Learning How to Hurt

After the thrill of finishing a marathon wore off, I started feeling perhaps a bit less than awesome about my time. I know it’s silly to feel disappointed; 4:48 was squarely in the middle of the range of times I had any right to be running, and it was a solid and even race with a strong and happy finish — exactly what I hoped my first marathon would be.

And yet.

Even on race day, and in the days that followed, I knew I had more to give. I think — and by “I think” I mean “I have read frequently on the internet” — that that’s common for a first marathon, or a first endurance race of any new distance. It’s hard to know when to dig deeper, and how, and for how long I could sustain it, so I didn’t. I chose comfort and happiness, and good heavens, when I write it that way, obviously I should choose comfort and happiness over misery! But I still knew I could have run harder.

There was also something about seeing my splits that drove this point home, more than a week later, when I finally got back and plugged in my watch to see the race in greater detail. There were the 10 minutes I lost waiting for and/or in porta potties, which I of course wish I could have back (though given that I’d long thought my stomach was the reason I’d never finish a marathon, I’ll gladly take those 10 minutes of waiting in exchange for getting to finish 26.2). But then there were all those miles (more than half!) that clocked  under my 10:30 long run pace — miles I feel like I left on the table as I averaged out to 10:59/mile.

{I am going to talk about time here, in case that wasn’t clear. Reading about people’s race times was hugely upsetting to me when I first started running because I was comparing myself, horribly and frequently. And to say “but then I grew beyond that and now only compete against ME!” would also be a lie, because yeah, I still compare. But everything I’m about to write applies to me and my time, and not yours, because your times are awesome for you, no matter what they are compared to mine.}

OK! Anyway. I saw 10:59/mile, and wow, was I thankful for that one measly second, because I’ve never thought of myself as an 11-minutes-per-mile runner. I spent a good chunk of the last 12 months trying to convert myself into a 9-minutes-per-mile runner, and in my head, I am now and probably will forever be a 10-minute miler. Something about flirting with 11 there was like — wait a minute. This is fine, this is good, I am happy with this…in theory.  But this isn’t who I think I am.

Along with this came the realization, mid-Berlin, that I never want to run another marathon “for fun.” I had so much fun this time, yes, but marathons are … marathons. That is a whole lot of miles to run just for the hell of it. No, the next time I run a marathon — and there will be another one — I want to know I can race it. I want to learn how to push myself. I need to learn how to hurt.

I wasn’t sure what I’d want to do after Berlin. I didn’t sign up for any races for the rest of 2012 — and I’m still not registered for any — because I wanted to see what I felt like doing. And it turns out, what I feel like doing is running. Hard. Trying to push myself. Trying to learn what I can handle. Trying to get back some of the speed I’ve lost since May — and, even more to the point, trying to get back some of the nerve I lost in months of fearing injury and trying to build a respectable enough base to finish Berlin.

Long before Berlin training really started, I mentally said goodbye to my original goal of a sub-2 half in 2012 — and I was more than OK with that. Berlin mattered more. But maybe one benefit of not racing to my deepest depths in Berlin was that I bounced back pretty fast. In the two weeks after Berlin, my easy run paces started to feel actually easy again. And I started to think maybe I was selling myself short.

So now, I want to race a race, one I don’t just want to finish happy.

In my racing “career,” as it were, I’ve progressed pretty linearly through distances — 10K to half-marathon to marathon. I’ve always just picked the next-longest target. This suits my personality; I prefer endurance to speed. But I think I’m ready to not just conquer a distance but really fight for a time.

So I got Run Less, Run Faster back out of the library, and I made myself a spreadsheet, and I’ve got myself a plan.

Assuming things go well over the next couple of weeks, I’m going to race a half in December and a half in February. The February one will be my real attempt at sub-2, but I think there’s a chance I could PR in December. And, technically, if I run the December one at my Run Less, Run Faster-prescribed long run pace, I would PR (…by a few seconds, but whatever). I’m a little scared of ramping up the intensity, even though my mileage will be stable, which is why I haven’t actually forked over the cash for the races yet. I think it’s going to take my legs and my lungs a while to adjust to track workouts and tempos again instead of just lots of slow miles. But if I can, I will.

And, well, when it comes to moving up through the distances?

There’s some of that coming too.

(More on that later.)

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7 thoughts on “Learning How to Hurt

  1. Kristina says:

    I think it’s hard to know what our limits are – finding out can be positive, but there is definitely more of a risk factor. For me, I often flirt with the idea of going longer and maybe I could (I often think that I definitely could), but I’m not sure that I should.
    And – yay for Vineman and for a new distance! You’ll love it!

  2. I ran my first full marathon this past May and I feel the same way. I am ready for some redemption!

  3. Jen says:

    I’m about to run my first marathon at CIM and I keep wavering between just finishing and really trying for a goal. I’m still leaning towards the former, but what you’ve expressed in this post makes me want to try hard, even if it’s just a little. Though, I also want to enjoy it so that I will actually *want* to run another marathon in the future.

  4. Angela says:

    So exciting!! I’m with you — the first one “for fun” was fine, but now I’m ready to push and hurt. Have fun with it!!

  5. oooh so cool re: vineman! Some friends of mine registered for that too.

    I totally agree with you about the comfort thing. My first marathon I had no idea how I was supposed to feel or how long I could feel “uncomfortable.” I’m still not even close to being there, but I think with each race we get a little better.

  6. Michaela says:

    I’m really excited that you’ll be doing Vineman next year! I’ll be there too! Maybe we can plan to do a few training rides together.

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