Tuesday, November 06, 2018

marathon training, self esteem and confidence

Back in May I decided that this year was the time when I was going to run my first marathon. I grew up in a family where both my parents were runners. My mom sometimes used the way to/from work to jog her long runs. My dad ran marathons, the first when I was around 6 years old. My brother has run one as well. As we are a fairly competitive bunch, I started really feeling that I should do that when my brother ran his.

That said, I've never been the runner of the family. But I have been jogging since I was at university. I've been the slowest one in my family pretty much all the time. And I've been the chunkiest one. And I've been aware of this all the time but still kept going with a thought "at least I'm still doing it".

Move on to a few years back when I decided to challenge myself and the perception that maybe, if I was a slow jogger, I would gain some traction if I extended my distances? What I lack in speed, I make up in consistency and perseverance? So I signed up for my first half-marathon. It seemed like a good enough distance to be far enough that you have to train for it, and short enough it doesn't break the bank on completely committed and crazy.

My first half-marathon solidified my feeling that while I'm not in the group of "fast runners", I'm not last. None of this should matter of course. But this is part of the story of why I am and have had some issues with running groups and "sharing" with people.

You see, one of the biggest thing with runners is chasing time. You want to do a PR. You should want to be faster and beat this and that. And as a competitive person, I sure did that a lot when I started. I trained to be faster. I wanted to improve my PR. Every time out was an opportunity to go for max and it felt good to be exhausted in the end.

Then came an injury. I ignored it pretty well, and managed to run a half setting a PR while doing it. And then was 6 months of having pain, issues to walk and sit. And for sure not running or working out. After that I decided to take a little bit of a check on myself. Realizing that I'm older and maybe not in such a good shape that I should go for gold every single time but think about "how should I work out so I can keep doing this the rest of my life". Learning to listen to my body a little more. And trying to incorporate a little bit of calm into my workout routine.

So I started running without music. To force myself to be out in nature, running and being aware of my head, my breathing and taking a break from the rush rush, and finding a different feeling of running. I listen to pod casts at many of my longer runs nowadays. Like a companion but still able to choose when a few miles are just you and your thoughts. A few weeks ago I started running with a metronome to keep focusing on my cadence. That brought me back to my old times as a swimmer. Counting strokes, focusing on form, doing lap after lap. It's similar to the boxing bag and repeating punching series. And of course, the most obvious, playing scales with the flute. All of these repetitive things that makes me relaxed, yet focused and able to really tap into that strength and clear my mind and body.

Anyway, this was supposed to be about the marathon and what the training experience has given me so far.

It was a challenge at work to sign up, the company wanted to see x number of employees run the full marathon. And I thought, if not this year, when? and signed up. We got a little ribbon to put on our work badge, "to recognize each other and for others to see us".  I didn't want to put on my ribbon, I'm not much for telling people private things and this marathon was a private thing. Sometime later in the summer one of the reps ran into me on campus and asked "why aren't you wearing the ribbon?". I mentioned that I wasn't comfortable with it, at this point I hadn't told anyone I was training for a marathon, it was my goal, my idea and my time.

The rep started to tell me "it's an accountability thing, if you tell people you will not back out but you will run". I explained, as nicely as I could, that I don't function that way since so far if I sign up for something and say I will do it, I will. It's not about outside pressure to do it (sometimes it's actually just the opposite). Anyway, the rep continued to say "it's a leadership quality, to show that you are willing to do something that you have never done before (run a marathon/and in my case put on a badge and 'brag' at work)". I told them I would think about it, and waited for the feeling that it would be ok to have he ribbon on, to be "visible" and to "brag" about something.

You see, there's a lot of self esteem things riding on this "being a runner". And then there is a lot of questions about time. "how fast are you aiming to run the marathon?" (answer: First one I'm aiming to finish, no time thought).

The one thing I can say after doing this training for 5 months, it takes time. And a lot of people are focused on time, as in speed. I'm trying to plod along. Trying to feel good about the fact that I'm logging miles, regardless of the speed. I started training in the summer. That means a lot of runs in 90F/34C weather. I've grown to be quite ok with going out and doing it in those conditions. Am I fast? Nope. Do I like running in heat? Not really but I've grown to appreciate it more and more. Do I do it and feel better afterwards? Yes.

And this brings us to the reason that I'm ranting away on this post right now. I mentioned earlier that I have run half-marathons before. The longest I have run before starting this training for the marathon has been 13.34 miles (last half-marathon race). I was a little bit nervous, yet excited, to run further. My first longer run than that happened to be in the afternoon a sunny hot day and I was scheduled to do 15.5miles. It was not a great choice, it was really sunny and hot. I didn't feel great about it, but I did it and then came a lot of doubt. "Can I really do a full, those 15 miles were abysmal".

Well, next weekend rolled around and according to my schedule it was time for a 16 mile run. I woke up earlier in the morning and went out and did the training. It was a cool, crisp morning with clouds and no shining sun. And when I finished I felt spectacular. Not just my body (legs were tired obviously) but the feeling in my mind and the self esteem was back. "well, perhaps I can do this!"

So, I kept plodding away with my schedule. And soon came the longest distance I should run before the race; 19 miles. (Side note, I need to point out that a lot of people who train for marathons don't run the full course before the actual race. This is especially true if you are slower since after a certain number of hours, your body doesn't build up but rather breaks down. And also, the experienced people keep saying that if you can do 19-22miles/30-36km, you can do 26 miles/42km since the last part is perseverance, mental and correct hydration/energy planning.) To say I was nervous would be true. I was a little scared that I would hurt myself (5 months of training down the drain) and curious on how I would feel coming into those 17, 18 miles.... Needless to say it wasn't as bad as I dreaded it, but wasn't flawless. But the real joy came afterwards when I updated my friends on the progress and none of them asked for my time but focused on "how did it feel".

It's probably fairly obvious that while I'm saying that "everyone else" is focused on time, the one who focuses the most on it is me. Well, I'm a work in progress and not really over the fixation yet. For now though, I'll take the happy feeling that I am 3/4 on the way to my race distance wise. And that after this weekend coming up I am in tapering mode and will not have to do over 10 miles. I will need to keep the focus and keep training and really starting the thing I deep down dread the most; early morning runs in the dark. Why? Because the race is in the morning and my body is not a great morning body.

To sum this post up; I am happy to have found that the marathon training have helped me deal with my self esteem issues and move forward, maybe not in the way that I thought it would when I started - that's an added bonus. And that nothing matters as much as "routine" since "doing something" is better than "doing nothing". Fingers crossed for me keeping the mental happiness through the big race!