Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Positively Positive

I’ve wanted to write this post for a few weeks and I am finally getting around to it.  In what I hope is a few part series, I am touching on the off-season and the areas I feel are important to address.  For me being positive and having mental toughness is something I know I should continue to improve on if I want my experience in running and life to progress.  There is an old saying that running is 90% Mental 10% Physical.  While I think that is more or less not entirely accurate, mental still plays a huge part in your day to day running.  Heck your mental state plays a huge part in your day to day life and negativity is one of the worst influences to affecting your mental state in both running and life.  We all have that person who is just negative about everything.  While we think they aren’t affecting us, deep down their negativity may be influencing us.  A simple comment about this weather sucks, or this hill is large can sometimes be a negative experience went uttered too much.  Negativity can snowball without much help from us besides our subconscious thoughts running rampant, and it’s why staying positive can help us get past it.

We all do it on a day to day basis something happens and we think a negative thought, about an interaction with someone, about not being able to accomplish something.  We let our poor training performances or when things are seemingly always going wrong let us continually get down on ourselves.  That first negative thought creeps in that's the point we need to address this type of thinking or next thing we know down the road it’s one of the reasons we can’t accomplish something.  Even more it sometimes takes us down to dark path where we think there is no way out of this spiral.  Let’s take a running perspective, think back to your last major race where you didn’t achieve your goal.  Think to a time in the race you faced adversity and how your mind was.  How did you handle it?  I know in some of my major failures in racing, the minute the negativity crept in and I let a thought like “I can’t hang with this group” or “This feels too hard” and that I didn’t squash that thought immediately things start spiraling soon after.  A little further down the road when things were not feeling better more negativity crept in and next thing I know I am blowing up and missing my goal.  Some of these times I was perfectly capable of running the pace, but because I mentally defeated myself I could not overcome.  So how do we fix this?

Just like we run long runs, workouts and easy days to train our physical we need to train our mental side also.  Some people have a tendency to be very positive people and already excel at this but for us mere mortals sometimes it takes some work.  Mental toughness and positivity are things that require work in real life and in running.  My wife’s career always points to coping skills on how you deal with negative thoughts or feelings because how you deal with it is all that matters.  In running it’s the same but it’s something you need to train otherwise every time something doesn’t go your way in a race/training run, or you don’t feel as fresh as you think you should it can snowball out of control.  Bracing yourself is a coping skill we use in everyday life and one that can easily be applied in running.  We brace ourselves every day for unpleasant activities that are to follow.  We expect the worst to hopefully create a more positive experience.  In running sometimes we hope that because we trained harder and got faster our next race won’t hurt like the last one or this training run will feel easy.  But since we as runners know perception of effort is mysterious and one race can feel easy and one can feel harder if we brace that every run will hard and embrace that we can prepare better from the start.  Entering a race anticipating that at some point things won’t feel great but that’s just part of the process allows us to be prepared.  Also sometimes just putting yourself in the moment and thinking through the race and how when adversity will hit how you will react can be something good to try and practice.  Relax, take a deep breath and remember all the work you have done to get here.  We need a way to deal with our negativity and we need to practice it because otherwise we can throw away months of solid hard training in minutes out in the race.     

In the end your mental state plays a huge factor in your running performance.  Negativity from any aspect of your life can bring you down as you run.  Also not trusting in your training or the work you have done can also wreak havoc as you try and achieve your goals.  Practice your mental toughness, practice being positive and focusing on what you can control and next race when negativity creeps in you will be ready to address it and run through it.  I’ll leave you with a two part series from running competitor that I really enjoy about mental toughness.

Also a great book I am reading How Bad do you Want it  

My Last Week of Training - 68 Miles

Monday 11/9 - 13 Miles at FHR - Adding on the extra Canton loop gets my week started right

Tuesday 11/10 - 6 miles At Lunch   6 miles in the evening 7 x 400 69-72.  A week and cold evening ran the 400's in the Hoka's, did not enjoy running that fast in the Hoka's.  Not sure what it is about them but they don't seem conducive to fast turnover.

