It's hard to believe I haven't updated here in almost three weeks. Though I hate to admit it, I've gotten a little lazy about that, but my goal is to write something at least once or twice a week, like I did when I first started blogging. Hopefully, this will be the start in getting back to that.
Well, last time I posted, I had completed my longest weekend run to date, which was a little over 15 miles. The week after that, I did 17 miles, and for my "step-back week" following that, I shot for an easier 12-miler (but could only find the stamina to do about 11). This weekend, according to the Hal Higdon training schedule I've been following (for the most part), I was only required to do 18, but mentally, I felt ready to tackle 20. I've always read that many runners--especially beginners--should do their 20-miler about three weeks before the marathon and only attempt it once (to save energy for the race), but many Chicago marathons that I've talked to did those miles last weekend and have already talked about attempting it again before October 9. I guess it depends on where you are physically and what works best for you personally, but in any case, I felt a surge of competitiveness over that, and now here I am, feeling amazing and wishing that everyone could experience what it feels like to really get out there and succeed at something you never considered before.
I've talked about this a little in the past, but it really is true: the human mind is incredible at guiding you through situations where physical preparation can only go so far. Of course, that doesn't mean you can afford to get lax and let your head carry you the entire way, but I sensed it even more when I started running today. I have known for the past 5 days that I was going to do these 20 miles this morning. I made a special trip to The Runner's Soul for energy gels, planned an approximately 4-hour block of time to run, ate my usual "running breakfast" beforehand (good old Powerade, banana, and Cliff bar), and headed to the treadmill with plenty of water. Most of all, I just spent those few days really making it clear to myself that I was going to work through those 20 miles, no matter how tired I got. Even if I had to walk a little more than usual, I would stick with it and not quit early.
Now, I guess that was basically a combination of physical and mental preparation, but either way, I felt the difference as soon as I started running. It's funny because on the days that I say I'm only going to do about 5 miles, I'm exhausted after about 3 or 4. On the days when I don't set a specific number in terms of mileage, I sometimes can barely push past 2 miles. Today, however, I started out nice and easy, with my iPad in front of me, and after the first mile, I felt stronger and more confident than I ever had at that point during my previous runs that week. I didn't start to really feel it until about the 12-mile mark, and I truly believe the mind has something major to do with that. When you make up your mind how it's going to go, and you rehearse it in your head beforehand, it really does pay off later. Three weeks ago, that 15-miler felt insanely difficult--much more so than those 20 miles today--and again, it just becomes easier as you go, even if you don't think it will.
Finishing 20 miles is a huge step in knowing that you're ready for the real thing, and after doing three really long runs over the past few weeks, I am so excited about how my body has adapted to all this. Exactly one year ago, I couldn't fathom the idea of running at all, much less for the pure enjoyment of it, and I used to make fun of my sister Katie regularly as she trained for the 2010 Chicago Marathon (in a loving sisterly way, of course). Then, after I made the decision to participate in the 2011 marathon, I told myself that even if I burned out halfway through, or if I didn't finish in the official 6.5 hour time frame, I would be okay with that, because simply getting out there and trying felt good enough for my first attempt. Now that I've stuck with the training process and completed 20 miles, I don't worry about having to re-adjust my expectations. I no longer fear that I might not make it through the entire 13.1-mile course on September 11, or the 26.2 miles on October 9, because I know that I will. It feels amazing knowing that as people, we can come so far with goals that seemed impossible at one point. On one hand, it's such a cliche, yet when you experience it, there's nothing better!
I'm definitely looking forward to the long weekend, and I hope that everyone enjoys their Labor Day. Use the time off to enjoy time with friends and family, and maybe do something that you can't always fit in with hectic work schedules!
Question of the Day: Have you ever accomplished something where you relied on the mental preparation as much as the physical? What was it, and how did it feel once you got there?