Richmond Ready

I just want to preface this by saying that overall - objectively, not meant to be taken in any particular way - that I did not train for this as well as I have trained for my other marathons. Not that I trained poorly, but for the majority of training my focus was not on getting in miles and getting faster but on rehabbing an injury (which I've never had during marathon training before). I missed 3 long runs total, 2 of which were pretty key runs (an 18- and a 20-miler), and I don't think I've ever missed more than 1 during any previous marathon training cycles. I don't think I've missed 3 long runs, total, out of all my previous marathon training cycles. But regardless - and I know this sounds like a cover-your-ass kind of thing or a thing people say to make themselves feel better, but I really mean this: I am really happy and really proud that I made it this far and my big goal is to get to the start line and then over the finish line.

I came in to this training cycle feeling a little physically burnt out. I've only recently started putting the pieces together on this, but I think I was a little overtrained this spring. I had a lot of life stuff going on at the time that 100% factored in to my blowing up at Ocean City in April, but even without that stuff I felt the best physically during Shamrock in March, yet continued full steam ahead until Ocean City about a month and a half later. I was never mentally burnt out though, but I still took some time off from running and backed off on my mileage in the couple of months after O.C. By the time marathon training came round in July I was really excited about it. I was really looking forward to this race and felt really good about it, and about my training plan, and I was psyched to start. So mentally I was in a good place, one that I had struggled to get back to and I was really happy about that. But I think I made a mistake not recognizing that I had overtrained in the spring and then trying to keep that same level and then advance it for the marathon. I think I just did too much too fast, which all kind of makes sense when I look back at it now. It didn't at the time but it does now.

But as excited as I was for marathon training, it did not by any means go how I expected. This whole year for my running has been so different, and this training cycle in particular has been unlike any I've ever experienced before. Every training cycle is a little bit different, of course, but this one was full of curveballs and there were many times I thought the smart and right thing to do would be to drop to the half marathon. I never really considered dropping out entirely because I was confident I could get through the half, but I had times I thought about dropping down and might have if not for my brother-in-law also running it (his first marathon!), and also wanting to do my 50k in December. Obviously the 50k was not contingent on me running Richmond, but it did mean that I couldn't back down on distance overall so I decided to try to stick it out.

Starting marathon training in the middle of the summer was something I have never done before, and of course that was difficult. My pace suffered, as everyone's does and as I knew it would - I was prepared for that, but I still found myself struggling to hit paces that I should have been able to hit based on previous times. I'm not an expert or a coach and I don't really know anything about anything, but I think I was still feeling the repercussions of overtraining in the spring because by the time marathon training started in July it felt even harder than usual.

On the flip side, I think I did a good job of not getting frustrated by that. I definitely had runs where I was frustrated, and don't mean to pretend like I didn't, but I think overall I was more able to accept where I was and the paces I was running (or not running) better than I have been able to previously when I haven't been able to perform like I think I should. So even though I had some runs that left me frustrated or upset or wondering what was going on with me, I didn't let it get to me and just moved on. That's the main reason why in the beginning I didn't write or talk about training - there was really nothing to say about it. I was running slower paces than I have in a really long time and I really didn't have anything insightful to say about that - that's just the way it was.

So for the first third of training things were going okay but nothing special. Then the middle third was when I was going through my hip/glute injury, showing up to most of my runs not knowing for sure if or how far I was going to make it. I was able to make it through the majority of them, but I had to slow down even more than I already had been. Any semblance of speed work was completely off the table indefinitely. Thankfully it never got bad enough that I had to totally quit training and I did my best to deal with it to take it day by day. Around week 10 those days turned into an entire week where I knew that pushing myself to run would not be the correct decision, and so I missed a whole week of training. I think most runners can relate that sometimes that's the hardest thing to do, but actually it was pretty easy for me, and that tells me I made the right decision. I kept my eye on the prize the whole time and in the past that's been really hard for me, so I'm really proud of myself for recognizing that I might be able to get through 40 miles one week but it might cost me the marathon, and that those 26 miles were more important than the miles I had to do that day or that week.

The last 6 weeks, the last third of training, has been pulling the pieces together at the last minute the best I can. For a while it was touch-and-go but for the last 3 weeks, maybe 4, but I went to see a physical therapist and was able to get everything working again. I've been able to run pain-free for about 3 or 4 weeks now, which has been great but is certainly not enough time to get totally back on track. At this point the ship has pretty much sailed as far as getting in quality training, so the last few weeks my focus has been on getting in my long runs and making up as much lost time as I can without putting myself back where I started and getting injured. 

