Running a Marathon on Low Mileage
You know how, when you’re training for a race, there’s always something that gets in the way? I figured out that’s just life. There will always be some obstacle to deal with. Accustomed to running higher volume, I went into this marathon on low mileage.
Comparatively, very low mileage.
The tough part is that no matter what you know, these challenges throw your plans and undermine your confidence. Over the past year I’ve had some lengthy periods when I couldn’t run that gave my head time to process things. Sometimes you have to step away from what you’re doing before you can really reflect on it properly.
It always takes me a few days to mentally process a marathon, no matter how well or how badly it goes. After dealing with some health issues pretty much through the entire, already short, training cycle I showed up at the start line of the Glass City Marathon on Sunday sufficiently under-trained to worry, while still crazy enough to qualify as a ‘real runner’ using the logic that I won’t know until I try.
I'm putting this out here before you read any further. This is not a recommendation for going into a race untrained. My situation was circumstantial and these are my takeaways from the experience.
I have a solid history of almost daily running with reasonably decent mileage on a consistent basis. Rolling off the couch to go get your first pair of running shoes a few weeks before a marathon is not a good idea!
Running a Marathon on Low Mileage
To summarize the short version of the training cycle, I came out of the New Orleans Marathon in February with a lot of residual pain in my ankles, after a broken foot last year and took a couple of weeks off running. Not even two weeks back into training, some weird gut issue reared its head. I never did get to the bottom of that, but there were many days right up until race day where I was physically too sick to run.
I did one long run of 18 miles, no tempo’s and no speed work. OK so I don't really do speed workouts anymore in any case, but still…
My average weekly mileage sat around half of what I’ve done in the past, in the months leading up to a marathon.
Needless to say, I was not feeling particularly confident about even finishing this race. We get comfortable with what we know. That's our normal. My normal is running lots of fairly long, but easy, miles. This time I had to take what I could get. I was about to run a marathon on low mileage. I mean, the lowest I've ever done leading up to a race.
It’s easy to tell someone else that they will be fine and talk them through it. When you’re trying the self-talk strategy, all kinds of mental wars rise up in your mind and eventually it becomes impossible to balance out being sensible with not being a quitter.
I Wanted to Run
After my foot healed at the end of last year, I was on the prowl for some marathons for 2019. Having missed out on all but one of my registered events from May through the end of the year, I had a new enthusiasm for making up for what 2018 did not permit.
I was already registered for the Marathon in New Orleans in February and an ultra for August. That left a gap between February and August and another marathon in between would be perfect.
I got chatting to my friend Richard about it and he half jokingly reminded me that he is involved in organizing the Glass City Marathon this year. I looked at the information and the page and decided to go for it.
Don’t Be Afraid of Failure
I either read or heard Dean Karnazes saying, “Fail Boldly.”
I love that. As soon as I heard it, those two words stuck with me.
The first thing I had to do was figure out what I would view as a failure. This can be a trick question, because there isn’t always a clear right or wrong answer. Much of it depends on where you’re at, where you’re going at that time and your motivation for getting there.
It wasn’t hard for me to figure out that the worst thing that could happen to me was to have a miserable race experience. Now, for me, that would mean running solo, not having any company, no friends or conversation … So it wasn’t about not finishing. My fear was based on not having fun.
Once I had that out of the way it wasn’t so difficult. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that not finishing for whatever reason is not what worries me the most. Don’t get me wrong. I would hate to not finish a race I started. The reality is that it does happen to runners. A lot. And that doesn’t make them any less of a runner.
Assuming I know I can start the race with the intention of finishing, I’d rather do that and be pulled or swept from the course than not try.
And that is how I determined that I would throw caution to the wind and go run the Glass City Marathon. And I’m so glad I did!
It Helps to Know Why You Do What You Do
Let’s face it, you can stand in your starting corral for any given race on any day, surrounded by people committed to the same distance, likely to run a similar pace and on paper, there’s not that much difference between any of you.
Go speak to a handful of random people around you and ask them why they are running today and you’ll get a slew of different answers.
My main reason for running is the social aspect. I love meeting new people. I enjoy a good conversation or just listening to someone else’s story; it may be their struggles, their achievements. Often it's just the background story that brought them to where they are, running alongside me today.
