This is a long blog post so I will apologize in advance. There is a lot in my head and I had to get it all out so I can make room for new thoughts.
I have been doing a lot of reflecting over the past month, trying to figure out why I have had lackluster races so far this year, and, why I have not been as 'excited' and 'motivated' about the races (and the preparation leading up to them) as I was in past years. As much as I love running, this 'meh' feeling is so unusual for me.
Last year, I felt really positive about my fitness/progress. Perhaps because the year started with the Disney Goofy Challenge 2013. It was such a wonderful experience and it set a tone for the whole year. Right after that, I ran two more marathons to qualify for Marathon Maniac membership -- another goal achieved and another springboard forward.
I just kept setting more goals to achieve, setting new PRs in most distances. I knew what I needed to do to make these goals happen, and I was very dedicated to my training plan (which basically lasted the entire year). Setting a 21-minute PR at the Marine Corps Marathon last October was the grand finale for 2013 -- a race I ran to honor my father.
There are just so many amazing races that I want to run while my body still is able. I ran 22 distance races in 2013 -- 4 5Ks, 2 10Ks, 1 15K, 2 10-Milers, 8 Half Marathons, 4 Full Marathons, and 1 50K Ultra. For many of my runner buddies, this is not all that much. But for me, this was an accomplishment (and maybe a bit crazy). I just did not realize how much time and effort doing that many races (and that much training) would require. By the end of that year, I was pretty tired and a bit burnt out.
So here I am in 2014, and I have to say that my performance in the first six races of the year just hasn't been what I was hoping for. 3 Full Marathons (all much slower than I expected), 2 5Ks that were acceptable, and 1 10K that was fun but 5 minutes slower than my PR for that distance. I feel like I have taken a step back from the progress I made in 2013.
While it is not reasonable to expect that 'every race' is going to be an improvement over the last one, it is hard not to fall into that expectation. And who said I was reasonable, anyway. Hahaha! There are just too many variables to factor in when predicting performance.
Assessing the Situation
I think there are a combination of reasons for where I am at the moment.
Training deficiencies. Winter in Chicagoland was brutal. There is no other way to say it. So many days below freezing it was ridiculous. And with over 70 inches of snowfall, the roads and paths were often too dangerous to run on due to the ice cover. Since I am not a big treadmill fan, it was even harder to get myself to train when I was already feeling burnt out. So in December, my training was very inconsistent. I only ran for 67 miles in December (when I was averaging over 100 miles per month the previous six months of 2013).
By the time I got myself back to training (on the treadmill) regularly, I had lost a lot of training time. I had a marathon scheduled in early March and I had to try to get ready with only two months to do so. While I put in 276 training miles during January and February, I did not get the same kind of preparation on the treadmills that I get when running on the roads and paths I usually train on. I have grown to appreciate the treadmill now, but I know that the roads and paths are my true running friends. And I think there is something to be said about the mental impact of such a brutal, cold, and overcast winter season.
No specific goals set. In 2013, I had a whole set of progressive goals set, from becoming a Marathon Maniac, to setting new PRs, to running my first Ultra, to moving up in levels in the Half Fanatics club. Goals give you focus and purpose. I started 2014 with no real goals other than to run in more states and make progress on my 50 States Endurance Challenge (running a half/full marathon in all 50 states).
I realized last month that 'running for states' is just not enough for me. It will take me many years to reach my 50 State Endurance goal. I need to set goals for this year so that I can look to them for more immediate motivation. I am very goal-oriented and I need something I can look at and say "You want this? Then get busy!" Having an answer to the questions "Why I am running this race? Why am I putting myself through this training?" is key for me.
Running wasn't as fun. I started to think of running as work. Now of course, training can be tough. But more than anything, running was always fun. Getting outside and taking in the clean air, the sights and sounds, sharing running with friends, etc. I think all the treadmill running got me out of that mindset. It felt more like work, like an obligation, and less like fun and freedom. When you do something your heart isn't enjoying, you don't do it as well, and you don't get the same level of benefit and satisfaction as a result.
Poor eating habits. After Thanksgiving, I started to get a little lazy in my eating habits. I ate more dessert foods, comfort foods, and fast food. I didn't totally fall back into eating junk, but things I wasn't eating before (like candy, donuts, cookies, etc) were finding there way back into my diet. The result was that I gained 12 pounds between November and January. Totally unacceptable, and I believe the extra pounds has impacted my running endurance. Try carrying 12 pounds with you for 26.2 miles and you can imagine the extra effort that requires!
Making some Changes!
I have eight more races this year, two of which are my "A" races for 2014 (the Air Force Marathon and the Hudson Mohawk Marathon). I look at my race schedule and I am genuinely excited for what is coming up. I am tapping into my excitement for those races as I look to codify some goals for the remainder of this year.
What goals do you ask? Well, here is what is important for me to achieve:
1) Lose 20 pounds. I am getting back to a better 'race weight'!
2) Set up a good Training Plan. I am working with my coach to put together a new training plan that will prepare me for the Air Force Marathon in September
3) Bring back the fun! Run with my friends, enjoy the moments.
4) Develop my cycling. I am loving biking as my cross training activity. Going to do more.
As I write this, I am watching Deena Kastor win the 2005 Chicago Marathon in the movie "Spirit of the Marathon". This is one of my favorite movies. I love watching it because I love the stories of the runners profiled in the documentary. I can relate to their trails and their successes. I am not as fast as Deena, but her will to succeed and her work ethic are inspiring to me. She sets a bar that I keep in front of me as a constant challenge.
One of the quotes in the movie is "Once you cross that finish line, no matter how fast or how slow, it will change your life forever." This is truth. Crossing the finish line during the AVON Walk for Breast Cancer (my first marathon) was an amazing experience. Crossing the finish line at my first Marathon Race -- the Chicago Marathon -- was equally amazing. I knew I had accomplished something that could never be taken away. The sense of personal accomplishment was overwhelming. Tears flowed as I felt a kinship with the runners in "Spirit of the Marathon" that I still feel today.
I am reconnecting with that sense of strength and personal resolve. I am recommitting myself to set and achieve my goals for 2014. I will make this year something to remember!