The Marathon Question

I don’t care how fast or how intermediate (notice I didn’t say slow) you plan on running a marathon, the effort is undeniably hard. I remember being told last year, “At some point the marathon is going to go south and when it does, there is no recovering from it. You just have to fight hard and keep going.” That point happened to me somewhere around mile 22 or 23 at Chicago last year and although I held off the lead legs farther than most newbies manage to do, it still felt like absolute torture to the finish line. Granted, I made it to the finish line anyways and in a shockingly fast time, but that fact doesn’t change the concern I held going into the race. That concern is quantified with a simple question. And just like last year when the question bounced around my head again and again, this year is no different. Almost every day and every workout I can’t shake The Marathon Question.

“Just HOW in the hell am I going to do this?!”

I don’t mean, “How am I going to finish all 26.2 miles?” No. I mean, “How in the hell am I going to run 26.2 miles at 5:18 per mile?” I mean, that’s my goal. My dream even. But that certainly doesn’t mean doing so is a lock. Sure, I’m putting in every bit of effort that it will take to accomplish this, all the miles, all the speedwork, eating right, doing core workouts, and whatever else it takes to run my best come race day, but that still doesn’t guarantee my body is responding as it needs to or, dare I say it, is able to. The only way to really find that out is to put it on the line race day…and hope the conditions are right.

So yes, it’s a marathon question and it’s a somewhat concerning question rooted in doubt, but to look on the bright side, this is also the very same question I posed to myself this time last year. I had initially set myself a goal of 5:45 miles for the marathon, but with some solid workouts I arbitrarily decided to go for 5:30 miles, completely unaware what that might feel like at the beginning of the race, the middle and the end. I just had no idea. However, any marathon veteran will tell you, it’s GOOD to go into a marathon race scared. It’s GOOD to go in doubting yourself to some degree, for it means you’ve set a solid goal and want it. Want it bad. You want it so bad you are almost SCARED you won’t reach it.

And if you have this question in your head far enough out from race day, it also means you are putting in the work to reach that goal. It means you are putting in all the miles and all the speed necessary, and most likely….coming up short. This is the deception of marathon training. It takes so much time and effort that your body is continuously in a state of breakdown and buildup, but never rested enough to really gauge where you might be. Sure, you can throw in some races here and there and maybe have a good showing, but until you complete that 1 to 2 week taper, you just don’t know how good, or GREAT, of shape you are in. On October 10th, maybe I’ll be in 5:25 shape or maybe 5:23 shape. Maybe I’ll be in 5:20 shape or, if all goes as planned, 5:18 shape. Hell, if all goes BETTER than planned, I might be in 5:16 shape. What I don’t want is to be any worse than all that.

Regardless, all these considerations don’t wipe away the question that continues to plague my every workout, “Just HOW in the hell am I going to do this?” It doesn’t help that the 101 heat index turns my 10 mile marathon goal pace runs into abbreviated 4 mile 5:30 pace efforts, but it also doesn’t help that the gap I have to make from last year is a full 16 seconds PER mile. That’s huge. I know it doesn’t sound huge to some people, but what you need to understand is that distance speed is like a tractor pull. The faster you get, the harder it is to cut down on seconds per mile. Going from 11 minute miles to 10 minute miles is something ENTIRELY different than going from 5:30’s to 5:20’s and so on. Hell, Tyson Gay works his ass off just to cut milliseconds from his performances. Which begs the question, “Just HOW in the hell am I going to do this?”

Right now….I don’t know. This marathon in Chicago will only be my second road marathon and I still have tons to learn about running it properly and where last year I had a pretty sizeable window of time that I would be satisfied with, this year seems like a long shot. I mean….the US Olympic Marathon Trials. Am I really going for this? Can I really do it? Do I even deserve to hold this dream?

Part of me says, “I can do this.” The other part says, “How in the hell am I going to do this?” I think both have their place, but right now the latter is the greater motivator. The former will be for the 10th when I step to the line. All I can hope for is another post-marathon question in my head, “How in the hell did I just do that?!”

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4 responses to “The Marathon Question

  1. Wow, I can barely even fathom going that fast! That’s awesome. You’ve gotta dream big, though, right? Best of luck!

    • Kate, for whatever reason running fast comes somewhat naturally to me….but running at my goal pace is the equivalent effort of you running at your goal pace. It always seems somewhat impossible! We all gotta have goals! Best of luck to both of us.

  2. Ryan Hall’s been quoted as saying running a marathon must be taken one mile at a time. It’s a useful notion, I think, because I understand your perspective. For me to qualify, I’ll have to pull 6:19s to make the B standard– no small feat for a female runner who started up in 2007 (and that, in my unguarded moments, makes me wonder how on earth such a thing will be possible.) But you know, two months ago I was incapable of completing a 10-mile tempo at Tahoe at the pace I did two weeks ago… despite having just completed a triathlon! Or, the thought of doing two mile repeats was unfathomable to me before I started focusing on each repeat as its own separate entity. Can I run two miles at such-and-such pace? Yes– and so I do that. And then I do the next one a bit faster. And so on.
    And so, I guess I’m advising you to hold onto your fear, but don’t let it override your anticipation, your excitement. Toe the line and run each mile as though it is its own thing.
    In a strange way, marathoning is an act of faith. Focus and believe in your training. đŸ™‚

  3. Rebecca, I often hold to the same “one mile at a time” manner of looking at things, but I think the doubt comes when that one mile doesn’t hit your expected goal time, and then the next and the next and the next! Or even when we hit our times in training for a 10 mile run, when it’s all over you feel like you can’t run another 400 meters, but you know you have to do it again and then some during the marathon. It really seems completely impossible, but I’m amazed what happens on race day. Everything just comes together and we do it regardless. Let’s hope the pattern repeats itself when we make our attempts at qualifying for the trials. Until then, it’s still mile by mile.

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