Gone are the days of staring enviously at every runner I drive by. It’s finally here. This week, Lina and I begin our training for the Chicago Marathon! We. Are. So. Excited.
As mentioned before, we are following Hal Higdon’s Advanced 1 Marathon plan. Due to my ongoing battle to heal my right leg and foot, I was told by my physical therapist that I may have to adjust my training in these first few weeks to avoid exacerbating my problematic tendons. Fine. I’ll continue to accommodate my injuries, as long as they don’t keep me from training.
During my second physical therapy session yesterday, I got to talking with my physical therapist about marathoning; she did one marathon 11 years ago, and hasn’t had a strong desire to do another one since. Simply put, she didn’t like the training. She got a great sense of accomplishment from completing the race, and that was that. Now, I’ve heard this same sentiment from a number of people, and I have to say, I feel differently.
Lina and I LOVED training for our first marathon. My actual race experience was certainly crazy and memorable, and I definitely feel immense pride for having completed it, but it wasn’t the marathon itself that left me wanting more – it was the training. In fact, when I think about my experiences in track and cross country in high school, I realize that my fondness for those memories comes not from remembering races, but from remembering the training.
It’s during those daily workouts that you bond with your teammates and that you slowly, but surely, see yourself get stronger.Those two things, bonding with people and watching myself get stronger, are enough for me to get satisfaction from this sport. The fact that I value the process more than the result is a truly non-competitive thing to feel, and running is a sport in which it is possible to be content this way. With team sports, the whole point is to beat your opponent. For the sake of your team, you need to be competitive. I like the fact that while I do run races with other people, I never feel the need beat them. I only ever feel the need to beat myself, and even then, I rarely feel distraught over not meeting my goals.
That last part, however, is something I had to train myself to do. When I first started running, I was destroyed each time I didn’t PR. The problem with putting this sort of pressure on yourself is that races in which you PR simply don’t happen as frequently as races in which you don’t. By only caring about the time on the clock, I wasn’t enjoying the majority of my races. Considering we raced every week, that was a lot of time spent feeling negatively about myself and about running.
The same thing was true with my schoolwork. When I was younger, my grades were the ultimate measure of my individual worth. I didn’t care that I had learned a ton in AP Chemistry when I got a B on a test. I didn’t care if I got a B and most of the class did worse. I felt crushing disappointment every time I didn’t get an ‘A’. Putting this amount of pressure on myself, both in running and in school, took the fun and beauty out of the experience of growing as a person. Somehow, I had taught myself that my best wasn’t good enough.
At some point in college, my perfectionism eased up and the words of my parents finally sank in: All you can do is your best, and as long as you do your best, you can be proud. I had to stop trying to be perfect when it became very clear that I was going to fall, sometimes miserably, short of that mark. Math has a way of humbling even the most talented minds, and I am not even one of those. I work hard so I am able to keep going, but often I studied my butt off in college just to get low B’s on tests. In graduate school, I’ve studied even harder and managed to get only 50% of the problems on certain tests. The point is, I realized that ‘perfect’ was, for the most part, unattainable. By taking ‘perfect’ off the table, I was able to continue to try my hardest, but I wasn’t upset with the outcome. I was set free.
I was able to extend this realization to running, and as a result my race times have become a much lower priority. For whatever reason, I couldn’t run a great race at Providence last month, but I’m proud for finishing because that was the best I could do, and I did it. I won’t pretend that I don’t feel any disappointment when I don’t meet my goals in races, but I make a concerted effort to look at the big picture and see how far I’ve come. When thoughts of inadequacy creep in, I consciously push them out until they no longer visit. Like I said, I had to train myself to have a more supportive inner voice.
All of this isn’t to say that being competitive is a bad thing. I love watching sports and for the sake of wanting to know what the human body can do, I’m GLAD that there are people out there that step up to the starting line and think only of crushing the competition. I also love it when Lina (who is admittedly more competitively than I am) obsessively tells me about other peoples’ recent race times and explains to me why they aren’t out of reach for us. (Those envious sighs are also pretty great 😉 .) I know that that sort of information motivates Lina, and I like having a running buddy that is motivated.
I am excited for this second marathon training cycle because I’m looking forward to getting stronger, and because I CAN’T WAIT to resume my
therapy sessions long runs with Lina. Seriously. I know Lina feels the same way because we’ve been talking about this week since before we even ran Providence. We are doing our first hill workout together today and I must say, I’ve never looked so forward to a hill workout before. Let round two begin!