Bottom line: I’m fascinated by how different we all are in the middle of our supposed similarities. I thrive on it. It makes me happy. When I’m happy, I am better positioned to deal with obstacles and challenges.
Find What Makes You Happy and Roll With it Today
You can always change your mind and adjust later. Spending too much time overthinking something can end up with you getting nothing; because you spent all the time agonizing over a decision instead of doing it; or doing something else.
What makes me happy today and what I wanted a few years ago from my running are not all the same. Sure, things change. Yes, I often change my mind or go off on a tangent.
I learned to make peace with, and embrace, the fact that I don’t necessarily change my mind due to lack of commitment; usually I change directions because I want something different as a direct result of personal growth. Imagine that! Now, how do I self-bash to motivate myself?
Seriously, the line between sticking with a plan and allowing yourself to grow and change is a fuzzy one. Not everything has to fit into a box and if you are generally committed to chasing a specific goal, checking out the scenery around it is enlightening, not a bad thing.
I don’t want to be a slave to a goal. If the journey sucks, what’s the point?
I Always Learn Something New
One of the aspects about long distance running that I love is it brings out my greatest weaknesses and my greatest strengths. For some reason, it's easy to get tuned in to only look for your weaknesses. If you want to learn and grow, that makes sense, right?
True. This time though, I saw some things in the way I handle my training that I never really thought about before. It's more common for me to find these little pointers in a race environment than in training. Perhaps that's because I'm more tuned in to the specifics, general performance and attitude during a race than I am with my daily runs.
With the challenges I faced on a daily basis in the weeks leading up to this marathon, just getting out for a run was enough of an unknown from one hour to the next. Although not a conscious decision, my main focus this time became my strengths. Kind of sad to acknowledge that I typically don't look for what I”m good at doing. I always focus on where I need to improve.
Lock Onto Your Strengths and Do What You Need To Do
My husband was the one who noticed and pointed it out.
Although there were plenty of days when my run didn't work out, I'd gone for several weeks without scheduling a day off. When I thought about it, I realized that since I get days off that I don't want, there's no need to schedule them.
Now I like a bit more structure to my routine. My preference is not to set an alarm at least once a week. So scheduled days off are way nicer for me. This time was different and not knowing how I would feel until the last minute (or midway through a run), I used every opportunity I could get.
This was my survival tactic for training. Every day I got up expecting to run. I got dressed and laced up no matter how I felt. Some days it paid off. Others didn't turn out so great.
Yes, my confidence took a knock and my frustration was growing. But I did what I could with what I had, albeit less than ideal.
It was only the night before the marathon as I tried to settle my over-active mind and get some rest that I realized this is a strength. I need to focus on the things I am good at and stop fretting the rest.
Use what you have.
Build yourself up.
Glass City Marathon Weekend Was a Blast!
It was cold. Well, for this Florida girl, it was cold.
Temperatures in the high 30’s to low 40’s for the start, complete with wind and some rain thrown in for good measure on Sunday, presented a whole new set of problems to try figure out with this one. For a start, trying to find something with long sleeves at this time of the year proved virtually impossible.
I showed up both mornings with my goosebump-covered legs sticking out of my shorts as I shivered under my foil blanket, trying to keep warm.
The good news is that the folks in Toledo understand cold weather and there were tents and also access to some of the buildings in the university to take shelter from the chilly air and wind. The entire weekend was exceptionally well organized. Glass City Marathon organizers ran a slick event from start to finish.
The hospitality from the community and runners was second to none! I was blown away by the friendliness of everyone here.
You're One of Us
My friend, Richard, invited me to join his running group for a pre-race dinner when I arrived on Friday night. He knows I love meeting new people (especially runners) and this was such a lovely start to the weekend.
I sat at the table with Richard's group, so whether running the full, the half or the marathon relay, everyone was there was shooting for a time goal within a similar range. It didn't matter anyway – we didn't talk about pace. We got to hang out together and have fun.
The biggest surprise to me was just how many people were there. I've never seen such a big running group in one place! I realized immediately that the sense of community here is very strong!
I got back to my hotel around 8:30 pm, soaked in the tub for about an hour (no kidding!) and then turned my mind to figuring out what to wear for the 5K the next morning. My race kit consisted of a bizarre ensemble of garments and layering was going to be my friend this weekend!
A Cold Start and a Warm Reception
Because my flight only landed late on Friday afternoon I opted to do my packet pickup on race morning. Richard gave me a ride to the start early and ushered me into a heated room behind the Expo hall to keep me out of the cold.
Once I collected my packet and attached my bib, I felt ‘official' and headed out to the front to hang out with the other runners seeking shelter from the cold in the building. Hanging around with The People means finding friends. This is how I do races.
The race went better than I expected. I ran with a pacer the whole way and he was right on the money with the pace. I chose to do this because I needed to keep steady and not burn myself out while shaking out the taper-sloth. The other benefit was ensuring I didn't run alone. All my training runs are solo. If I wanted to run by myself I wouldn't sign up for races. It worked out perfectly! Most of the guys in our pack by the halfway point stuck with us all the way to the finish.
I managed to squander away the rest of the day, socializing, milling around the Expo and whatever else I did, that I don't recall. It was a perfect pre-marathon day with a good balance of social and down time.
I did not sleep well at all on Saturday night. The reality of the distance I was about to undertake on the level of training under the belt started to play with my head.
Add to that, my concerns about how to layer and keep warm, not get too hot and the ever-present anxiety about getting sick on the course flitted around my brain all night.
When my mind tortures me before a race, the best remedy for me is to just get there. I know that no matter what, once I get started, my focus is on different things, even if it includes some problem solving.
Everything was just fine!
Not sure how to pace myself over the first few miles I latched onto a group holding a steady pace and stuck with them all the way through around mile 9 or 10. By then my stomach was churning and I was sick a couple of times between the 10 and 15 mile points. Once that was out of my system, I felt surprisingly good and caught up with one of the pacers who had passed me on a throw-up stop. I stayed with him and his group for almost the entire remainder of the race.
I Could Feel My Lack of Training
Tackling this marathon on low mileage was as much a mental barrier as it was physical. Perhaps even more so on the psychological side.
Marathons hurt. That's just the game, and those of us who keep coming back for more either openly or secretly love the challenge. The last five miles of this one hurt more and differently than usual.
I say differently because it wasn't the usual aching legs and fatigue. I really felt like I was just totally out of gas. But it felt different. This time, taking the lead up to the race into account, a lot of it probably had to do with a mix of little training and simply a lack of calories.
Around Mile 20 I remember joking with the pacer and saying at least once I get to this stage I know I can walk and still finish.
“There's no walking” he replied. I laughed, but honestly, I needed to hear that. One thing worse than running on severely fatigued legs is stopping and trying to get going again. I always walk through water stops (because I can't multitask and I spill). This race had more water stations than I have ever seen on a marathon course, so I had plenty of respite between the running on those final miles.
I stuck around the pacer and his pack and enjoyed the distraction of the conversation and stories. Very unusually, I was silent over the final few miles. The conversation was soothing though and the company was priceless. Without those people, the last few miles would have hurt so much more. This is why we need people around us. I lost the pacer and his group with less than a mile to go. I was slowing down and I was OK with that.
By this stage I knew that I could finish. There was no need for a time. My goal was to make friends, finish and not to run alone. All three of those boxes were well checked.
The Sweet Sight of That Finish Line
Crossing the finish line felt so good. My body ached and I was exhausted, yet incredibly happy.
This race reminded me that in spite of the physical setbacks and struggles, the biggest obstacle I had to overcome – before and during the race – was overcoming negative thoughts and self-doubt.
Yes, there are situations where your body may quit and you just can't do anything else. I do believe that the thoughts that get some real estate in our minds are extremely powerful. They can stop you early, or they can pull you through.
I also understand that no matter how well or badly your training goes, it does not guarantee a great or terrible performance in a race. For me, having people around me plays a big role in how I feel, which leads to how I think and ultimately to how things end. I am grateful for other runners around me. I am also thankful for the support of my family, friends and the kindness of complete strangers who encourage and support me. My family is there day after day, continuously. The “strangers” are sometimes an unfamiliar face with a smile, a sign or a kind word – there for a few seconds and then gone. It doesn't matter.
Running is not a solo sport, even if you train alone.
I met some wonderful people last weekend and came home with a full heart, plenty of new friends and happy memories. This experience brought me back with a little more faith in myself than I had when I left.
What's next? For now, I'm enjoying another day or two of mobility and recovery. This weekend I'll go shake out the marathon and get back into starting my day the way I like it. With a good run.