Hold the Vision, Trust the Process

Focus_QuoteT-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.




7 Motivational Tips for Early Morning Runs

Early morning motivationToday’s workout: 7 miles easy + strength training later at the gym Today was one of those mornings. One of those mornings where that snooze button looks oh-so-tempting and your sleep-deprived brain starts to rationalize why you should skip your run. (“You ran yesterday!” “Skipping ONE run won’t hurt…” “I’m sure you can find time to fit it in later!!”) For me the sluggishness this morning was a result of almost hourly wakeup calls throughout the night by my little ones and the fact that I knew it was going to be HOT and HUMID even at 5am.   Most runners are familiar with our brain’s attempts to sabotage our running schedule, whether through sleeping in or that extra glass of wine or two at dinner the night before a run. But I find that once I’m out the door, the early wake up time and the run itself isn’t nearly as bad as I’d feared – and I’m always proud of myself when I finish those runs that I didn’t particularly want to start.

But there are definitely days like today, where I’m tired and grumpy before I even lace up my shoes, that I need a bit of an extra boost. Here are the tips I reach for when I’m trying to find that motivation to get out the door:

1)   Buddy Up – This is the number one tip for me – and the one that makes it the easiest to get out the door no matter how I am feeling. If I’ve called a friend and promised to meet someone for a run, I’m going to show up.   It’s a lot harder to ignore that alarm when you know someone is waiting on you. And it’s also a happiness boost when you know you’ve got a friend to run with to make the miles fly by.

2)   Set a delayed alarm – I set two alarms each night. One is right by my bed and is at the time I want to wake up. The other one is set for 5 minutes later, and is far enough away that I have to get out of bed and go walk to it. In order not to wake up (and therefore irritate) my husband, I’ve got to turn off the first alarm quickly, and then get out of bed and turn off that second alarm before it goes off. Once I’m up out of bed, it’s easier to get dressed and ready to run.

3)   Shoes on alarm clock – I like this one in theory (the first thing you touch is your shoes so you’d better get up and go run!) and it may work for some folks, but all I’ve managed to do is knock over my shoes in my attempt to turn off my alarm. What I like instead is to lay out everything I need the night before (shoes, socks, outfit, body glide, etc.). I also put out all of my stuff in one spot downstairs (watch, headlamp, water bottle, etc.) so that I can grab it and go without asking my still-sleepy brain to think too much.

4)   Make a playlist – A new music playlist (or Pandora station) or even a great book on tape can sometimes get me through a motivational dry spell. If I know I have new tunes waiting on me in the morning, it’s often enough to make me a bit more excited about getting out the door. If it’s not safe for you to run with headphones where you live, save this one for the treadmill.

5)   Run a new route – I’m pretty limited as to what routes I can run from my house, so occasionally I’ll spice things up by driving 10-15 minutes to run somewhere different. While getting up even earlier to fit in the drive time isn’t always fun, I’m always happy to run somewhere new since it livens things up a bit.  If you don’t have time to drive, try running your normal loop in reverse.

6)   Plan a reward – Know you have a tough week of training coming up?   Or a very challenging workout? Promise yourself a little “reward” for making it through. If coffee or chocolate is your favorite, treat yourself to something yummy. If you’ve been eyeing a new piece of workout clothing (and your budget allows!), go buy it after you knock out a particularly tough week. My “treat” is usually a cup of Starbucks later in the morning after I’ve completed a tough tempo run that I’ve been dreading.

7)   Give yourself a challenge – This can be as simple as “run my standard 5-mile loop a minute faster than yesterday” or “spot 5 different animals on my run”. I was lacking in motivation recently and decided to issue myself the challenge of taking a photo (using my phone) of something on each run that made me smile or that I’d consider beautiful.

These are some of the things that work for me, but I’d love some more ideas!

What tricks do you use to get yourself up and out the door when your motivation is lagging?

Mile 1

I didn't get into running until well after college.  And when I started I never expected to still be enamored with the sport almost 9 years later.   From a 2:09 half marathon (9:54 pace), I’ve worked my way down to a 3:09 marathon (7:15 pace) – taking breaks to have my two daughters along the way.   I don’t consider myself a natural athlete. I never expected to love running so much – and yet, I do. I’ve been thinking about starting a blog for a few years now, but have hesitated. The pressure to add new content, the work to maintain it, and the inevitable negative comments had made me shy away from it in the past. (That, and the slight worry that the minute I hit "publish" I'd be just tempting the universe to throw an injury my way!) But a tiny voice in my head has been quietly urging me to start – to write and try my best to help other runners who may be on their own journey to become the best runner they can be.

I truly believe that we have vast amounts of untapped potential as runners – and that if we can just get our mind out of the way, our bodies are capable of so much more than we give them credit for.   It’s never been an easy thing for me, this marathon running, but it’s always felt like a worthwhile pursuit. No matter where you are starting from, whether you’ve never run a marathon or you do a marathon each month, with hard work and consistency, I have no doubt that you can improve.

That’s what I want this space to be about: Recording my own journey in the hopes that it might help others along the way to do the hard, rewarding work of reaching their running potential. I don’t claim to have everything figured out - I’m still on the journey. But I’m hoping you will join me.