stretch by the park, yes, this is where the swearing started.
As I came through the final mile, I remembered watching the half-marathoners veer to the right and the finish as I turned left and headed for the second lap. Their cheering sections were meeting them to celebrate.  This course ended at a different place. Again I had to keep going. I had lost sight of the runners in front of me and was once again running on my own.
But not really running on my own, I was running with the memories. As I came through that final stretch of the marathon course, some fellow runners who had completed their half were cheering me to the finish. I took that support with me through the last mile of this year’s half.

Loving my running group

I’ve been running since junior high. Catching, throwing, flexibility, or jumping side-to-side to hit a tennis ball aren’t in my areas of coordination, so running is naturally the sport for me. One foot in front of the other, no sudden movements, and no complex play strategies.
Much of my time with runners since then has been with people who are similarly-abled or who have chosen to run competitively. Some of them are very good, even flirting with elite competition. It’s been inspiring to see how hard they work and the levels they achieve. They are using their talents to see how much they can do with it.
I’m similarly inspired by Saturday morning running group. The people there run for many different reasons. They may be chasing a time on the finish clock, but their weekly miles are about more than making themselves a better runner and a healthier person.
They are logging miles or minutes to make their body healthier in response to a family history of heart disease or diabetes. They are there to lose weight that puts them at risk for a host of health problems. They didn’t start running in junior high or high school; they laced up their running shoes for the first time at forty or fifty.
It’s amazing to see how hard they are working to make their lives healthier and how far they have come because they chose to take control of their health and make their lives different.

Loving the Long Runs… on the Treadmill

Long runs are the mainstay of many marathon training plans. They build up each week from 5 to 6 miles all the way to 20 to 22.

That’s a big chunk of time.

It’s wonderful when you can easily carve out those three to four hours on a Saturday or Sunday for that deliciously exhausting long run.

But what to do when you can’t? When your spouse is working and you can’t get a sitter for the kids? When your stomach is acting up and you don’t want to be ten miles from a bathroom when the urge strikes? When the snow is set on sandblast and the wind is coming from all directions at once? When the outdoor temperature is less than your intended mileage?

Well, there’s the treadmill.

I bet that sounds boring. You’d rather be waterboarded.

But if you’re like me, you get twitchy if you can’t cross off your workout on your schedule. So you figure out a way to make it work.

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My training schedule. I don’t like missed boxes.
Here’s some things that work for me:

Running when it’s dark: For some reason, miles on the hamster wheel don’t seem as long when the sun isn’t supposed to be shining.

Intervals: I set a timer alternating between 2 minutes and 3 minutes. When it changes, I bump the speed up or down. It’s not like the effort changes much, but it’s mental. 3 minutes is easier to count down than 200.

Favorite show: I have favorite shows that I only allow myself to watch on the treadmill. Arrow, The Flash, Sharknado. I can watch more episodes the longer I run. I’ve found watching a show also helps with the motion sickness I feel on my next non-treadmill run. If I stare at something that doesn’t move, I’m dizzy for the first few blocks of my next outdoor run.

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The Treadmill Essentials: Darkness, Netflix, and a interval timer
Potty breaks: Make a pit stop, wash some of the sweat off, walk around the house.

A fan: Especially if you poorly place your treadmill (like I have), this is absolutely necessary. I’ve had the hamster wheel directly over the heating vent so the warm air was funneled right in my face. Oops.

These are some of the tricks I used to get through long (and really any run) on the treadmill.

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The hamster wheel timed out twice on this one.

What helps you keep going on the treadmill?

