I am running the Bi-Lo Myrtle Beach Marathon this Saturday (take a look at the pretty beach scene on the home page of that site!). The Monday before a marathon weekend, I begin focusing my mind on the race. The training has already been done, but the mental aspect is the last crucial remaining piece of the puzzle. I begin thinking about the race and picturing myself out there running in less than a week. I start imagining a strong finish. And I recall previous races where I was able to let my mind pleasantly distance me from the physical discomforts. I've done this before, and I can do it again!
I don't always reach a point in the marathon where my mind has taken over my thoughts; sometimes the discomfort that I feel is much more central to my thoughts than anything else. I think about my splits and how I'll get done faster if I keep running fast. I try to mentally figure out what my time will be if I continue at the pace I'm going. I think about every little ache I feel. But then, there are those other times. I clearly remember the point in several marathons where I've gotten absolutely lost in my thoughts, to the point that I don't feel the discomfort anymore. I've gotten covered in goosebumps and feel what I imagine is what others call the "runner's high."
I can't predict what will help me reach the point of distractedness where I actually feel a runner's high. Sometimes it's when I think about motivating song lyrics, like Destiny's Child "I'm a Survivor" (the lines "I'm not goin' give up, I'm not goin' stop, I'm goin' work harder.") or Pink's "Just Like a Pill" (the lines "Run, Just as fast as I can, To the middle of nowhere, To the middle of my frustrated fears."). I sometimes think about the line in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein where he says, "Did you not call this a glorious expedition? And wherefore was it glorious? Not because the way was smooth and placid as a southern sea, but because it was full of dangers and terror; because at every new incident your fortitude was to be called forth and your courage exhibited; because danger and death surrounded it, and these you were to brave and overcome. For this was it a glorious, for this was it an honourable undertaking." There is something in those lines that make me feel the importance of sticking it out when the going's getting pretty tough in the marathon. I guess I see the marathon as something to defeat, and I think that I'd better keep fighting it.
I draw inspiration from reality shows too. I love the personal trainers' tough attitudes in NBC's "The Biggest Loser" and MTV's "I Used to be Fat". I recently heard a trainer on "I Used to be Fat" shout to his trainee that she had to "make the body follow." Her plight was trying to run a 10-minute mile, and mine's trying to run 26.2 at an 8-minute mile pace. But we both have to make our bodies do it. It's not easy for either of us. The question I have to ask myself is, "How bad do I want this?" I look at each marathon as a chance to perform to the best of my ability. I don't want to waste that opportunity! Rick likes to say it like this: "Empty the tank." Lay it all out there, and leave nothing left. And when the going gets tough, he says, "Suck it up." I can look around me at the later miles of the marathon and think, "Do you think you're the only one in pain? Do you think you're the only one who is uncomfortable right now?" Of course, everyone is feeling some level of discomfort and pain. You have to really dig deep at the end, and I think having my mind ready for that helps me. I've done this sort of mental rehearsal all week long.
Each marathon presents its own challenges for me. Sometimes I've just raced another long event, sometimes I've just had a baby (or two), or sometimes I'm recovering from an injury. My challenge for this marathon is having done Mountain Mist a month ago with little speedwork since then. My legs are tired. I have tried two sub 8-minute mile runs, one being 10 miles and one being 12 miles. In both, it was a struggle to stay under the 8:00. In trying to figure out what I might be capable of doing, I pulled up my splits from the Marshall Marathon, my last marathon not counting when I paced Rocket City. These splits are pretty telling and gave me some food for thought.
The first 17 miles were between 7:20 and 7:50. Then I slowed dramatically. There were 6 miles of 8 something miles (one was actually 9:01 but close to 8!) and then 3 9-minute miles. You can tell that I was fighting the 9 minute miles in mile 23, where I got an 8:54 after the 9:01 previous mile. I remember having some foot problems in that race, and I don't remember feeling very good at distracting myself from them in this race. They may have played a factor in the slowing down at the end. The pace in this race ended up being an 8 minute mile pace. These splits show that I started too fast (the last 9 miles were much slower than first 17). There's the temptation to start smarter in this race, though my method of starting too fast is the one I prefer (I know, call me crazy!). For now, my plan is to try to do 8:00 minute miles and maybe be a tad more consistent throughout. I think the 7:30 miles were a bad idea, and I should stick closer to 8:00 at the beginning if I want to run smarter.
So here are my goals based on all of that. My A goal is to go sub 3:30 (or essentially to beat my Marshall Marathon time of 3:29:57). My B goal is a 3:40 (Boston Qualify). My C goal is sub 4 hours. Of course, I will be happy just to finish, especially if I feel really tired as I get in the later miles (I do feel sort of silly even admitting that I still feel tired from MM; I know plenty of other runners who have raced since that run and who did really well in their races. But I have felt very tired since then, so I have no choice but to admit that it could slow me down). I'm ready to give it a try!
UPDATED 2-16-11: I looked over my splits from the New Orleans Marathon February 28, 2010. They were much more consistent. Overall time was 3:35:57, and the average was 8:14. The slowest was 8:42 (mile 26), and the fastest was 7:59. Miles 12-17 were amazingly consistent: 12 8:02, 13 8:04, 14 8:02, 15 8:03, 16 8:03, and 17 8:04. These six miles were within all within 2 seconds of each other. Talk about some even splits! At least there is proof that I can run a marathon with even splits!