I’ve recovered from the Chicago disaster to once again be excited about running another marathon. During my training for the Austin Marathon, I’ve given a lot of thought as to why I can’t put a good marathon together, even though I’ve run seven of them.
Today is reason No. 1.
Maybe it is in my head. And this is not to say I have phantom injuries. When my legs stopped working at the 2010 Chicago Marathon, that spasming in my inner quads was real. As it was at the 2008 White Rock Marathon, and for the middle miles of the 2009 White Rock Marathon.
But the fact that I can do a 16- or 17-mile long run at 7:30 pace and still have gas left in the tank, and the fact that I have never been able to replicate this kind of energy in a marathon means something. And maybe that something is in between my ears.
There, I said it. I have a mental problem. Blink. Sigh. Sigh again.
What kind of mental problem? I’m not sure. Perhaps I panic. That was definitely the case at the 2009 Portland Marathon, where my 55-mile training weeks led to a measly 4:03 marathon. Things werent going right the first few miles and I just wigged out, started overdosing on water, which led me to the porta-potties every 15 minutes, and next thing you know, I’m doing 11-minute miles. But I wasnt cramping. And I wasnt tired. I was just scared to run. Finally, at Mile 24, I got mad and I got pissed and finished the marathon with two sub 8-minute miles.
See, when I panic, or get nervous, my breathing gets rapid, my heart beat rises, and my stride just gets out of whack. I’m tense and feel like every step is a struggle. And then, with my legs going every whichaway, I’m just a mess – physically and mentally, and I never seem to regroup. And this only happens during races, or in tempo runs with other runners. I guess that’s what it feels like to be so damn competitive.
But when I’m relaxed, like I am on all of my other runs, I can pick a pace and stick to it. My stride feels better. My breathing. My heart rate. It all feels good. And the times I’ve had good 5ks or good tempo runs, its because I Iet the pack take off, relaxed, and then picked up the pace.
I guess they call that negative splitting.
And so I’m learning how to run relaxed now. How to listen to my body (instead of other runners talking). I’m waiting for the magic. What, you say? I’m talking about the magic. The second wind. When things get easier in a run, when your muscles are all loosened up and your body stops hating you for getting out of bed at 4:30 in the morning.
I’m paying attention and I’m noticing that about 27 minutes into a run, the struggling stops, my breathing syncs up to my stride, I stop huffing and puffing and my legs no longer slap the pavement as much as they glide over it. And then things get easier.
This is real, folks. And I never noticed until I started noticing. See, we have this 8-mile run on Wednesdays, we call it the U-Loop, from Barton Springs to the University of Texas and back. The first four miles is mostly uphill. And for the first three of those miles, I cant get my breathing right, cant get my stride right, and an 8:15 pace is kind of difficult. And then, at about 3.25 miles in – while we are on the steepest hill of the course – the magic happens. And I’m floating. And my pace dips to 8:00/m, then 7:45, then 7:30 and when we take a water break at Jester Hall on the UT Campus, I’m floating along doing 7:15s. And I’m barely breathing. And I’m feeling like I could run that pace forever. I’m feeling so good that I want to skip the water stop, but then I’d be running by myself. And who wants to do that on a cold, dark, Austin morning? Not me.
Anyways, I noticed this was happening every Wednesday. First few miles I’m in the tank, then things get real easy. On the Monday before Christmas, we started doing marathon paced runs. Up and down Exposition Blvd. Two miles easy, then six at MGP. I really think I can hold 7:20 to 7:30 for a marathon, but when its time to start MGP, I’m struggling. My breathing is bad. Stride is off. And I get that “here I go again” feeling.
I’m about to panic, about to change my stride or run harder to keep the pace I’m “supposed” to be able to run. Then I look at my watch and notice we’ve only been running for about 24 minutes. And I remember that my body probably isnt warmed up properly yet – and I wait and I relax and I let my body run 7:45 pace and then, at 27 or so minutes, bang. I go from 7:45 to 7:30 to 7:20 to 7:10s and it feels pretty good. I’m barely breathing. I do the last mile in 6:55. (Yeah, I know I’m not gonna run 6:55 pace in a marathon, but I figure I’m alright as long as I didnt turn the run into a temp run – which would have been 6:45 or better.)
Now I havent figured out yet how this will help me late in a marathon. But knowing what I know now, I know that I have never waited for the magic to happen in a 26.2-mile race. I’m always in a rush and when I’m not running the pace I think I should be running, or when things are not as easy as I think they should be, I press harder and harder, using more and more energy and by Mile 14 I know its not gonna be a good race, and by Mile 17, I’m done.
What this all means to me now: Take it easy the first few miles. Preserve your energy. Let your body do what its gonna do. Wait until the end to fight.
Seems simple enough.
Next post on my marathon struggles will center around my nutrition