T-minus 5 weeks to go until Erie, folks! I'm still standing, albeit on very, very tired legs. We've gotten to the part of marathon training where I feel like I have to start tapping into all of the mental reserves I can muster. Though I am mighty sick of the 4:30am alarm setting and the suffocating heat and humidity that seems to follow me on every run, I am extremely grateful to still be healthy and running. I can feel myself getting closer to my goals - now I just need to hang on and put in a few more weeks of hard work. The marathon is a strange beast. To truly race it well, to run it while pushing up against the very limits of your current fitness, requires laser-like focus. Not only focus on race day, but constant focus over the course of the season to keep yourself on track. It's not the hard workouts, early alarms, or higher mileage that proves to be my nemesis, but the sheer mental effort required to maintain this level of focus throughout the season. THAT'S one of the reasons why marathoning is so challenging.
I've hit up against this issue of maintaining focus in a couple of ways this past week.
1) Focus within a workout: This Thursday I had 5x1200 on the schedule. I managed to talk a speedy friend of mine into running them with me and at 5am we made our way over the the track in the dark. I was dreading this workout - DREADING IT. I knew I'd be running on tired legs from teaching BodyPump the night before and I just...wasn't feeling it. I had dead legs on the warmup over to the track and my mind quickly searched for excuses not to complete the workout. But I talked myself into (in part thanks to not wanting to look like a wimp in front of my friend), and started the intervals. On each one, I found I had to really work to maintain focus to keep up the pace. The middle lap was the worst - I'd start out fast on the first lap, then my brain would want to mentally check out on the second. The toughest part of the workout was really having to work to maintain my turnover and intensity on that second lap - and even then it was still my slowest lap for each interval. It was great practice for being aware of the mental work that was required and not giving up. With each rep I practiced being focused on each lap and staying committed to the workout. I'll need that focus on race day when I have the tendency to "check out" in the middle-to-late miles of the race when things start to hurt and yet the finish line is still so, so far away. At Tobacco Road my pace tanked by a full minute when I stopped paying attention - I will not let that happen at Erie, and these kind of workouts are great practice.
2) Focus on the schedule: The second area that can be difficult to maintain focus is on the marathoning schedule as a whole. It's all too easy for me to get overwhelmed with how many weeks I have left to go when instead I need to be focusing on nothing but the current week that I'm in. Taking it day by day and workout by workout can help prevent that overwhelming feeling of "will I ever reach the end of this?". I know this, and yet I often struggle to stay focused on the day's run and purpose of that run.
3) Focus on the peripherals: (diet, PT exercises, core work, sleep, etc.) I must admit: This is the first area where I'm likely to lose focus. It's all too easy for me to slack off on the core work or the healthy eating when other things (my young daughters, errands, housework, distractions like Facebook...) are clamoring for my attention. But I know that if I don't maintain focus on doing these things (eating right, getting enough sleep, keeping up with my core work and PT exercises) I'll pay for it down the road. I've been writing myself little post-it notes around my house to remind me to maintain my focus on these things. Only 5 more weeks to go, right? I can do it.
But the one thing - the most important thing - I've been trying very hard to keep in mind, is a focus on the big picture.
Getting to that starting line healthy with a season of hard work behind me, will give me the best shot at running that sub-3. And for the next 5 weeks, I will do all I can to remained focused on that big picture. This means listening to my body, praying daily to stay healthy, trusting the process and the plan, holding on to the vision of sub-3 and maintaining as much focus as I can muster. I can do it. I WILL do it. I'm coming for you, Erie.