Anyone who knows me knows that I love running, and I love spending a lot of time at the beach. Combine these two things, and you will find me running many races at the coast. I love the views, as the sun rises over the ocean during the first few miles of a race. I love the ocean breeze, even though it can both work for you, and against you, in a race. I especially enjoy the post-race recovery of putting my feet in the sand, and the salty ocean water seems to give my legs the perfect relief. So, when I decided to sign up for my 3rd marathon, the obvious choice was the Wrightsville Beach Marathon. All of my PRs in half marathons and 10Ks have occurred in a race by the ocean, and in my mind at the time, I thought a nice flat course is perfect when you have a time goal.
I am now going into my next marathon training cycle, and I can’t help but think of what I learned running this most recent race in Wrightsville Beach. I went into this 3rd marathon with a goal time, having a running coach for the first time (highly recommend!), and with two previous marathons in which I didn’t train as smartly as I should have. I really wanted to see what I was capable of. As with some races, and particularly the marathon, things didn’t quite go as planned, although I still mark this race as a success. However, the lessons I learned are invaluable to take with me into my next marathon training.
- You need “your people” when you are training for a marathon. My husband Greg was so supportive of my running schedule, and this would have been so much harder without his support: physically, mentally, and logistically. However, my running partners were absolutely essential. Sharing miles, hours, conversations, texting, running information, laughs, and tears made the training enjoyable and possible, even when it didn’t feel so enjoyable and possible. There are too many to list but my coach Holly, Erica, Kimberly, Lindsay, Amy, Jennifer…amazing women I shared long runs with, whose presence and encouragement pushed me to run better, or talked me off the ledge when needed.
- You can’t control everything. Life happens. You can have a perfect training on paper, but race week something could happen that affects race day. For me, we were in the midst of an ongoing family medical emergency with my father-in-law. I also managed to get a pinched nerve in my back earlier that week. Both of these things affected me on race day.
- Going for a big goal may not happen in one race, or even several races, and that’s ok, because it’s part of the journey. I sometimes tend to make semi-unrealistic goals. I didn’t reach the goal time I had hoped for, but darn if I didn’t shave 38 minutes off my marathon time. I shot for the stars, but got the moon instead, and that’s pretty great. In my next race, I hope to move closer to my goal, either by finish time or with lessons learned. I am figuring out that with the marathon, it may take multiple training cycles to learn what works best for my body with training, recovery, nutrition, etc. Maybe one day I will hit that goal time when I am finally ready.
- Take your training seriously, but don’t take it so darn seriously. I had a great training plan and coach, and executed it well, an important ingredient to a successful race; however, sometimes, I drove myself crazy diving into the data, becoming too enmeshed in running that I ate, drank, dreamed, and breathed running. I am a runner; but I am also a person who runs. I want to remind myself during my next training cycle why I run: to enjoy the world around me, to enjoy my special friends, to enjoy the strength of my body and mind, and to see what I am capable of. That’s really what it all comes down to and what’s most important to me when I define myself as a runner.
- Mental training is just as important as physical training. I thought I had my mental game somewhat nailed down, but like watering your house plants, it is something I learned I must always do regularly. I am finding prayer, meditation, journaling, and reading fantastic books about running (book reviews to come) by professional runners and sports psychologists are tools that I’m adding to train my mental game.
- Some training and race specific lessons learned: *Don’t go out too fast from the start in a marathon. I knew this, but did it anyway, and paid for it beginning at mile 15, with interest. *Be cautious when using pacers. The pacer I followed ran faster than the planned pace. There’s more to that story for another day. *Mileage matters. In previous marathons, I didn’t run enough miles, and it showed. In this marathon, I ran plenty of miles and it made a huge difference. *Learn your race pace, because you can’t always trust your watch. I ran too fast at the start of this race because my watch was telling lies, but I should have known my pace well enough to slow down.
During my next training cycle, I hope I am able to use these lessons to my advantage. I look forward to the Richmond marathon in November to see what I have learned, which is never any clearer than after a marathon!
(Lesson 7: Plan your post-race meals and hydration accordingly).