Another mindset shift: (lack of) training for the marathon.

Another marathon ticked off. And this is the first one that I’ve completed as an LCHF athlete. More than that though, it’s the first one I’ve raced on a smaller training load than I thought I needed. And while I say ‘oh, I don’t race’ – in reality, when I step up to the start line and the gun goes off, I am racing. It’s a race against the clock and myself, and not the people around me, though I did earmark one dude on the start line as my nemesis that I wanted to take down – and this had nothing to do with his running ability.  This was purely because he was in a tutu and as soon as I saw him I thought ‘there’s no way I’m letting anyone in a skirt, guy or girl, beat me.’ Rational? Obviously not.

I entered the Queenstown marathon at the start of the year purely because the early bird deal was so good. As a new event, they took $50 off the entry fee for the marathon and, like anyone who likes a bargain*, that was enough for me to sign on the dotted line. Inevitably, though, life and limb gets in the way of any decent build up period for a race and more often than not I’m left with 8-10 weeks to go and starting to panic that I’m not going to have the time for an adequate preparation period. Now any coach would look at that length of time and say that it was ridiculous to think it wasn’t enough time. Physically, of course it is – particularly as it’s not like I’m going from a couch potato to my first marathon; I’ve been running for over 20 years. Psychologically though: different story. Particularly when your compatriots are 6 -8 weeks into their 16 week build plan for an event and ticking off 8-10 km intervals on a Saturday, backed up with a 2h 15min run on a Sunday and I’m high fiving people for completing a 40 min easy run without any nagging sensation in the calf. I’m obviously excited to be running, but daunted by what is ahead in terms of ‘making up’ lost kilometres to get me on an even par with other runners of my ability. It’s easy to talk yourself out of a good race before you’ve even begun to train for it. I know I do. And, even when you do train for it, how many people do you know line up on the start-line with either a niggle, a virus, or lack of preparation to blame their less than ideal finish time on?  Not only do I battle with knowing that others have been able to consistently run at a time where I’ve only been able to do gym work and some swim sessions, but my main problem is that I have a fear of failure. This has been the hardest thing to let go of over the last few years – the expectations that I perceive others have of me and my running ability.  In some ways not having the ideal race build up let me off the hook; it’s a legitimate reason for running slower than others think I’m capable of – and just finishing the race is good enough. Bevan, though, didn’t let me off that easy. He guided my training for the Queenstown marathon and was adamant that 8 weeks was adequate to get me in pretty good shape to get around.

Previously, I would have tried to cram in as much running with intensity as I could tolerate, with a couple of rest days per week, so I would build my fitness faster that way. Bevan had a different approach. He pointed out that whenever I get injured in the past, it is from the combination of both longer runs plus interval training which places too much stress on my body. Hmm… good point. He predicted that, if I were to include intensity along with duration in my build up, I would break down at roughly 4-6 weeks in, leaving me in a spectator role come race day, as it has in the past. Needless to say, that put the kibosh on my grandiose plans of the interval/long run double that is the mainstay of any running programme. Instead, he suggested that I needed to focus on frequency. Just run. Everyday. The length of the runs varied from 25 minutes to 2h, and while I would lift the pace on some runs, there were no set tempo sessions, hill repeats or one kilometre intervals. It was just running. Part of me loved it – telling a runner that they can run everyday is like letting a sugar addict loose in a candy store. In addition to that, while I LOVE running, I actually really don’t like running those 2 1/2 – 3h runs which are another mainstay of a running programme. They to me are almost the necessary evil of marathon build-ups that sap your reserves, leave you feeling broken and ancient for the rest of the day, but at the same time almost perversely thrilled that you’ve ticked off the big miles that distinguish you from that half marathoner runner.**   A big part of me though was anxious that this preparation would leave me short on race day. How was I supposed to get around 42.2km when I hadn’t run for longer than 2h on any long run?

But I listened dutifully to what Bevan told me, switching it up a bit with my pace – some days it was closer to 6 min kilometer pace, something I would never have considered doing in the past but had become almost worryingly easy to do now. Others we would run a steady 20 minutes at around 4.40 kilometer pace as part of our long run. But, bar one run that was around 2.04 and in hideous weather at a hideously slow pace, I never went beyond those guidelines. I got up every morning and ran, once a week was 2h, once a week was 80 min and the rest were between 25-60 minutes – and, as Bevan said, I made it to the start line in one piece. And while I still wasn’t convinced that I had run long enough in any long run to get through the event and feel okay, you know what? I did. Other than that inevitable dip that occurs in ‘no mans land’ from around 27-32 kilometers, I felt comfortable, strong, I paced it pretty well (the second half was four minutes quicker than the first) and came in at 3.28 and some change. It’s not my fastest – actually it’s slower than my PB by 37 minutes, but I felt awesome. That I made it to the start line and finished in one piece on such a spectacular course are three wins in my book. As a runner, I love to be able to run and I think this approach will allow me to do that. This has provided me with the ‘proof’ I need that I don’t need to do the extra long training runs to successfully complete (and run pretty well) in an event. This is a massive shift from days of old, and the runner mentality. My goal in running these days isn’t to aim for another PB; I don’t have the mental energy required to do that, nor do I want to. I just want to be able to run, enjoy it, participate, push myself and enjoy the afterglow of a run well run. Who knew that you didn’t need to run hard and long to do that? This might not be a major for another runner – but for me it is almost as much of a mind shift as the LCHF approach to marathon training. Stoked to have made it.

PS The guy in the tutu totally took me out – so did another very talented woman runner in a Lululemon running skirt. At the risk of making myself wildly unpopular, I am not a fan of the ruffled skirt number.

*aka any runner because as a group we are known for being frugal – though anyone who runs will testify that it ISN’T a cheap sport

** no disrespect intended. I love half marathoner runners. In fact some of my best friends are half marathoners. 

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