One thing I've realized as I've started writing this blog, is that everyone LOVES a race recap. And usually, I do, too. Who wouldn't like to take a moment to be completely narcissistic? Regaling your tales of perfect pacing, untiring legs, and epic finishes?
Yeah, if you've been reading this blog for very long, you'll see that I very rarely have those types of races. In fact, I'm not sure I've even written one of those blogs. But that's because this is real, true running. It just doesn't happen like that. Real marathon running is raw, gritty, and a little dirty. The marathon is a fight for 26.2 miles; it doesn't come handed to you. There is no "easy run" to the marathon if you're truly working towards a goal.
I wasn't running the Banff marathon for a time goal (okay, maybe I did want to finish under 4 hours because my PR is wayyyy old and far too soft!), but more than anything else, I wanted to toe the line of a marathon healthy, ready, and fit. That's something that has for all too long evaded me. I've had (what I considered) perfect training blocks, great long run workouts, but at the end of the cycle, I find myself gimping to the start line - IF I show up at all. (See Chicago 2015, Kingwood 2017...et al)
That's something that has taken a lot of soul searching in myself to find out why. I'm bull-headed and far too stubborn, and I know that that plays a large role into the training. I also am a creature of habit. I like to have a schedule and I like to stick to it. There's something that gives me glorious satisfaction when you look at your Strava data and see you've hit your weekly mileage, hit your workouts! You're feeling great!
But that's not all of the equation. I've run for a number of coaches. Some believe in hard, scientific facts and paces. I've ran on effort, not on pace. I've ran on time, not on distance. I've had coaches believe in the "good stuff" and the "deep dark places" and sometimes, even a little magic. I've loved training under each and every one of them. But one thing I have learned, and maybe it comes from being a coach myself, is that no one can tell you what you need to do better than yourself.
And that's where this blog goes today. I didn't toe the line of the marathon at Banff on Sunday because simply running a marathon wasn't the goal. That wasn't the race for me. I didn't start the marathon because I knew I wouldn't finish it. It's not because I didn't want to, but I knew that the amount of effort and strain I would put on my body wasn't worth it. This wasn't my A-race. This wasn't where I was about to prove it all and leave it out on the course. This was a paced training run (if that!) that was to help me get used to running some effort in the elevation (something I still struggle with) and learning to really feel my running. Working on getting in tune with something that I've never been able to really check in with.
I have two speeds (and I'm sure that all my coaches could tell you that): epic sandbagger or die-hard suicide-paced race junkie. I either race to the death (and kill myself in the process) or I don't even begin to try hard enough to consider it a race. I don't know the in-between and even worse, I don't know how to control my effort. I don't know how to listen to my body and understand what is happening. If left to my own devices, I would run myself right off the cliff. So, slowly, I'm learning to reign it in.
It's not an easy decision to step back from the start line. I won't lie - I wrangled with feelings of failure and shame. Feelings of frustration that this was yet another race that I wasn't going to run because I was injured. But those feelings are all superficial. Those are the feelings controlled by the dark side of your brain - the side that doesn't focus on your health or integrity. Those are the feelings you have to stand up to and say, "Not today, Satan."
Because, truthfully, even if this was my goal race, what do I prove? That I can run on a leg that's just not quite right? That maybe I can make it through a decent first 16 only to have to limp back in? At no point is that the wiser decision. You aren't a more "hardcore" runner because you fought through the pain. You aren't a better athlete because you chose to run in the face of adversity. In fact, running like that makes you an idiot. And I can say that - both as someone who has absolutely ran that way and as a coach. Don't be an idiot. Not today, Satan.
So, I chose to run the half. I chose to run it easy and I chose to enjoy the course (well, as much as possible). My leg was an annoyance and the hills caused it to feel tight, but I knew by mile 7 that running the half was the right decision (as if I didn't all along!). The work that I was putting on it today was enough, but a marathon would have been the beginning of the end. I might have made it through, but it wasn't the day for me or my body. I'm learning to make hard and difficult choices when I need to. But most importantly, I'm learning to listen to my body. I shut off the voices in my head that whispered disappointment in my ears and I chose to live to fight another day.
And that, in itself, is more mental training than the marathon ever could have been.