GOING THE DISTANCE.. talking long races here, building the distance, moving from 10K to ½ marathon, ½ to full, moving to longer distance tris:
As I’ve written previously, I’m taking this year to go back and do some long training and races, most importantly, this spring, Big Sur Marathon.
The long distance races are NO FREAKING JOKE. My first marathon was in 1997, the fall after I graduated from undergrad. I kept with marathons- usually one per year until 2011 when I did Boston. I should go back and do the exact count, but to me the number isn’t important. I’ve learned from each one. I began doing ½ Ironman distance in my 2nd year of triathlon. Again, I learned that this was no joke, but DOABLE! I have only done one Ironman, Lake Placid in 2003. 2.4 miles swim, 112 miles biking and 26.2 running. I had no idea if I really could do this distance. I was so scared and so respectful of this crazy challenge. I trained so hard, so consistently, so focused that by race day…. I realized that the hardest part had really been the TRAINING! And I feel strongly that long races really should always have that feeling. The training should have workouts that just EAT YOU ALIVE sometimes. You should always have some workouts that just crush you, and in that, I mean physically, but also mentally.
The physical crushing will be expected and also unexpected. You will find where your body’s weak points are: maybe in maintaining speed over time, maybe hills, maybe downhills, maybe working on nutrition challenges for the distance. You might find your heart rate elevates after a few hours so much more than predicted, not because of added intensity, but just from the duration and how your body perceives this demand and heart rate drift. You may find your calves are a limiter, your back or hips. You may find that your legs just decide they are now cement. And then it turns mental.
The mental crushing….. You have to overpower the mind to succeed at the long distances. You have to learn perseverance mixed with patience. Patience, mixed with perseverance. Completely intertwined within your heart and every fiber of your being.
Because you WILL have times when you want to stop, when you are SURE that it isn’t an option to continue and that you must….. or that it would be “better for you” if you did walk it out for a bit. This will happen, and may your training have been effective in teaching you the best way to carry on regardless. I know many people who are fine with walking 1 minute out of every 10 in a marathon. I also know many who, if they walk, will NEVER begin running again. There is never one “answer” for everyone. It takes time, trial and error, successes and failures (hopefully in training).
And it is really in the TRAINING.. the days, weeks and months invested in your goals and your SELF that make this possible. That strengthen the mind to overcome. To strengthen the will and resolve to continue each footstep, to continue the positive self talk, to know that there is no way you will allow yourself to not finish. That CANNOT be an option. If you have a doubt in your head, fix it. You cannot doubt yourself, your capability, and your will. There is literally no energy for doubts in these long distance races.
What works for me?
1. Mantras: Like anything else, you need to practice these also in training (and USE them to get through the hardest training days also!) You need to find what works and speaks to your heart, and then channel your trust in these words, their connection to your heart and dreams. I’ve used so many over the years. Some simple, all with something that “hits” me. Examples: “no one said this would be easy”, “I will not stop, I will not stop”(said internally along with my footsteps), reminding myself that what hurts now won’t even be the thing that is bothering me 2 miles further down the road, etc. One of the most helpful questions/ mantras that I have used is, “Are you okay right now?” I hadn’t intended to use this, but I did in Boston marathon. I had gone to the race by myself and it frankly scared me a little bit to know that no one was there for me at the finish line, that even at the finish, I needed to be “on” enough to get myself back to where I was staying, etc! So, I was having massive anxiety in first part of the race up until maybe mile 8, when I was really sick of my own internal jibber jabbering and stressing out.. I literally told myself to SHUT UP and I said, “Sharon, are you okay right NOW.” And I knew that at that moment I was doing what I needed to, perfectly executing, so stop stressing. I kind of used my “yoga” of don’t look forward or backward, but be in this very moment.. not just this mile, but literally the moment. I “let go” of all the bullshit worrying me and ENJOYED the rest of the race! Another thing that really works to me personally, is asking myself, “how hard are you working TRULY?” sometimes, I feel like I cannot go on, but when I am truthful with myself, I realize I am actually FINE, and it is my mind making a big deal and I’m making a mountain out of a molehill in my head.
2. Visualization: this is HUGE and I ask all of the athletes I coach to do this, both in training and for races. If you are an athlete and not practicing visualization, you are missing out. You should be visualizing the pre race atmosphere, your set up, your warm up, things that could happen and how you will deal with them, where you will start, how you will start, what you will use as your mantra, your form, executing your race plan, etc.
3. Training/confidence from training: every single person should keep a training log. Every single person. And, if you are doing your training, the week before the race as well as the night before the race, you should spend some time reviewing all of the great training that you have done. This should be a clear answer to you that YOU.ARE.FULLY.PREPARED. end of story. No doubting yourself.
4. Mental games: This is huge for me. I break up races various ways. For marathons, I sometimes break them up into 1st 10 miles, the next 10 miles done as 2 sets of 5 miles. Then last 10K done as 2x 5Ks. (sometimes this will need to change along the way, and it is okay to do this, nothing needs to be set in stone…. Other than that YOU WILL NOT GIVE UP!).
5. Goals: breakdown of A/B/C goals, smart goals, etc. For every race that I have trained for, I have a “series” of goals. An A goal is what ultimately gets you to complete all of your hard training day in and day out. If you don’t have something big, huge, a bit scary, and maybe past the line of what really can happen, you won’t fully train. It is possible, but, not a given, of course, to achieve this goal. For example, it could be a PR for distance or course. (I never recommend having as a goal to win an age group or place because you never know who else is going to show up!) Your B goal is: OK, halfway through the race you can see your time goal may be way off and A isn’t even possible anymore, Ok, so you have the next best thing that will still really make you happy. Often times in this goal, part of it will be- k eeping mentally strong and positive, being PRESENT fully in the race, knowing that I won’t look back and wish I had done more.
All in all… these big races are beautiful because they are brutal. The finish line is beautiful because of the struggle in the journey. Each race or event has a personal story that you will have so intensely experienced, you will never forget some of the small things that happened. Each race teaches you about yourself, your GRIT, what you are made of and what you are capable of. Which is nothing short of infinite possibility.