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Creating the Marathon Mindset: October’s Training Journal

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“In football, you might get your bell rung, but you go in with the expectation that you might get hurt, and you hope to win and come out unscathed.  As a distance runner, you know you’re going to get your bell rung.  Distance runners are experts at pain, discomfort, and fear.  You’re not coming away feeling good.  It’s a matter of how much pain you can deal with on those days.  It’s not a strategy.  It’s just a callusing of the mind and body to deal with discomfort.  Any serious runner bounces back.  That’s the nature of their game.  Taking pain.” – Mark Wetmore, head coach of the Colorado University Cross Country team.

The quote above is from one of my favorite running books: Running with the Buffaloes by Chris Lear. It summarizes a lot of the self-inflicted suffering that runners deal with frequently. I felt like I did a lot of that in October…

October was the last month of hard training before I race the 2011 Philadelphia Marathon. Philly will only be my second marathon and I hope to improve on my 2:44:38 personal best from New York in 2008.

This training journal has the big picture stuff – total volume, brief workout summaries, and races – but only brief summaries. I want to spend more time talking about physical and mental struggles that I dealt with this month. Hopefully you can learn from my hardship

I had a few good failures this month, notably a tempo workout that absolutely sucked and missing two days of training because I was traveling to see friends and family. But I try not to let that bother me and just continue on with my plan. Luckily, I had a great time with friends in NYC and family in Chicago. I even got to see a 30 foot tall statue of Marilyn Monroe in downtown Chicago.

Marilyn Monroe in Chicago

October by the Numbers

Mileage: 345

Training days: 29 / 31

Long runs: 21, 21, 18 (race), 22. Medium-long runs were in the 14-15 range.

Workouts: 8k tempo in 27:58, 40′ progressively faster tempo, 4 mile MP tempo at the end of a 21 mile long run in 23:28, 4 mile tempo in 22:51, 29:40 MP tempo, 8k MP tempo at the end of a 22 mile long run in 29:27.

Most of the tempo runs were done in the middle of a 15 mile run, adding to the aerobic stimulus of the workout. Running fast when tired is a huge component to my marathon training philosophy and something that I try to work on frequently.

Races: Half-marathon in 75:07 on a hilly and winding course outside of Chicago. There was no competition so I ran the entire race alone.

Tackling the Marathon, Physically and Mentally

No doubt that the marathon requires a high level of fitness. That’s why we train for months and do long runs every weekend to develop the endurance necessary to cover 26.2 miles.

Aside from the physical component of the marathon, what about the mental side of running 26.2? To borrow a line from my high school track coach, it surely requires more “mental toughness” than shorter distances where you won’t run out of fuel and bonk. The marathon is also hours long, requiring a focus unlike most other road race distances.

October brought many challenges and while I had a solid month of training, my attitude toward training was often distracted and unmotivated. If you follow my workouts on dailymile you’d never notice, but with long weekends in Chicago, San Jose, and New York I wasn’t able to focus 100% on my marathon preparation.

Instead I was hanging out with friends and family who aren’t running 85+ miles per week and accordingly, don’t have to prioritize sleep, sobriety, and a routine. I was jealous of that freedom and I think it negatively impacted the quality of my workouts.

But I got in the training for the most part. I trudged through it. Half-way through the month things got worse: the days got shorter, the weather got colder, and I lost motivation again. Here’s a confession: I hate the winter. Snow, darkness, freezing temps…count me out. It makes me depressed.

When you add in a bad workout, a race run entirely alone, and a long run in freezing rain, I was just fed up with running in general. There weren’t enough small wins to keep me motivated. I was tired of training hard and I couldn’t wait for my taper to begin so I could get this damn race over with.

Long Run

Running a 29:27 8k at the end of a 22-mile long run, in snow and freezing rain.

But I trudged through the training. I still posted respectable times for my workouts. October is my highest volume month of 2011. My long runs were the longest – and with fast running at the end. Most of the physical aspects of the training are there.

But mentally…?

As I look back on the month, I’ve started to realize that the mental hurdles I had to jump over will actually help me on race day. The mental toughness I developed and the hardship (however real or imagined it actually was) I endured will help callus my mind to the discomfort of racing a marathon.

Yes, I ran in freezing rain and cold.

Yes, I won a half-marathon on a challenging course all alone.

Yes, I had shitty workouts where I felt slow and out of shape.

Yes, I ran in the dark even though I absolutely despise doing it.

Yes, I felt unmotivated, tired, and apathetic.

But I’m still here. And I’m still ready to dominate.

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