The Goal Conforms to the Individual

The goal is absolutely secondary: it is the functioning toward the goal which is important.

—Hunter S. Thompson

I am eight days away from my goal marathon in Charleston.  With a lot less running on the calendar, I’ve been reflecting on how this goal feels different from my last.

I’m not planning to achieve my big dream of a sub-three hour marathon this time because my perspective on that has shifted.  It’s not that I’ve stopped wanting be be a member of the sub-three club; I still do.  But as I have gotten closer to it, I’ve realized that I need to have a bit more patience with it.

I still firmly believe that I can and will do it.  Just not this time.

The irony is that I’ve never had a better shot at achieving it than now.

I subscribe to an excellent running newsletter called The Morning Shakeout by Mario Fraioli.  This week Mario talked about a beautiful letter written in the fifties by Hunter S. Thompson to a friend about goals and the purpose of life. “Every man is the sum total of his reactions to experience,” Thompson writes.  “As your experiences differ and multiply, you become a different man, and hence your perspective changes… Every reaction is a learning process; every significant experience alters your perspective.”

I’ve had a year of training and trying for this goal and for various reasons, I have not reached it.  I am stronger, fitter, and faster than I have ever been in my life, but each attempt at the elusive 3-hour mark has shifted my perspective on why I want it and how I plan to get there.

“We must make the goal conform to the individual,” Thompson writes,  “rather than make the individual conform to the goal.”

My race goal this time is to finish well within my abilities.  This is not to say that I believe it will be easy since I’m setting the bar a little lower.  It will still be the fastest I’ve ever run 26.2 miles if all goes well, so I know it will be the hardest thing I’ve ever done no matter what the time clock says.  But this will not be a break-three-at-all-costs event.  Not that I consciously had that in mind before, but I was so sure that I could do it that I didn’t prepare myself for what would happen if I didn’t.

I have learned a lot since my DNF in Richmond that I can almost see it as a gift.  I learned that I cannot handle much caffeine on race day.  I’ve learned how to make a far better fuel for my body than sugary gels.  And I’ve learned that quitting, even when it’s the right thing to do, hurts far worse than the pain of racing itself.

I will have a new mantra on marathon day.  I’ve been using it quite a bit lately when things are getting tough and I want to slow down.  It’s “make yourself proud.”  I’ve experienced what it’s like to cross the finish line knowing I gave it my best.  It’s a feeling of pride and accomplishment like no other.

That is my new goal.




“Over It” Might Really Mean “Overtrained”

“Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.” – Winston Churchill

I am losing my enthusiasm.

After feeling so well prepared and ready for a big success in Richmond and then not getting there, it’s been a challenge trying to stoke the fire again.

I have gained so much fitness this year that I wanted to get back on the horse and try again.    With eight additional weeks of training, the Charleston Marathon seemed like a good choice to learn from my mistakes in Richmond and get just a little bit stronger.

Yet part of me just feels over it.  I thought I would be done training this hard by now.

In some ways, I am glad the DNF happened. What I am able to see now is that I was clinging on to my sub-three-hour goal so fiercely that it became like a wet bar of soap: the tighter I held on to it, the more easily it slipped away.

Afterwards, I rested and recovered and scaled back for a couple weeks.  Then I chose Charleston and put my nose back to the grindstone.  I quickly got back up to 70-85 miles a week and began watching my food intake carefully again.  Not too much, not too little, but just enough to get a little leaner and and a little faster.

Then I bombed a key marathon workout, the 2 x 6 miles.  Blowing one workout is no big deal, but this was a complete mental and partially physical unwillingness to come anywhere near the paces I normally do not struggle with.

But I let it go and kept up with my schedule as usual.  The next workout was fine.

A week later, what should have been an easy workout in the middle of my pace range felt like a struggle.  I hit my paces, but for some reason the slower-than-marathon-pace run felt unusually hard.  What was going on?

But then the next workout was great.  And then I had a really fantastic fast-finish long run.  Just what I needed for my confidence!  All better, right?

And hey, I’m almost at 3000 miles for the year of 2016!  If I run around ten miles a day for the month of December, I could do it.  Wouldn’t that be cool?

Then came another bad workout.  This time on a cut-down run where each mile gets progressively faster.  These runs are always hard, but back in October, I had run a cut-down beautifully.  Textbook perfect and faster than I ever thought possible.  But last week, I could barely get below marathon pace without feeling defeated.  I ended the workout early.

I was yo-yoing from good to bad to mediocre and back again.

I needed some advice.  Marathon training is supposed to be hard and exhausting, but I was starting to get to the point of not really caring anymore.

I brought my concerns to my coach at Runners Connect.  Being a coach myself, it’s all too easy to try to be my own coach.  But that’s a lot like being your own lawyer.  When you coach yourself you have a fool for an athlete.

 “You’re running too much,” warned Coach Danny.   “More isn’t always better, especially with volume. Even though you aren’t tired physically, you are mentally, and I think that’s more of a sign of overtraining.”

Ideally, I should be concentrating more on nailing the workouts with fresher legs and scaling back on the easy miles in between.

In other words, my 10 mile super slow easy days that I thought were doing me so much good are actually sabotaging me.

The other thing Coach asked me to do is review my training.  “Look back at logs and find a string of weeks that you really nailed every workout and felt you broke through a plateau, or things were effortless,” he said.  “That’s the ‘sweet spot’ of your volume vs. intensity and you never want to get too far from it.”

Unfortunately, there was no clear correlation between big volume and bad performances.  I had some of my best workouts during some of my highest mileage.

Even so, I think the cumulative mileage is starting to show up in my workouts.  It seems that overtraining is a sneaky affliction because I don’t feel tired in the rest of my life.  My muscles are not sore.  My appetite and weight have been stable.  I’m not getting sick.

I’m just mentally tired.

I’m losing my enthusiasm.

So I’m scaling back.  I will not run today. I will not run any more 10 mile easy days before Charleston.  I will shift my focus away from mileage and concentrate on “training density,” which is making the workout days really count.

I will not get 3000 miles this year and that is just fine.

I will not aim for a sub-three-hour marathon in Charleston. (That was hard to type, so I’m going to type it again to make sure it sticks.)

I will not aim for a sub-three-hour marathon in Charleston.

It is still a goal of mine to cross the finish line under three hours.  I will do it someday but not this time.

After a year of great running without a great marathon, I just need to focus on finishing one well again, no matter what the time on the clock says.

I need to take a smaller bite out of the elephant instead of trying to eat it all at once.

I plan to pace myself slower than Richmond and hope to cross the finish line between 3:05 and 3:10. This is a conservative goal for me, but it would still be the fastest I’ve ever run that distance, so I’m going to prepare myself for it to hurt more than I ever have before.

And if I fail again, I will learn again.   And, eventually, after a nice long break, I will try again.

With enthusiasm.