A Return to the Marathon

It’s race weekend and I am more than a little nervous. Tomorrow will be the first time I have toed the line at a stand-alone marathon since 2009, six months before I joined “the dark side” as my running friends used to call it.  I’ve since run seven more marathons, but only with a 2.4 mile swim and 112 mile bike ride beforehand. Every single time I thought about the stand-alone marathon. How easy it seemed. Simple. Running 26 miles in the relative cool of the morning without cramming 2000 calories into my system beforehand?  It seemed like a joke.

But I began to wonder?  What kind of marathoner was I anymore?  I knew I was a fairly decent Ironman marathon runner, but what about a regular 26.2?  Did I still have the “magic”?

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Back when it all seemed so easy

Since switching to triathlon in 2010, I have thought many times about doing a marathon, just to see if I was still the same runner I once was. I registered for NYC in 2011 to run it with my husband and sister, but that was the fall I did Kona and putting an Ironman and a marathon within the span of 2 weeks seemed like a bad idea. Then I registered for the Colorado Marathon in 2012, but I decided to do Ironman St George instead that weekend.

At this point the marathon was becoming a bit of a monkey on my back. It was becoming mental. I was scared of showing up, not racing well, and losing something that had been a part of my identity for a long time.  The “good runner.”  I wouldn’t be that person and then I would have to redefine myself and I didn’t like the sound of “average Ironman racer” quite as well.

After Whistler this past August, I decided to make a coaching change and I hired Vince Matteo who I had met through Twitter (he’s @felog – give him a follow!).  One of the first things he recommended was running a marathon early this winter. He thought I had been underperforming in the run portion of Ironman. That thought hadn’t really occurred to me.  I was obviously underperforming in the swim, and usually underperforming on the bike, but I thought I was killing the run. Vince thought I could probably run better and he wanted to have me run a marathon. Not really to see if I could still crank out a PR, but more to learn about me as a runner and see how I would respond to his training.

We got to work on the marathon training in the fall and right off the bat, things were going down a little differently than I was used to. Instead of running solely by heart rate, we were running more by pace. A lot of times those paces were faster than I was used to running. More than a few times, after a long run where the wheels came off, I had to email Vince and tell him something like, “hey, I wasn’t able to hit 7:XX pace late in that run because I can only run that pace on the track at sea level if I am running 800s,” and that type of thing. I was a bit out of my comfort zone, and it was scary as it usually is when you go there. We both had to go through some learning, and some back and forth, but eventually we settled on some long run pacing that didn’t kill me.

Then I got flakey.

I was originally going to target the Tucson Marathon in early December, but race weekend coincided with my mother-in-law’s annual visit to our house to decorate our Christmas tree, and I couldn’t stand the thought of missing out. I decided to push the marathon back. Rock n’ Roll Phoenix was the next logical choice since it was an easy-to-travel-to race with a fast course. There was only one problem. Winter had arrived in Colorado. Cold temperatures, snow, the holidays, skiing. Still, I felt like I could manage all of that and stay on track for the race. Which is when I got hit with the big whammy – a terrible cold, flu, bronchitis, pneumonia? Who knows.  All I know is that I was a wreck. I was as sick as I’ve been in recent memory and the race prep was going south quickly. I managed to eek out a semblance of a “last long run,” but it took place in Vail, while wearing Yak Trax, with a 5 mile bus ride in the middle (don’t ask). Things were not looking good.

I sent Vince some insecure, whiny emails. I was losing any semblance of confidence I had previously had. Worst of all, I hadn’t even registered for the race yet! I had no real concrete plans to go to Phoenix. The limbo was awful and I was making Mark crazy. One day I would say I was ready to do the race and the next I would say I couldn’t do it. I was super afraid of failure and how that would feel.

Finally, I think it was on New Year’s Day or maybe the day after, I had a phone call with Vince and he talked me off the ledge. He said he didn’t care if I didn’t run 3:XX. He didn’t really care what the actual time was. He just wanted to learn some things about me that could help us going forward this year with Ironman training. So with the pressure off, I finally committed and registered for the race and made plans to go to Arizona.

That was two weeks ago.

So here I am, the day before the race, and I am trying to process how I feel about what may happen. I realize it’s not life or death – it’s just the marathon. But doing well in the marathon used to be my thing. And it might not be anymore.

I recently read that if you are afraid of something, that’s where you should head next. With that in mind, I plan to head out there tomorrow. I know I probably won’t be the same as I was before and I probably won’t run as fast as I know I am capable of. But I will be out there and I am hoping it will feel good to be back.

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3 thoughts on “A Return to the Marathon

  1. Good luck tomorrow, Jen! I’ll be thinking of you! Thanks for sharing yourself so honestly. I love your blog 🙂

  2. Hope you have a great race. It sounds like the most important part of the journey has been reflecting on the journey and figuring out where you stand within yourself. I bet no matter the speed or outcome, this race will hold a special place in your athletic accomplishments and you will continue to learn and grow from there. Have fun, challenge yourself, and enjoy the moments.

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