Marathon training is hard. It’s always hard.
This is my fifth go-round with marathon training, and it’s by far been my most intense. I joined a training group, I’ve incorporated more speedwork and weightlifting, and I added weekly yoga classes. I’ve shaved minutes off race PRs at every distance, and I’m zeroing in on a Boston Marathon qualifying mark.
But somehow, it hasn’t been harder.
More physically demanding, yes, but not harder. Because mentally, it’s actually been easier. Sure, I’ve had days here and there (like, when the heat and humidity became oppressive) that I just didn’t feel like running. I’ve had a handful of awful runs (marked “red” on my detailed desk calendar running journal). And yet, it’s never felt like a burden – which is something I can’t say for previous years’ training seasons.
So how is this possible? How can increased physical demands equate to decreased mental demands?
The answer is simple: For the first time in years, I’m running for all the right reasons.
I’m not running to escape something, or to fill the void. I’m running because I want to. For the joy of it.
In years past, running was a coping mechanism as I went through some difficult life changes. That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s what I needed at the time, and it helped get me to a better place. And now that I’m in that better place, all of the joy is back. Pushing my physical limits, reaching goals and still striving for others, has truly been fun. I’m meeting new people, forging new bonds and finding new reasons to love this sport.
Marathon training is hard. It’s always hard. But the joy is back, and it’s made all the difference. — Mags
Forest Park holds a special place in my heart. My husband and I went to college in St. Louis; it’s where we met and fell in love. But for all the things I love and reminisce about the city of St. Louis and my wonderful college years, my heart belongs to Forest Park.
I feel like Forest Park is this hidden secret of St. Louis. Sure, everyone who lives in St. Louis knows it, but to outsiders, St. Louis is the city of the arch, of the Cardinals, of Budweiser beer.
But oh, Forest Park. Friends, it is a runner’s paradise. The almost six-mile loop features rolling hills, water fountains (eat your heart out, Central Park), runners and walkers and bikers (but not so many that it gets crowded like Chicago’s lakefront trail), lakes, and a bevy of St. Louis attractions (St. Louis Zoo, the Saint Louis Art Museum, the Missouri History Museum and the St. Louis Science Center, to name a few).
It’s funny, because never once in college did I run in Forest Park. I went on lots of dates there with my future husband. Outdoor picnics in front of the Jewel Box. Evenings at the Muny, the outdoor theater. Ted Drewes frozen custard under the canopy of trees. My roommate, Katy, and I took lots of biking and — wait for it — rollerblading (!) excursions to the park. But I never ran there.
Mostly, it’s because I wasn’t really a runner yet. And also, because I had no idea what I was missing.
Now, we make trips back to St. Louis a couple times a year to visit family and friends, and every time we go, we make it a point to run Forest Park. It’s always the highlight of my weekend. I have literally never had a bad run in Forest Park. And sure, I’m guessing some of it is the novelty of only getting to run it a couple times a year, but I think some of it is the magic of the park.
It’s a truly wonderful place to run. Or take your kids. Or your dog. Or your significant other. Whatever you’re doing in Forest Park, I promise you’ll fall in love. — Aidz
“Running is a cheap sport. All you need are shoes!”
Um, yeah, right. We runners know better than that. We have STUFF. Lots of it. And when it comes to training for and running a marathon, it definitely ain’t cheap.
Here’s a look at the costs associated with my Chicago Marathon training, which essentially began in February, and the race itself:
Chicago Marathon Race Registration: $185.00
Shoes (3 pairs): $300.00
iPod Shuffle: $50.00
Garmin Forerunner 110: $120.00
Shot Bloks: $32.00
Clothing (1 pair of compression socks, 1 pair of compression sleeves, 3 pairs of shorts, 1 pair of tights, 1 pair of capri tights, 4 sports bras, 4 tank tops, 2 long sleeve tops, 4 pairs of socks): $600.00*
Body Glide: $9.99
Yoga for Runners Classes (20): $200.00
Gym Membership (9 months): $179.91
Massages (6): $550.00
Swag at the Marathon Expo: $100.00*
Parking at the Marathon Expo: $10.00
Marathon Race Day Transportation: $40.00*
TOTAL COST: $2,771.90
* estimated; also, I THINK that’s all of the running clothes I’ve purchased since February — and most everything was on sale.
