I recently had an epiphany. As I mentioned in this week’s training recap, I got an old tattoo covered up. I was getting tattooed for 2.5 hours. It was painful, especially the part where she added color. The color takes multiple needles instead of just one, and you have to go over part of the tattoo that’s already been tattooed with the outline. But when a friend asked me if it hurt, I said, “Yeah, but it wasn’t as bad as running a race!”
That got me thinking. Getting a tattoo is painful. And yet, I handled it very well, with the tattoo artist even remarking how tough I was and that I could handle more pain than most people. Running a distance race is not exactly painful. It’s hard, and there can be a lot of discomfort in various of areas of the body, but it’s nowhere near as painful as getting a tattoo. So why would I think getting a tattoo wasn’t as bad as running a race?
And then it hit me. Here it is again: the mental aspect.
I’d had my tattoo appointment set for months and was extremely excited about it. I never once thought about the pain involved and only thought about the pain when I sat down at the table. And yes, it hurt, but I was so excited for the end result–to have something ugly on my body replaced with something pretty–that I was willing to endure getting tattooed for much longer than we’d planned (we originally planned to just do the outline, and then do the color in a separate sitting). I was thinking of it positively in advance, and I was willing to tolerate the pain because I wanted the end result so much.
I always thought I had a low tolerance for pain because I have quit so many times in races instead of pushing. In fact, when a race got really tough and I got into a bad place mentally, I’ve never been able to pull myself out. That’s what happened in the 2015 Pittsburgh Half Marathon and the 2016 JASR Half Marathon, where I mentally quit about 8 miles into both races. But if I can handle 2.5 hours of getting a tattoo, why can’t I handle that much or less time running a half marathon?
I’ve been in a vicious cycle with races. I have a lot of anxiety and negativity going into them, I don’t do well, and that causes me to continue having anxiety and negativity about them which continues to affect my performance. I even tell people that I love training and hate races. And yet, without fail, the races that I’ve been excited about and/or had no expectations for, I ended up doing great. My current half marathon PR is on my beloved Buffalo Creek course, which I genuinely love running on.
So how do I change my frequency? How do I start getting excited about my marathon? I thought of some ideas, and Coach Melissa gave me some others.
Set the Bar High
Okay, this goes against what everyone says about running your first marathon–that your goal should just be to finish and not be a time goal. Just finishing was my original goal going into training. My big goal was to finish feeling proud of my effort, no matter the time. In my 12 weeks of training, things have changed. My confidence has grown. I’m starting to truly believe I can do it. As I’m running at my marathon pace more and more, I keep seeing that it’s not a hard pace. It just gets tiring, and then it’s so easy to slow down. But my training is all about learning how to keep running on tired legs, so I’ll be a pro at that on race day.
There are many runners, including those faster and more experienced than I am, who have had a bad experience in the marathon, whether it’s their first or their tenth. I see that and think, well, if they can’t meet their time goal, how will I? Melissa pointed out something I never thought of before–why am I basing my own goals on other people’s experiences? This is my own race, my own experience, and my own goals. I’ve said this a million times, but I need to stop comparing myself to others. Plus, some runners will have a great marathon experience, and they will meet their time goal. I’m starting to genuinely believe I can be one of them.
So I’m saying it loud and clear here: I don’t just want to finish. I want to meet my time goal. Or maybe I should say, I want to do everything in my power to meet my time goal. If I have to stop to use the bathroom and lose minutes and don’t meet my goal, that won’t be something I can control. But I can control digging deep when it gets tough and pushing instead of quitting. I think I’m capable of that. If I don’t meet my time goal, I want to be disappointed. If I’m not disappointed, then that means I’m wasn’t as passionate about it as I should have been. So I’m willing to accept potential disappointment because I need to want to meet this goal badly. Wanting it with all my heart will motivate me to dig deep during the race.
Coach Melissa sent a link to these tips from Kate Grace on how she handles the discomfort in racing. Training will give me lots of opportunities to practice handling discomfort, especially as my runs get longer. As unsavory as it sounds, I’m hoping for some tough training runs to practice dealing with discomfort. I also have a few runs coming up that I won’t have a buddy for, and I know doing them solo will make them tougher. I’m also planning on running on the race course to practice running on the 1% upgrade, which should also lead to some discomfort.
Melissa’s advice was to make a list of everything that scares me about the race and then in a second column write down ways I can prepare for them. That preparation will a focus of the rest of training. She also talked about the importance of establishing a routine that I can do start doing now for my SOS (something of substance) and long runs so that my body is familiar with the routine and ready to run on race day just like I do on my training runs. The routine should include everything I do the night before and morning of a hard/long run, like what I eat and my warm-up routine.
I’m genuinely excited about my training runs. Sometimes I’m so excited that I wake up well before my alarm clock. Since my alarm goes off at 4 a.m. on some days, waking earlier than that is not a good thing! But that’s how excited I get. So how can I get that excited for the marathon? One thing I can do is fake it until I make it. I did that with the Pittsburgh Pirates 5K this spring. I was dreading that run, but every day the week of the race I would tell myself and my friends how excited I was, which lessened my anxiety, and I then I ran a good race. I think I need to do the same for this race. I need to remember that it’s a very pretty trail, that the vibe will be low-key, that it’s a small race–all the things that made me want to do this race in the first place.
One other small thing I can do is read motivational books or watch movies. I have never seen Spirit of the Marathon. What else should I read or watch?
I’m hoping that through a combination of all these things, I’ll be excited enough and want the end result bad enough that I’ll be able to handle the discomfort well enough to have a good experience.