What Keeps Me Going

I’ve had some amazing races and some downright awful races.
Last year I did a marathon that fell decidedly in the latter category. Nothing about it went right. My food intolerances flared. I slept the night before. The inflammation, weakness, and nausea kicked in at mile two. How do you keep going when you know it just isn’t going to be your day?
I prayed, crying out to God for strength. I wasn’t going to get through this on my own.
I set milestones for the race and gave myself encouragement. At eight miles, there wouldn’t be as many hills for a while. At the halfway point, the wind would be at my back.
My husband and kids would appear on the course every mile or so to cheer. That would carry me for a few hundred meters.
At mile 12, I saw someone wearing a sweatshirt from my alma mater. Go Knights!
Earlier in the year, a devastating storm had crashed through the area, taking down trees all along the path. I tried to focus with wonder on the power that could do that. Anything to keep my mind off the pain that burned with every step.
I decided to take walking breaks at mile 14, but my family was there. I couldn’t walk in front of my kids.
At mile 19 that didn’t matter anymore. My husband gave me a hug and I started crying. I wasn’t sure I could go on. The last six miles were full of hills. He dropped the kids off at the bottom of every hill and they pushed me to the top.
Through each stride, I had to find strength somewhere. Each little thing got me a few yards farther down the course.
Sometimes we have big goals, but it’s the little motivations that make them happen.
How do you keep going on tough days?

Where I’m going

My last post was about last year and how the path to my goals didn’t work out the way I planned. Of the three big goals I set for the year, I achieved one and only by the skin of my teeth.

Of course lessons were learned and hopefully I can apply them to this year’s goals and training.

One of the lessons I struggled with was reevaluating goals as time passed. I set a yearly mileage goal of 2,015 miles, which averaged to around 7  miles a day if I took a rest day once a week. However, halfway through the year, I was behind the pace and desperately needed the rest time. I was afraid to take it because it would put me farther behind. (I’m a get it done early type of person, so you can imagine how frantic I was.)

It took another three months until I was willing to let go of that goal. I decided to get as close as I could, but if I could only go a mile on a day, I would be content, knowing that I was trying my best and doing as much as I could.

Maybe that’s when the clarity came… once I gave up the tight focus on how many miles I was going to run, I could see everything more clearly.

I discovered the problem wasn’t fatigue and overtraining, but food intolerance.

For 2016, I decided that a yearly mileage goal was too much. It didn’t allow me to make good decisions about rest when I needed it. It added stress when running is supposed to be my stress reliever. I’m not saying that once November and December roll around, I won’t try for a round number, but that isn’t my focus in February.

So far I have three races planned:
  • A trail half marathon In April with my running group.
  • A marathon at the end of May on a flat and fast course, hoping for a Boston qualifying time.
  • The last race is another trail half marathon with my running group in August. I’ve heard horror stories about the hills on this course. I fully expect to fall on my face at some point.
The difference this year is that I look forward to these races with excitement and fun instead of pressure and exhaustion.
What do you look forward to this running year?

Where I’ve Been

In order to tell you where I’m going, you need to know where I’ve been.

2015 was a rough year for me running-wise. I began January with lofty goals and excitement and food intolerance.

One of those goals was to sort out the food intolerance. Well, after much searching, I discovered a huge list of foods that made morning runs unpleasant, biggest among them: wheat and dairy. Once I had narrowed down my diet, I thought my biggest challenge was over and I could focus on training and the marathons I wanted to do.

Unfortunately something in my diet was still causing problems and not just digestive ones. My legs hurt. My knees hurt. My hips hurt. If I had been blindfolded for a mile, I would have sworn we had gone ten… barefoot… on gravel… uphill. So I stretched; I foam-rolled; I rested; I tried yoga; I took epsom salt baths; but nothing changed.

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My birthday present. It seemed fitting.

Challenges that were tough, but possible at the beginning of the year seemed like defeating Chuck Norris on steroids in October. My goal of running 2,015 in 2015 wasn’t going to happen. Three miles had my muscles screaming, how would I complete the 500 miles I had to go?

Then I gave up my protein shake and I felt better within three days. Something in the shake was adding to the inflammation and food intolerance. Suddenly, I could run again. Running felt amazing, like I was flying, like it was supposed to. There was joy in the movement again. I looked forward to tying my shoes and wrestling with my sports bra, so I could head out the door or turn on the treadmill. With glee, I calculated how many miles I needed each day to make the 2,015. As the end of the year approached, there was even the opportunity for rest days.

So of all the goals I set for 2015, I only achieved one.

2016 will be different.