Training for 26.2 with Donna is underway. Yesterday, with a 17 mile run, I set a personal distance record. Each week, I fill in boxes on my training plan, marking off scheduled runs and yoga practices and rest days as I complete them. On Sundays, I reflect on the previous week, leaving italicized notes in the margins of the Google Document that serves as my training program.
I’d be lying if I said that this training has been amazing, that I’m loving it, and feeling more and more prepared to tackle a marathon in February.
Actually, I’m struggling. Marathon training is tough. I knew that when I signed up, I wasn’t naive. But, training for a marathon while moving to a new state, traveling overseas, starting a new job, and adjusting to a new climate is even tougher. There’s no getting around it. Needless to say, this hasn’t been the prettiest training cycle.
Yesterday, while tackling 17 miles, I endured the toughest mental battle I’ve ever had. It started while I was getting ready, when I checked the weather and saw 75-degrees with 100% humidity. Not exactly ideal conditions when running the furthest I’d ever gone before, but I shrugged it off, drank more water than usual to prepare, and left my house to head to Clearwater Beach.
I’m still unfamiliar with Clearwater, but am trying to do the majority of my long runs there so I can take advantage of the steep bridges (the same ones from Iron Girl) and nice, waterfront routes. I prefer running long in Clearwater compared to where I live because it’s easier to map out loops rather than out-and-backs, which I hate – there’s nothing worse than running really far only to have to turn around and cover the same ground twice.
Another great thing about running in Clearwater is that my uncle lives there so I’m able to park my car at his place. It makes me feel safer to know that someone is aware of my route and knows when I should return. Plus, he’s an endurance athlete so he has excellent recovery fuel when I get back!
Well, I spent most of Friday night mapping out and memorizing my run so I wouldn’t get lost. I felt comfortable with the first half of the run, but there’s a neighborhood that can get confusing, and that was making me nervous. I decided I’d run with my phone so I could have access to a map just in case, but spent a lot of time creating a mantra out of the directions I’d need in the neighborhood.
After dropping off my car at my uncle’s, I started my run in thick, muggy fog. It was still very dark, so between that and the fog, I was focusing on every step to ensure I wouldn’t trip. The thick air made it difficult to breathe, and in spite of being drenched in sweat by mile 2, I felt surprisingly good. In the dark, I climbed the first bridge and made my way to the beach, still focusing on my footing and maintaining an easy pace.
As the sky began to brighten, I noticed my surroundings didn’t look familiar “You’re being paranoid,” I told myself. “You’ve only run this route once before, and it was dark.” I kept going… enjoying the beautiful beach-front scenery and trying to take my mind off the stifling humidity.
After a couple more miles, I thought I should have reached the hotel I was planning to use for a hydration/fueling/bathroom break. I pulled out my phone, tracked my location, and reassured myself I was on the right path. I continued on my way.
Another two miles passed and, 8.25 miles into my run, I still hadn’t reached the hotel. This isn’t right, I thought. Frustrated, I stopped and pulled out my phone to check my location again. I couldn’t believe it – I had been going south instead of north from the minute I came off the first bridge, and was completely off the route I had mapped. Due to the layout of the gulf beaches, when I had checked my location a few miles before, I was still parallel to where I had started, making me think I was going the right way.
Wrong, so wrong.
I realized I was going to have to do a dreaded out-and-back run, which took a big toll on me mentally. I wanted to cry, but I turned around and kept going, trying to think of all the positives: I was already more than halfway done, I only had single-digit miles left to cover, the scenery was beautiful.
At about mile 11, I realized I hadn’t taken in any water. I could feel the humidity affecting me, and knew I was risking getting dehydrated. With an unfamiliar route, I had no idea where the closest water fountains were, causing a slight panic attack. My mind started reeling, and I began beating myself up – why had I signed up for a marathon? How would I be able to run 26.2 miles when I couldn’t even get through 17? I’m not cut out for this.
It’s amazing how the snowball effect works, when one little thing goes wrong and it only seems to emphasize other small things that normally wouldn’t be bothersome. I couldn’t believe it, but I really, really wanted to stop running.
I eventually came across a public beach access with water fountains, and I took full advantage, maybe drinking more than I should have. I stopped and stretched, and re-evaluated how I felt. I found myself considering a phone call to my uncle to see if he’d come pick me up, and lingered on that thought for a little bit.
I channeled my running buddies from D.C. – what would they do? I knew they’d both keep going, they wouldn’t give up. I looked down at my watch and saw I had already run 12 miles, and decided to give myself a little bit of a pep talk that went something like this:
Running 17 miles is hard. Training for a marathon is hard. You’ve run 12 miles in really tough conditions. You are not hurt, you are healthy. If you quit this run now, you’ll feel better for about 10 minutes, but the fact that you quit will make you miserable for days, weeks, months. You have 5 miles standing between you and a personal distance record… what are you going to do?
And, so, I ran. It was tough, and my legs began to ache, but I kept going. As my watch beeped and flashed 17.00 mi, a huge smile (grimace?) broke out on my face.
The run wasn’t pretty. Very few of my training runs this cycle have been pretty. But, I’m doing them. Every day, I fill in another little box on my training plan and get one step closer to the starting line of a marathon.