Wednesday 11/11 - 10 Miles pacing a friend through a tempo

Thursday 11/12 - 6.5 miles  - Easy day at Lunch

Friday  11/13 - 8 miles at Lunch nice pace

Saturday 11/14 - 13 Miles with Graham, Sean and Colin at Hereford.  Gunpowder trails were fun and nice and flat not a ton of roots and very little tripping(I think the Hoka's helped) and then ran the <D XC State Course, blazed the last mile up the dip(it's no bowl and what a dumb name).  Fun run

Sunday - 11/15 - 6.5 miles - Nice shakeout run, sore from the day before

Monday, October 12, 2015

Chicago Marathon... Perspective

After 18 months off from Marathon'in I decided it's time to get back on the saddle and tackle the flattest one around the Chicago Marathon.  It also helped to be able to get a guaranteed entry!  After a failed attempt to break 55:00 at Broad Street this year, but alas a PR nonetheless, I started up my Chicago cycle 15 weeks out at the end of June.  Unlike my previous Marathons I was equipped with a plan, previous experience to pull from and the luxury of having 4-5 teammates all targeting Fall Marathons themselves to sync up with.  I was ready to go.

This cycle I managed to get in 3 races along with hitting several key workouts I had been eyeing for the past year as I prepared to tackle the Marathon again.  I focused on what I deemed my weakness coming into this marathon, which was longer runs at MP or a little slower, but runs that required long periods of focus while you ran just above your thresholds.  I have always felt I lose focus far too often in races and these workouts would be key to not letting that happen while out for 26 miles race day. A couple quality long runs in the 20-22 range at NCR indicated that my goal 6:00 pace felt a little hard in August but it was very doable for the race.  Early September I tackled a trip with some teammates to New Haven for a 20k as a tuneup race 5 weeks out and ran a nice big almost 2 minute PR for a half equivalent and followed that up with a 24 mile run I was planning to use as a test run/time on your feet effort a couple weeks out.  I even changed up my taper being more experience to the marathon to a two week taper and stayed sharp still even the week of the race with two efforts.  As I left for Chicago on Friday I have never felt more confident in the training I had done, and that I had accomplished everything I wanted to training wise heading into the race.  To quote myself, "All the work was in the barn".

As I arrived in Chicago Friday evening and driving through the city, I knew this was going to be my first real city Marathon.  Boston is amazing but you are only in the city for a short amount of time, as with Chicago you are twisting and turning through city blocks the entire race.  Saturday morning's shake out run was something extra special as I headed out and got to do a run with professional athlete Emma Coburn, who was a totally cool person and at least faked interest as she asked me about my previous marathons and goals for this race.  It was a fun experience that you don't get the chance to do everyday but I was really just trying to stay loose all weekend.  Too long have I focused too much on race strategy and not just been a little more relaxed heading into the race.  Saturday night I felt I got a good night sleep as I got up race morning I felt ready as I'd ever be.

As we walked the longest .7 miles of my life to the starting line I saw more and more people and started realizing what 45,000 people was going to be like.  Despite leaving over 80 minutes before the race, between getting in security gate, doing a light jog and ushering into the A corral, which had about 2000 people lined up shoulder to shoulder 20 minutes before the race, ugh.  I very politely in the beginning worked my way through the crowd and then maybe a bit rudely pushed as the race was close to starting and I was to far back.  In retrospect I should have just stayed put, the race is long enough.  By the time the gun was about to go off, I was practically touching the elite runners, and then we were off.

I've replayed the first three miles in my head about 30 times now and I don't know what I was thinking.  We went through a tunnel and I knew my GPS watch was off so I was just going by feel but at about .8 miles I rolled up on pro athletes Sara Hall and Alexi Pappas and next thing I know I saw the mile split 5:29.  So much goes through your head when you rock a split 31 seconds fast in mile 1 of your marathon, but you need to just squash it all.  No good can come from letting doubt creep in at mile 1 of a 26 mile race, so I settled in and just let people pass me as I tried to find a more comfortable pace.  Until I rolled through 2 miles in 11:07, if anyone was around they would have actually seen me slap myself in the face at this point as I was completely off pace and in territory deep down I knew was unsustainable based on all training.  I shook out my arms and confidently told myself, well at least I have 1 minute in the bank now.  First 5k ended up 17:52 as at least I had slowed down to 5;45 pace for mile 3, and had a good deal of elites blow by me as evident by their fancy water bottles they were carrying while I waited for the next water stop!

