Running is 99% mental. Think positive, envision success and believe in yourself. I know all these things and yet just as I start my third week of marathon training, I’m already struggling, doubting, anxious.
Today was a 13-mile run. I’ve finished 12 half marathons and at least a half dozen other long runs in the 12-13 mile range. I even did a 15-mile run once, just because I was having a good day.
Oh, and all my other runs so far in marathon training? Yeah, those have all been great — my legs have felt great, my lungs have felt great, pace has felt great.
Despite all that, I spent last night tossing and turning, unable to get to sleep. I focused on the alarm set for 5 a.m. to beat the heat, the fact that I was at my parents’ place — where I often have difficulty falling asleep (gotta work my way through that one at some point) — the thought of maybe I drank too much at a brewery I toured in the afternoon, that I shouldn’t have had that ice cream when I got home, that my stomach felt bloated and full and gross. My mind churned and churned and churned for nearly three hours of being awake in bed.
I ended up calling it quits after midnight, drove back to my place and didn’t set an alarm. I knew I could switch my Sunday-Monday runs around if needed, but what I needed first was sleep and to calm the hell down. I still felt restless when I got back to my apartment, so I drank some water and took an Advil PM. I finally fell asleep a little after 1, and woke up at 7:15. I drove back to my parents and hit the trail around 8.
I got the 13 miles in (more on how that went later).
If this was the first time this sort of anxiety-ridden night occurred, I could simply move on with my life, say sure it was the beer or I just had a bad night… but I had a similar, albeit not as bad night last weekend before my 11 miler. And it’s a pattern that occurred before — about 1.5 years ago — when I struggled through some half marathons. I finally got over that last summer, and now something similar is rearing its ugly head but instead of just a single race day, it’s trying to strike every single weekend during my long run.
Honestly, if it keeps up I won’t be able to make it through my marathon training. And that’s what scares me. I know I can run 11 miles or 13 miles or 15 and build my way up to 20, and yet I’m stuck.
My 13 miler went OK. There were moments where I started to feel not just doubt but panic set in, and I tried to calm those voices and just take it a mile or two miles at a time. It was 100% mental — my legs felt fine. It was hot and there was no shade on the trail. I focused on drinking enough water, and making that a new mark to run toward. Then I focused on my turnaround point — at 8.35 miles because I ran down the trail a bit of ways before going the other direction — where it was time for some fueling.
I started to feel good around mile 7 or 8. But then I hit the turnaround where the sun was now directly in my face and would be for 3.5 more miles, plus there’s a slight uphill going back versus the slight downhill going the way I had been.
As luck would have it, the running gods sent me a blessing. While I was refilling my water bottles a little before mile 9, I ran into two other ladies out for a long run and they were heading back the same way I was going. We chatted briefly as we filled out bottles and I mentioned I was marathon training and doing 13 and not feeling it.
I asked if I could run with them and they very kindly obliged and even said they like running in a three-pack versus two. The next 2.5 miles with them went by much faster. They also use the 4-1 walk method, something I’ve thought about trying, especially with the summer heat.
The run pace was a bit fast for me at that time given how hot it was, the zero shade factor, how little sleep I’d gotten and how far I’d already run. I stayed with them, but felt overheated as we were splitting ways, and went to spend a few minutes in the shade to recover before finishing the last 1.75 miles, which felt fine.
I hope that’ll be a little confidence boost that if I do get a little hot on a long run, I can find some shade and cool down enough to finish up. The other good thing is I got both of the women’s phone numbers, and I’m hoping we can start doing long runs together.
So what have we learned here? Well, one thing I left out was the mass of texts I sent to Natalie at midnight (thank God for East Coast / West Coast time difference) and then some more after my run. She helped me realize a few changes I need to make.
- Not focusing so much on my wake-up time. Marathon training is enough adjustment without throwing something else in. My normal wake-up time for weekday runs is 6 a.m., so I’ll just focus on hitting that or even 6:30 for now.
- Ditto for sleeping at my parents. I just need to be in my own bed, with my own nighttime routine for a while, even if it means spending time in the car driving somewhere to do my long run.
- Running with other people. I’d really been struggling with this one, but meeting those two other ladies on the trail and Natalie nudging me that Pacers does long runs made me realize I need to try this out. Part of the issue is while I’ve long known there are a variety of long runs offered by various groups in the D.C. area, most of them are on Saturdays… when I work. But the closest Pacers store to me — an 11-minute drive — offers a 7 a.m. Sunday weekly long run!
While I’ve come up with these three solutions, I’m still a bit despondent and anxious. On my schedule next weekend is a 15-mile long run. I know I can complete that distance — it’s only two miles more than my run today, but I’m worried I will be stressed, anxious and well, worried.