A Step Back to Move Forward


The marathon has always been my race. From the moment I decided to start competing, I was focused on it. I wanted to not only finish, but immediately had the goal of qualifying for Boston.

The marathon has been good to me. I did qualify for Boston the first time I ran a marathon. I continued getting faster, winning for my age group, and requalifying for Boston. I love being a marathoner and it loves me.

But after this year, I found myself questioning the marathon and whether it really was the distance I should be running right now.

The time to train. It’s not that I don’t have the time; it’s whether it’s worth it. Marathon training requires 3-4 months of work, with long runs that last hours. At the peak of my training, I would lose half a day to the long run and then recovery. That never phased me before, but I didn’t have a husband and child to consider. We make it work and it’s totally worth it when you have a good race, but it’s a huge gamble. I spent hours training last spring, only to get sick the week of the marathon. My fall training went off without a hitch, and we had 20 mph winds the day of the race. I’m struggling to justify all that time training when it can fall apart at the last minute.

I have nothing to prove. I can run a marathon. I have run 12 of them. I ran Chicago in 2007, which was the year we had record heat and they had to close the race down early for some runners. I was able to finish and, even with the extreme temperature, I qualified for Boston. I got a stomach bug the night before I ran Boston in 2009 and still ran the race the next morning. Even with stopping to vomit, I finished in qualifying time. I ran the Quad Cities and finished first for my age group and in the Top Ten women two years in a row. At this point, if I’m going to run a marathon, it won’t be for the accomplishment. I want to run for time, to be the fastest I can.

Can I get faster at the marathon by running marathons? Some people can. With more experience they just get faster, but my body isn’t responding that way. I got really fast for a time, I was average for even longer, and then I slowed way down. It doesn’t seem like I can just keep doing what I’ve been doing and expect to actually get better.

I took these concerns to my coach, Joe. Of course he wasn’t surprised: he’s had the same concerns for a long time. When I first started working with Joe, I had run four marathons but not a single 5k. The first thing he said was that I needed to incorporate shorter distances into my racing, and I was compliant.

But after several years of working with him, Joe started suggesting I take a break from marathons. He said I should give my body and mind a break and a chance to heal from all of the miles. I wouldn’t have it. I’m a marathoner. If I’m not running marathons, who am I? I’ve wrestled with that for a while now, but I think I’m finding peace with it.

I’m not a marathoner, I’m a runner. I don’t need a distance to define me. By allowing myself to be a runner, I don’t lose my identity just because I’m not running marathons. I am who I am at 5ks, 10ks, and half marathons just as much as I am at marathons.

I’m allowing myself to explore my potential. It’s still something I struggle with, but what if I’m actually better at a 10k than I am the marathon? What if all this time I’ve been so fixated on a distance that I’m good at, while there is another one I excel at? While it’s my marathon times I’m the most proud of, I also have impressive PRs for the 5k and half marathon. I need to give myself a chance to try new things and see what’s really the best fit for me.

So I’m not running any marathons in 2015. It will be at least 3 years before I race another marathon, although that’s not to say I won’t run one in that time. My goal is to develop speed and sharpen my mental endurance. I’m going to train harder and shorter. My goal is also to find peace with being a runner. My ultimate goal is to return to the marathon stronger than I’ve ever been. But if I can’t, my goal is to be okay with that too.

So right now I’m training for a half marathon in May. I’ve run numerous half marathons, but always in preparation for a marathon. This is my first time training specifically to race this event. That’s exciting and scary at the same time since I hate change. But it’s all still running and I’m grateful that doesn’t change.