As a running coach, I have studied the sport for years, attended clinics and conferences and worked alongside other coaches to hopefully learn as much as I can to help my athletes. I spend a lot of time here on the blog and working with groups, offering up running advice.
I hear from so many concerned runners who are worried that they won’t be able to finish a marathon on just 20 training miles, or that by slowing their long run down, they fear they won’t meet their finish goal. I always answer with confidence and good evidence that there is nothing to worry about. I have studied these things and sat through courses that emphasize the importance of slowing your pace down or how a marathon can be completed on a maximum run of 18, 20, or 22 miles. I send repeated e-mails to clients reminding them that they need to hone their fueling plan and make sure they are fueling properly during long training runs.
So would you be surprised that after all of these discussions and e-mails I send, all of the classes I have sat through and books I have read, that I have those same self doubts?
Two weeks ago, I headed out the door for an 18 miler. I was emotional for some crazy reason and this was totally unlike me. It struck me that I had that run and a 22 miler left before my mileage would start to drop and race day was quickly approaching. I started questioning if I was ready. Despite the fact that I ran a solid 20 miler a few weeks before, I started panicking about the eighteen. The number started to feel large and I headed out counting each mile. I always tell my runners to settle in and let the miles pass. Don’t start worrying too much about how many miles you have done and certainly don’t start worrying about the ones to come. Trust your training!
I speak a lot about the importance of slowing your long runs down. It isn’t a dress rehearsal for the race. Instead it helps your body build endurance, it makes your muscles stronger and teaches your body to use fuel more efficiently. So would it be a surprise that I find myself on long runs looking at my GPS to see how fast one mile was and sometimes comparing it to other long runs? I start doing the math and figuring out if I have slowed down or gotten faster. Then I have to stop myself and get back into the correct state of mind. The long run is not a dress rehearsal and it is not indicative of how you will perform on race day. I can also tell you that the athletes I have to remind the most to slow down and not treat these as race day preps, are often the ones who are most likely to get injured.
So many times on a long run, an athlete will express concern about how their 16 miler was such a struggle and how will they possibly get another 10 miles in. Would you be surprised to know that during my 22 mile run this past weekend, I got to mile 18 and began playing that game? I wasn’t even having a hard run. In fact, it was one of my strongest runs to date and I did all of this through 3 hilly laps of Central Park.
Didn’t I just say you should never worry about those upcoming miles? Don’t I tell athletes that on almost a daily basis? I did it and then stopped myself and removed that crazy noise from my head. Stay in the moment and stay in the mile that you are in.
I send repeated reminders to focus on fueling. Find what works and make sure you use it during your training runs. Rock got after me on this one because I was skipping fuel for shorter runs at the beginning of training. He was totally right. The whole point of these long runs and building the mileage up is to train your body to handle the conditions and learn to use fuel (both stored and what you consume) more efficiently. If I am not practicing that, I am not doing myself any service during my training.
The point is, we all question ourselves. Even the greatest athletes question their abilities. I’m sure many of the top runners have those moments where their hearts race as they think about the daunting task of tackling 26.2 miles. It is normal. But the key is to trust your training. These are proven strategies that will get you to the start and finish.
Take a deep breath. Follow your plan. And go get it!
What causes you to question yourself during training? How do you get yourself back on track?
Good luck and congrats to everyone running Boston today!