Enjoying the Change

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I’ve gone through one complete training cycle since deciding to not run marathons for the near future. I’ll admit I was anxious, and a bit skeptical, about the change. But with a few months under my belt, I’m a believer and am actually enjoying myself. I wanted to transition away from marathons in order to get faster and be able to spend more time with my family. So far, I’m accomplishing both.

For one thing, this spring has been crazy for us. Milo had 3 double ear infections in a row, which resulted in him needing surgery to have tubes put in. In just 1 week, Nick had 4 funerals. 4 funerals in just 7 days! It was madness. I don’t know how we kept our heads above water, much less if I had needed to go out for a 20 mile run. I definitely felt like I had better home/running balance only training for a half marathon.

But I say only training for a half marathon as if it were easy. Joe kept my workouts challenging and sometimes exhausting. What I had been running in high mileage, Joe was making up for with high intensity. The result: I’ve had 3 really great races so far this year. I’ve been really proud of all 3 races (a 5k, 10k, and half marathon) and not just because I showed up, but because I was fast. Like who-I-used-to-be fast. I feel like I’ve made more progress in the first couple months of this year than I did of all last year.

  
And I still have plenty of time to be wife and mom to my family. I’m not spending as much time running, and I also don’t feel as spent from running. My recovery each day has been better than that of my previous marathons. Which means I still have plenty of energy to chase my son around the yard all day, which is important because he wants to be chased all day.

I’m also finding my mentality is changing. I used to run so aggressively every time I laced up my shoes; there was always an expectation or pace to meet. (It’s important to say that these expectations were false notions in my head, Joe has been trying to reign me in for a long time.) I’m finally slowing down and enjoying my recovery runs. I have days each week where I get to run for running’s sake and not to beat the clock. For the first time, I put together my jogging stroller and took Milo out running. We loved it! It was a moment of motherhood I finally got to see realized. And Milo loves any excuse to be outside. I would strap him into his seat and give him one of his balls (we don’t go anywhere without a ball), then I’d take off. The only peeps he’d make were to talk to the dogs barking at us. He never whined, never cried, never implied we needed to go home.

  
I feel like for the first time in years, I’m getting to have my cake and eat it too. There’s balance and recovery built into each week, but also progress. So I’m going to stay in the half marathon camp a little longer, but I’ll be ready when it’s time to step back into the marathon

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A Step Back to Move Forward

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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.