The next 5k I started settling in around 5:50's and a pack of about 13 runners rolled up on me around 5, so I just hopped in with them and they pulled me along until about 8 miles when I slowed down again just to try and get comfortable.  My splits were slowing but it was fine, every split was still under goal pace and I wasn't feeling terrible yet.  As I rolled past an Elvis impersonator I started realizing I was going to set a half PR in a couple miles as I was still cruising but in today's theme I was riding Solo.  The pitfalls of going out too hard is you get passed a lot and it was hard to latch on to any of these groups because they were all going much harder than I wanted to at this point.  I rolled through the half in a new PR 1:17:31 but I honestly didn't feel great.  But I need to stay positive what's done is done focus on the now I kept telling myself.  At worst case I had some serious time in the bank for my goal and I'd have to really blow up now to not break 2:40.  And that confidence followed me from 14-17 as splits still felt solid and I had finally found a group to run with until...

Mile 18  I remember the moment like it was yesterday(it was) it happened so fast.  I was rolling 5:50 pace and it felt smooth and then I looked down and saw my mile pace this mile was 6:24.... I said no big deal let's surge and get it back to 5:50's and we'll be fine.  Did a 1 minute or so surge looked again 6:30 pace, oh no.  It all kind of went downhill there but thankfully I clung to some 6:15 for the next 3 miles but all the doubt had crept in.  Miles 19,20, went by and the 2 minutes I had banked at the half were all gone by mile 20.  Mile 20 is an easy split for 6:00 minute goal pace, 2 hours on the dot!  And that's what I was at, only instead of feeling ready to attack the last 10k I was fighting for my life.

Sitting here as I type this I can honestly say I never have felt this terrible at any race of my life.  I used every trick in the book to survive.  Every runner that passed me I clung on to for as long as I could to get me moving, every fan who pointed out my struggles I smiled and did a surge, every sick beat that was dropped I used it to put on some quicker pace.  None of it worked, but at this point I knew 2:37 was out the window, it was about sub 2:40 or at worst a new PR.  Too much work had been done these past 15 weeks to let myself leave Chicago without one of those two things.  The last 5k every overuse/weakness that I have been dealing with in the past year came back, my weak glutes acted up my hip had a sharp pain, even my back acted up, everything was waiting for me taunting me.  As I saw the 1 mile to go sign knew 2:40 was out but a PR was coming as long as I finished so I gutted out to make that PR as fast as I could.  I crossed the line in 2:41:20, a 3 minute 43 second best.  I was a little dejected but had great teammates to greet me and give me some perspective and to be happy.  As I got to my phone I am always amazed at how many people honestly care.  When you are out there on the course you are alone but getting my phone and seeing the support from friends/family who tracked me and were following along with my race is amazing.  It was easy to get over my dejection when soo many people have such nice things to say.

A day later as I look back and write my recap it's still a little bit of a mixed bag but you can never be upset when you run a time you never have before.  As the results show I ran 2:41:20, for 199th place and 3rd Marylander.  I was top 200 in a race featuring 45,000 people, I only dreamed of one day finishing top 200 in a world major marathon.  But there is always room for improvement, I can't help but feel that by going out too hard I cost myself a time I had trained so hard to achieve.  I only have myself to blame, I knew the splits yet I choose to keeping digging into the well early on and ended up in a world of hurt with 8 to go.  But no matter what I am proud that I gutted out a PR still, because I could have easily given up and walked away from Chicago with nothing but regrets.  Another injury free season, with great training with friends and to top it off an amazing experience with my Falls Road teammates in Chicago.  As I titled this blog, perspective, because at the end of the day that's what it's all about.

I leave you with a couple fun pictures from the weekend: