The Road to Redemption is Paved with Ice

If you’ll recall my post from last weekend, I talked a lot about my recent shortcomings.  How for 4 of the last 5 weeks I’ve suffered multiple defeats in my training for this first marathon.  Needless to say, I was very down on myself.  I even went so far as to attach some incredible meaning to this week’s training runs, saying that this past week had potential to either restore my self-confidence to keep running more or completely undo everything I’ve worked so hard to gain over the past 3 months.  I was determined to not let that (latter option) happen.  I’m sitting here on my couch right now, typing away to tell anyone reading that I did it!  I accomplished what needed to be done this week.  My doubts have been erased.  I overcame every negative thought in my mind this past week.  In essence, I overcame myself.

I started out the week on Monday with a very good bounce-back effort of 9 miles (including 2 miles of sprint intervals).  This was a confidence booster right away after I ended up cutting my 18 mile run short by 8 miles only two days prior.  I then had two more runs of 7 miles each throughout the week.  In the second run of the week, I focused on building on Monday’s run by keeping my pace up as much as possible.  Overall, that run felt very good, but I  soon felt indifferent about it.  My mind was already drifting toward the upcoming weekend and the nervous 20 mile challenge that awaited me.  I spent the second half of the week strategizing to give myself the best chance of accomplishing the week’s distance goal.  I decided to move my normal Friday run to Thursday so I could have a day of rest before the longest run of my life.  During the run, I focused more on teaching myself what a comfortable pace feels like rather than just all out pushing the pace.

Saturday morning cam along and Nemo said “go back to bed.”  So I did.  On Sunday morning, I woke up early and I was not going back to bed before visiting the fancy riverside homes 10 miles southeast of my house.  I knew it was going to be cold outside.  I knew the trail was going to be covered in snow and ice.  I didn’t care about any of that.  Sunday was my day!  I set out at what felt like a very comfortable pace.  Honestly, I remember it amazing me how I could find an 8:00/mile pace comfortable now when only a few months ago it was pretty difficult to keep that pace for any significant distance.  I ended up maintaining that 8:00 pace at even splits for about 13-14 miles.  After that, I began to slow down.  I had never run that distance at that pace before.  I was back on the defensive, having been fooled by the ease with which I finished the first half of the run.  That was the most brutal morning I’ve ever had in my running “career.”  I slipped and fell on a patch of ice only 4.8 miles out.  Then, I had to stop after 13 miles to use a restroom.  Later on, with only 4.8 miles remaining, I slipped and fell on the same patch of ice that got me the first time through.  The first fall didn’t really phase me too much thanks to the adrenaline.  At the second fall, though, I was tired and I hit my head on the ice/pavement.  I was still determined to finish, but at that point it was less of “get back up and let’s go” and more of “when is this going to end?”  I did eventually make it to the end, though.  At first, I wasn’t sure what to feel.  I was taking stock of the blisters on my feet, the ridiculous soreness in both my legs, etc.  Finally, out of breath and full of pain I just started smiling and repeating to myself “I did it!  I did it!  I did it!”  I got home, took off my shoes to reveal a bloody ankle, and just started laughing at myself, a victim of the runner’s high.

It’s interesting looking back on this past week of training because I had never really thought before about how to run.  I would always just go out and try to run as fast and as far as I could.  My only thought toward pace was that I needed to push it, no matter what distance I was going for.  In a way I’ve sort of been waiting for this moment when I would learn what my limits are.  It wasn’t until now I actually started to struggle in my endurance running.  It had gotten to a point where, in my mind, I had no limits!  This chapter of my journey in finding myself, I’m learning more and more about what I can and can’t do.  I’m learning to take the time to workout smartly instead of just with a gung-ho attitude.  A fellow blogger, 26.2withatoddler, told me to keep the bigger picture in mind (thanks for the advice).  I’ll admit I lost sight of that in the first 13 miles of yesterday’s 20 miler.  I continued to focus on trying to finish as quickly as I could.  I eventually reminded myself, though, that it’s ok to slow down.  There’s no shame in slowing the pace if I need to.  The goal of the morning was 20 miles.  Once I reminded myself of that, I stopped caring about my finishing time.  Covering the distance was victory enough.

I now have a much better idea of what it’s going to take to run a full marathon.  I also gained a new respect for marathon runners.  I always felt the distance was a tremendous feat, but now that I know the pain that comes with it I’m respecting the feat that much more.  My preparation is far from over.  To be honest, I don’t think I could have finished 6.2 more miles yesterday.  I started the run too fast.  Over then next 5 weeks I’m going to have to make sure I keep the bigger picture in mind so I don’t burn myself out early.  The important thing right now is that I feel I can run 26.2 miles.  The last piece of the puzzle is coming down to strategy.

Do you remember a time when you reached your limit in something?  Did you continue trying to push yourself?  How did you overcome it?  Was it a matter of brute force or did you need a new (mental) strategy?

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