Turning negativity around in the long run (pun intended)

Another crazy long run is in the books. How is it that I can whip out a 25km long run relatively easily but anything over 30km feels monstrous? Maybe I have a short attention span? Maybe it’s all mental – ha! I’ve been trying to combat that over the last few weeks (well, years actually) because I really want to get better at this long distance thing, but I think I still have a long way to go.

I’ve worked on building my mental strength, and I’ve run almost three months worth of long runs completely solo without any music – which is HUGE for me because for the longest time, I didn’t think I could do anything over 15k without my iPod. I was beginning to actually enjoy solo long(ass) runs and thought I had turned a corner. These days, I feel like I’m regressing a little and it has been discouraging.

Which brings me to yesterday’s long run. It was so full of drama (mostly self-inflicted, some related to my physical state) that I feel compelled to record it for future reference.

My typical breakfast over the last few months – muesli with a few nuts, rice/oat/cow milk and sometimes a bit of yogurt. It was working really well for a while, until recently when I hit Munich, and it hasn’t been the same for me since.

For starters, I’m still dealing with a lot of stomach issues lately. It’s something I’ve never really experienced before and the most annoying thing is that I never know if I’m going to have trouble until I’ve actually started running. So, from about 500m into my long run yesterday, I ran feeling like my stomach was full of acid sloshing around. Gross? Yeah, it was disgusting and not pleasant to run with. I began texting Mike for the first time (I don’t normally do this too often during a run) because I was starting to panic.

“My stomach is burning. I hate my body. :(:'(
It’s gonna be a slog if I even do the whole 35″

I was about halfway between my starting point and Aarau, the next closest village, so I decided to aim to get there and reevaluate my situation once I got there. It was an agonizing first 7k, filled with lots of breaks and pain in my stomach. I was fully expecting to call it a day when I got to Aarau, but when I stopped to take my first gel break at 7k, it started to turn around. I can’t imagine the gels would have helped, but maybe they did. I tried to stay positive and even repeated “I’m okay” a couple times out loud (after glancing around to make sure no one saw me, obviously ;)). I texted Mike again.

“First gel. Made it to 7k. There may be hope for me.”

By the time I made it to Aarau, I glanced down and noticed that I had forgotten to un-pause my Garmin. I wasn’t really sure how far I had run, but I was guessing about 1km at least. I know these long runs aren’t about pace, but it still irritated me that I had messed up my only measurement of distance and pace so early on in my run. On a normal day, I would have brushed it aside and moved on. But today, I was already irritated about my stomach so my tolerance level was low. I sent Mike another slew of irritated, self-deprecating text messages.

“Omg I fail today. I forgot to start my watch after pausing for my gel. Then I stood there with it unpaused and PAUSED it again when I started running again. I’m an idiot.”

Oh, and it was extremely windy outside. There was a wind warning and we were told to stay out of the woods to avoid branches and trees falling on you. Yeesh. At times, the wind was so strong that it felt like I was pushing against a glass wall. It was also hilly. To be fair, it was flat by Switzerland’s standards, but it felt mountainous after running in pancake flat Germany for three weeks. It was as if that month of running in Switzerland never existed and my body was learning to run hills all over again.

“It feels like all I’m doing is running uphill into the wind. Trying to stay positive. Does it even out and go down? :(“

Despite the route being hilly, at least you’re rewarded with views like this when you get to the top.

By the way, I was only 10kms into my 35km long run by the time I sent Mike that last message. I also think Mike was starting to get irritated by the frequency of my text messages. He was doing his last longish run before his taper and he really didn’t need me texting him every 20-30 minutes. For the record – I hate pulling out my phone and texting someone mid-run too, but I just really needed some help yesterday (apparently). Mike wins the husband of the year award for not snapping at me and telling me to go away. <3

Not even 2kms later, I hit yet another roadblock and couldn’t for the life of me find the street I was supposed to run on. I kept going back and forth in circles. This is a special talent of mine. So I texted Mike, again…

“FYI I’m only at 12k. Going to take as long as I have to. You might just want to go back home. Pausing way more than I’d like, but I’m doing the best I can. Also currently going bananas trying to find the right street. *sigh* I’m hopeless.”

I actually breathed a sigh of happiness when I saw this path. I could run up and down these paths forever.

As soon as I sent those last messages, I got tired of beating myself up over a training run and decided to snap myself out of it. I started by listing all of the things that were going right with the run – the fact that my stomach had stopped rebelling against me, that I wasn’t feeling any major injury pain, and that I was back in Switzerland which is my all-time favourite country to run in.

“2nd gel break which means I hit 14k! Lol. You’re probably almost finished your 30. Seriously, I will meet you at home. I’m just going to focus on running and not stress out about breaks, time, and you waiting for me. At this rate, I could be out here for hours.”

As soon as I sent that last message, I felt a sense of peace and felt myself calm down. I actually pulled myself out of my own rut without relying on Mike to help me through it. I’m sure Mike was grateful that my text message frequency dropped off after that as well!

Ironically, that’s when my pace started normalizing again and I stopped feeling the need to take breaks. Things started to click. I ticked off the rest of the kms like clockwork, minimizing my breaks for gels and the occasional map check. I also turned a corner on the path I was on and finally hit one of my favourite running routes along the river. Although it was cloudy and raining, the water looked blissful against the backdrop of colourful houses built along the edge.

What do I have to do to live in one of these houses some day?

The final 10k was boring but I got it done and felt relatively strong . I was still running music-free and it was an out and back with the wind pushing against me for the last 5k. It was also raining pretty steadily at this point. It wasn’t pretty, and I didn’t break any personal records, but I got the damn thing done.