Now, keep in mind that I don’t have to pay for a hotel room or a plane ticket. I also didn’t include costs for traveling to the Madison Half Marathon or the Bix 7 because I consider those vacations. And of course, I already owned a lot of gear and clothing heading into this venture.
Still, all told, since February, I’ve spent almost three grand on running and training. Wow.
But guess what? It’s been worth every penny. — Mags
“The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)” by U2
Hey, guess what? You probably already have this song waiting for you in your iTunes! Now, I have mixed feelings about the marketing associated with U2’s new album, but this first single is the type of anthemic tune that’s tailor-made for sporting events and running playlists. And I like it. So sue me. — Mags
I woke up this week with a sore throat, headache, earache and runny nose. I stayed home from work, slept and watched a lot of “Law & Order: SVU.” I skipped my tempo run and my group speed workout. I’ve started to feel better, but I’m still not at 100 percent.
Logically, I know it’s a blip on the radar. I keep reminding myself that missing a couple workouts isn’t going to make or break me on race day. I tell myself that resting and getting healthy is more important, that pushing myself and stretching out my illness will only make things worse. I am trying to look at it as “body-mandated” rest, coming off my biggest mileage month ever and a huge work event I spent half the year planning.
Logically, I know these things. Still, I’m panicking a little. OK, maybe more than a little.
So we’ll see how my 18-miler goes this weekend. With any luck, another solid night of sleep and a few more episodes with Benson and Stabler will be enough to get me back on my feet again. — Mags
Learn From Your Race Photos.
It’s an age-old running quandary: What’s your running style? Are you a heel, mid-foot or toe striker? Do you run like a gazelle or an elephant? Are you an arm swinger or a tin soldier? And how do you REALLY know?
Based on my, uh, “deliberate” gait, I always assumed I was a heavy heel striker, but when I switched to a more minimal running shoe without much trouble, I realized I’ve been a mid-foot striker all along. Who knew? Not only do my shoes wear right down the middle of the soles, but there’s another piece of evidence of my running style that I’ve been ignoring for years: My race photos.
We’ve talked before about the art of race photos before, but race photos can do more than document your racing accomplishments. They can also document your running style.
Unless you’re running in front of a mirror for an extended period of time (dear GOD, the humanity), you don’t really have any way of knowing what you look like when you’re running.
Enter the race photo. I’m not talking about those victoriously posed finish-line photos, but rather, those awful I-didn’t-see-the-photographer-at-mile-9 photographs.
Sure, those photos are painful to see because you look terrible, but once you get over the aesthetics, take a look at your feet, your posture, your gait. Where are you striking the ground? How high is your arm swing? What does your stride length look like? How does your body look when you are fatigued? Understanding the way your body works on auto-pilot can reveal a lot about injuries, weaknesses and strengths.
So take note of those awful unguarded race photos — they can teach you something about yourself. — Aidz
For as fortunate as I feel to have a gym and shower in my office, it always surprises me that more people don’t take advantage of this awesome amenity. Generally, there’s only stuff in about four or five of the lockers, and it’s always the same stuff.
But since I’m almost always alone in the locker room, I’ve become curious who these other women could be. Are they runners? Walkers? Yogis? Ellipticalers? Why don’t I ever see them in the locker room? Why don’t they ever change their clothes out? WHO ARE YOU, GYM PEOPLE?
