Monday, January 30, 2012

What would you do if you knew you couldn't fail?

First things first, unrelated to running, I enjoyed being able to say hello to my alma mater this past weekend.

I got home from UIUC yesterday afternoon and decided to go for what was intended to be a semi-long run of 6 miles or so. 

Up until yesterday I had taken a a 2-week hiatus from doing long runs, and the weekend had been tiring.  Therefore, I wasn't optimistic about how the run would go.  However, I had done two fartlek workouts in the previous two weeks, and I could immediately feel the difference!  My endurance was stronger and I was able to maintain a faster pace more easily.

I ended up doing the easiest 10-mile run I've ever done in my life.  I had dreamed about someday being able to say that I did "an easy 10 miles" and mean it, so I was very happy about this accomplishment!

Now, shifting gears a bit...
Adam says he can see when my mental gears are cranking, although it doesn't look
quite like this.  I, for one, don't have a protruding bump over the top of my forehead.

What is starting to become a much bigger obstacle now is the mental preparation.  The thought of my long runs now taking upwards of two hours or more is getting more intimidating than the actual run itself.  That's the length of an entire movie!  The flight time between Chicago and New York!  Enough time to bake 2.67 Chicago-style deep-dish pizzas!

I do believe that mentally, the hardest part is just getting out the door and getting started.  Momentum plays a very big factor.  Usually once I get going, it's pretty easy to keep going.  But that first 10 minutes or so can be really brutal, especially in the wintertime.

What usually works for me is to give myself permission to just do a little bit and then stop.  I'll tell myself, I am just going to go out for 3 miles, and if I'm not feeling it then I can stop there.  Most importantly, I tell myself that thou shalt not feel any guilt if thy chooses to stop early.

Thinking this way takes some pressure off, because it's much more palatable to work on an incremental basis.  Best of all, once I get going, I rarely cut things short.

In general I know it's best just to take things one day at a time, whether it be marathon training or any big goal.  Looking too far ahead can be terrifying.  But in all seriousness, how does one consistently do these long weekly training runs over several months without being overwhelmed?  I have the luxury now to do whatever works that particular day.  Once marathon training is underway, though, I am not experienced enough to be that flexible unless I risk potentially undercutting myself - and that by itself is daunting.

This always helps.
There's a great question, "What would you do if you knew that you couldn't fail?"  The fear of failing has certainly held me back on numerous occasion.  I can think of a dozen things off the top of my head that I would have done differently if I wasn't worried about failure.  But failure is frequently much more about how we personally perceive things - failure to one person may be a great achievement to someone else.

So let's apply this consideration to my marathon training.  My worst case scenario with the marathon is that I won't finish because of injury or lack of endurance.

My level-headed response is:

There are many marathons every year and there will always be other opportunities.  If I can't finish this one, I'll still make the most of it.  I will enjoy the experience, no matter what.

Basically, my goal is to not think about the marathon as a binary success or failure.  This is in the hopes that thinking about it this way will make achieving this goal less intimidating.

I will definitely train hard for the marathon, but I am telling myself that I will not pressure myself to do more than I am safely capable of doing.  I am giving myself permission to stop short if I really need to with the marathon, both in training and during the race itself.  Obviously my goal is to finish and to finish strong, and I believe that I will.  But if not, it's okay because there will be other opportunities - and no matter what, I will be proud of myself for putting forth my best effort.

In summary, there really is no failure in working towards any of our goals.  It's more about the way we approach our goals, and the anticipation of seeing what can be accomplished when we know we cannot fail.  My intention is to approach the marathon with exactly that kind of fearless perspective in the hope that it will allow me to break through my mental barriers, which loom much larger than the physical barriers.

Knowing that we cannot fail is the first step.


  1. Hi! I just saw your comment on Britt's blog that Chicago will be your first marathon! Congrats! (I am also a Chicagoland runner)

    So often, the more I think about a long run, the less I think I can do it - then I get out there and am able to go and go! As you smartly build up your training plan, you will ease in to the longer distances. And your permission to stop/only go a certain distance is a really good plan. Good luck!

    1. Thank you so much, I really appreciate it! Are you planning to run Chicago this year, too!?!? Or have you run it in the past? Would love to hear about your experiences!

      Congratulations again on your fantastic mileage in January! Keep it up!