So where am I going with all of this rambling? Despite my long run on paper looking like a real slog, distance and time statistics don’t come close to telling the story of what really happened during my run. It doesn’t tell the story of how I started off in a really bad physical state which impacted my mental state. It doesn’t tell the story of how I got sick and tired of wallowing in self-pity and forced myself to change my perspective. I’m telling the story now so that I can look back one day and draw from this experience when I need to.

On a side note, while I was slogging away for my long run, my running friends and teammates were racing the Around the Bay road race in Hamilton. It’s a race that has been on my radar for years, but different circumstances have always kept me from attempting the 30k distance myself. So many people executed incredible races yesterday (on a course with major hills at the end) and I ended the evening full of inspiration from hearing all about their performances. I hope that can be me someday. I hope I can rock a 30k race and beyond (but seriously, how do you run a continuous long distance race like that without dying? I can’t get through an entire long run without taking multiple breaks – is that bad?). I’m working on it.



Defining A, B and C Goals

This morning, Mike and I got into quite a discussion about setting A, B & C goals. It made me realize that although they are similar in theory, there are subtle differences in how we define them.

When I first started running, my only goal was to finish. I didn’t have enough confidence to set any kind of time goals. I remember thinking that a 2 hour half-marathon sounded cool (because of the nice round number, obviously), but I didn’t know how to work out what kind of pace I’d need to achieve that and just ran my first half-marathon at what felt like a conservative pace that I hoped I could hold for the entire race. I crossed the line in 2:09:47 and was really proud of myself. I considered a 2 hour half-marathon my A-goal, but even I knew that it was probably a little too ambitious for that day. Still, it was a time floating in my head and I kept it there until I eventually reached it a few years later.

Now, I do set time goals. For the longest time, I would go into a race with only one arbitrary best case scenario. I would claim that I had three time goals, but the truth was that I’d only be happy if I hit my best case scenario goal. Unfortunately for Mike, I often fell short of my best case scenario time goal so he had to do a lot of post-race damage control for my bruised ego. These days, I like to think I’ve gotten better at being realistic. I have an idea of where I want to be based on how my training is going, but since I never know how the entire training cycle is going to go, I try not to get too ahead of myself and I wait until my coach sends me my race plan before I really make concrete plans.

I know everybody is different, but I’ve found setting concrete time goals and committing myself to them a quick way to get disappointed. I tend to set goals that usually turn out to be a touch unrealistic for me, and that’s mostly why I choose not to ask my coach to train me for a specific time but instead let him tell me what I should be aiming for. It means I train for months in suspense, but it also means that I can rest assured that whatever he sets for me is something I feel confident that I CAN achieve on a good day. It also means that I spend months theorizing and obsessing on my own about what could be, but that’s neither here nor there. ;)

Now that we’ve been working together for over a year, I trust his opinion. In the beginning, I would often feel disappointed if he gave me a goal time that I thought I could do better than. But after a few humbling race experiences where I fell short of his goals, I decided to check my ego at the door and trust his judgment and the process. As long as I keep working and training at my current fitness level, I will continue progressing (this is what I tell myself, anyway). I’m (patiently, but also not patiently) waiting for the day he gives me a time goal that will set me up nicely for a BQ. It has to happen someday, right!?

Getting back time to time goals, my first ever run coach sent an email out a during my half-marathon training clinic about setting them that I refer to it often, especially before a big goal race. I think she summed everything up so nicely that I wanted to share (her words are in bold font).

The Dream Goal – this is an achievable, but difficult goal. It’s your perfect, best day ever day goal. Do not start your pacing based on this goal. If at 10K you know that you are not running to your full potential you can gradually pick up the pace to meet this goal … but be warned, days like this don’t happen often (although when they do it is amazing!). Dream goals are usually those arbitrary goals within a few minutes of your predicted goal time (for example a predicted finish time might be 2.03 and a dream finish time 1.59; the difference is around 15 sec/km).

This is my A goal.
The goal that I know is a little out of reach, but still within my realm of possibility if the stars are aligned and absolutely everything goes well on race day. I get that these types of races don’t happen often (in fact, I don’t really think this has ever happened for me yet!), but I consider it a dangling carrot to keep me motivated while I’m out there.

The Predicted Goal – the goal predicted by your past running performance (e.g. your tune-up run and your training runs). This is the goal that you use to establish your race plan. Most of you will start out pacing with this goal.

This is my B goal.
The most realistic goal that I have. Usually, I set this to whatever time goal my coach gives me. I still know that I have to have a pretty stellar day to achieve this, and this is where I’ll base my entire pacing plan on. I know it isn’t the type of time goal that I “deserve” and that I will have to put in the work to earn it.

The Minimum Goal – a goal you can expect to meet even on the worst day ever. If this is your first half marathon your minimum goal should be upright and smiling! More experienced runners can typically maintain their LSD pace as a minimum goal, even under difficult conditions. If you are injured, sick, undertrained, or the conditions are adverse (e.g. hot) start out pacing based on your minimum goal.

This is my C goal.
This is the minimum time that I will be happy with. I have trouble being honest with myself and setting this goal, because it’s really hard to know how badly you’ll do on a less than ideal race day. But, I try my best to be realistic when I set this one.

The range of time goals does different by the race distance, but also on how confident I am. For my STWM half-marathon last fall, my time goals were more spaced apart than they were for the Bentley half-marathon last month. I guess I was more confident for the Bentley half, and even though I achieved my C goal, my A and B goals were all within a minute or two of each other anyway, so I wasn’t devastated when I didn’t hit my two other goals. For STWM, my time fell somewhere between my A and B goal time range, so I was pretty ecstatic when I crossed the finish line even if I didn’t hit my “dream goal”.

If you’re reading this, I’m genuinely curious – how do you set your time goals for races? And are you realistic about them or do they all mesh together into one ultimate time goal?


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