Well, like I said, I’m usually alone in the locker room. And my mind wanders when I’m on the dreadmill, so the other day, I got curious and inspected the contents of our cubby shelf thingies post workout. After all, you can tell a lot about a person by her shoes, right? I thought this would shed some light on these phantoms of the gym. Here’s what I found:
Mystery Woman A: GAH! Lady, please get new shoes. My feet are crying for your feet. Not only is there a chunk of shoe missing from your heel, but your toes are so worn down, you’re almost through the bottom of your shoes. There’s a lot of wear to the front AND back of these shoes, so my guess is that these shoes have done a lot of running and walking. Either way, they need to be put out to pasture. There’s no way in hell that anyone is doung comfortable anything in these past-their-prime puppies.
Mystery Woman B: These shoes are beat to hell, too. But since all of the wear is to the mid-foot, I’m guessing that these shoes have actually been worn for running, and with decent form, too. There’s a sad towel and some wimpy flip-flops in here, so I’m guessing that this runner runs hard enough to warrant a shower post workout. We might be kindred spirits. Hey shoes–do you want to come and run with my shoes sometime? The four of us could be running buddies!
Mystery Woman C: These shoes don’t have many miles on them. At all. The bottoms are practically new. Since they’ve been hanging out in the same locker for about four months now, I’m guessing the owner has abandoned you or abandoned running. Sorry, dudes, I guess she just wasn’t that in to you.
Mystery Woman D: All the wear on these shoes is on the heels. Walker. These certainly weren’t the shoes I was expecting to accompany the fancy schmancy Lululemon messenger bag that’s been hanging unmoved on the same hook for quite a few weeks. I’m guessing that these once-upon-a-walking shoes get a pity ride on the elliptical once in a blue moon for soapies over the lunch hour.
Well, what do you think of my locker-room detective work? (Other than the fact that I am a judgemental creeper who riffles through people’s shoes.) Are my hunches right? And more importantly, what can you learn about a person when you look into her sole? –Aidz
Each year, I have a work conference in late August or early September. And each year, I take to the streets in the conference’s host city. I’ve run in Minneapolis, New York, San Francisco and New Orleans and thoroughly enjoyed each jaunt. However, I sure would’ve liked some local experts to guide me along the way.
So when it was announced that the conference would be in Chicago this year, I offered to lead guided group runs in the morning. With 1,000 attendees, I figured there HAD to be at least a couple runners in the group who would take me up on the offer. Right?!?
The conference was held at the Chicago Hilton and Towers on Michigan Avenue — prime location for some of the city’s most scenic and iconic running routes — and I was absolutely thrilled when a handful of women and men from all over the country trickled into the lobby bright and early to join me.
Friday morning, our group of seven headed out at 6 a.m. It was hot and humid and generally disgusting outside, so I decided to keep it short, just a two-mile loop around Grant Park’s Buckingham Fountain and down toward the Field Museum before heading back up Michigan Avenue to the hotel.
Saturday morning, a completely different group of seven showed up for a 6:30 a.m. run. Boy, what a difference 24 hours makes. It was cool and crisp and ideal weather for a September morning run. I led the group on a 5K route over the Roosevelt Road Bridge (the notorious 26th mile marker of the Chicago Marathon) and onto the Lakefront Trail, where we headed south toward McCormick Place. All of the marathon training groups were out on the trail, and we continually heard greetings of “Good morning, runners!” It made me burst with pride for my city, not only because of the gorgeous views but because of the amazingly supportive running community we have here.
I did my best to play tour guide along the way – “McCormick Place is the largest convention center in North America” and “on the right you’ll see Soldier Field, home to the Chicago Bears” – while keeping a slow and easy pace. We also stopped at a couple of especially scenic spots for photos and a group selfie, of course. It was a lot of fun.
But what was the most fun was the fact that a group of complete strangers came together for a lovely morning run and there was absolutely nothing strange about it. Conversation came easily – training, races, travel, etc. – and by the end, we were all high-fiving and talking about how these morning runs need to become a permanent fixture of the conference. And wouldn’t you know it, next year’s convention is in Boston. — Mags
“Stolen Dance” by Milky Chance
Upbeat but still a little mellow, the perfect combination for your long run playlist. — Mags