So it's been an interesting and unpredictable training cycle. certainly not what I wanted at the beginning. I went into this hoping a PR was somewhere out there but not feeling in any way, shape, or form confident that that was a real possibility. I realized pretty quickly that my fitness was not quite there and I'm honestly really fine with that. I know it's coming up on 2 years ago at this point, but I'm still beyond thrilled that I was able to run a 3:58 at Shamrock last spring. It feels like eons ago but it really wasn't that long ago, I've accomplished so much since then. A marathon PR this fall would have been nice if that's the way things had panned out and if that's where my training had led me, but it hasn't and I'm still very pleased with that PR. I have no idea when or if I'll be in a position to break that but I'm happy leaving it on the table as a future goal to strive for and knowing that now just isn't quite the right time.

So goals! I have some, but they come with the caveat that I don't know what to expect. I really don't. My pace has been kind of all over the place and I really don't know how to gauge what I'm capable of on race day. I just haven't done enough long long runs this training cycle or recently to feel like I really have a handle on them, so that's leaving me unsure of what's realistically possible and what's not. But with that said...

C Goal: 4:30 and/or faster than my Ironman marathons (NC - 4:28, Louisville - 4:36)
I would like to think I can run a standalone marathon faster than those but maybe not? But maybe. I hope so. I wouldn't be super thrilled with a 4:30ish but I guess I wouldn't be super disappointed either.

B Goal: Second fastest marathon (sub-4:17)
Like I said, I'm pretty sure a PR is well off the table and has been for some time, but there's almost a 20-minute gap between my fastest (3:58) and my second-fastest (4:18), so falling somewhere in there would be nice.

A Goal: Sub-4:10
Real talk: I would just really love to not be significantly slower than my PR.

I think my plan is to start in between the 4:00 and 4:15 pacers and just see what happens! Starting with the 4:15 would be the wiser choice especially since I'm not even positive I can keep up with them, but man I would really like to at least keep that 4:00 group in sight. If I do start close to the 4:00 group I think it will be pretty obvious after a mile or two if I need to drop back, and if that happens then maybe I'll try to hang on to the 4:15 group. We'll see!

With all of that said, I am really excited to run this marathon. For a long time I wasn't, but now I finally am. It felt like it took forever to get here, especially because summer seemed never-ending, but now it's finally here and I am finally ready. It's so easy to focus on all the things this training cycle hasn't been, and all the things this race isn't going to be - not in a negative way, just in a realistic way - and not on all the things that it will be. But what is is is a big deal and a major accomplishment! It's been over a year since the last marathon I ran (IM Louisville) and over a year and a half since I last ran a standalone marathon. It's only my 7th marathon (including IM - I never know if or how to count those) which seems like a lot but also doesn't. Someone at work today found out I was running this and asked how far and when I told her 26.2 miles she was taken back a little and said, "You can run 26 miles?!" and I immediately responded, "Yeah, I can!" In that moment it struck me how cool it was a cool thing to be able to say that. 

It took me a while to get back into the swing of things with long distance, and in the beginning 10 and 12 mile runs were a hardcore struggle. I really doubted if I would ever get back to this point. Running was just hard and then I dealt with injury and I just haven't had the opportunity to train like I really wanted to. But when I have done my really long runs I've felt freaking incredible. It truly feels superhuman being able to do this at any pace. I think because I know so many runners and triathletes and most of my friends have done half or full marathons that I forget that we're really a small subset of the world at large and that it is not normal for most people to move their bodies 26 miles. I'm excited to prove to myself that I can.

I hope that when I get to the start line I'm just happy that a) I'm there and b) I'm not sweating to death because those are the only two things I wanted this summer. I know it's so stupid and such a runner cliche to complain about the weather but the reason I run is to enjoy my surroundings and the world around me, and I am not able to do that when it's one billion degrees outside. So I hope I can stand there in the 40 degree weather, without KT tape up and down my leg, without worries or doubts about making it through the distance (aside from the normal, reasonable ones of course because marathons are inherently kind of scary), and just be glad that I made it there and that I have a body that can do this.

I think the biggest lesson I've learned this year is that just because I've done something before doesn't mean I can do it again now, or ever again. It's almost been...not like starting over, not a continuation, not a new chapter, but another book entirely. I loved that last book - it had happy chapters, it had sad chapters, and it had a great ending and I loved it - but this is a new book, completely unrelated to my last book. So this marathon is the first one of this book and that's a story I'm looking forward to writing on Saturday!

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