Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Mental Marathon

There appears to be some preparation, but not enough mental prep.
I would not pretend that I am a great athlete, but with the most recent marathon I have run still looming large in the rearview mirror, I can say that each of those races has been a significant event and perhaps even a turning point.

At the very least, each has been a check in and an opportunity to gauge where I am at physically and mentally after a few hours of high demand performance.

There has been the initiation to the distance, the disappointing hobble to the finish and the enlightening near-miss of the Boston Qualifying time. Each of those races stands out as a highlight in my life and this week I add to that collection a race that in my kindest moments I can still only regard as metaphorical in light of my frustration. The result was decent but the mental race was easily the most difficult and demanding.  With the passage of a few days and a solid recovery run under my belt, I can now digest the disappointment and start to get it out of my system.

I can rifle off a range of factors that came to mind during Sunday and since that made the race a little better:
- I could have gotten to the race start a little earlier
- I could have warmed up a little more or a little differently
- I could have eaten less for breakfast or even nothing
- I ought to have chatted with a fellow runner for a while to idle a way a few K
- I could have been carrying a little less weight
- I might have trained too hard, I might

Each of these tiny things could have made some difference but the fact was not at a mental or emotional peak for the race.  Throughout 2017, I have found that the circumstances and conditions for a race need to be spot on in order for me to do what I was able to do as little as 18-24 months ago. The proper

When it came time to grapple with the hills and then the heat of the race whatever emotional reserves I needed for the race were tapped dry with about 10-11K to go. With the heat building on the unshaded asphalt of Memorial Drive at 10am, I gave into to a fury of frustration and trudged my way to the finish, petulant and taxed by the race and the outside factors that had made it as metaphorical as it was. For some reason I was unable to lock in on the reliable images, thoughts, mantras or other touchstones that push me along through other races. Even before I emotionally tapped out, I did not have the enthusiasm for the distance that I have had in the past. The solitude of this particular run was telling.  Apart from my silence, there were only a few brief moments where I drew anything from the company I was running with.  I can recall aspects of running in sight of them but I was not connecting with them, even with mere observation, the way I had in previous races.

This race, like the previous ones, marks a transition but I am uncertain of what it will be.  The solitude of other races may have morphed into loneliness and a sense of exposure on this one. For some time I have believed there is a reliable correlation between the marathon and the training for a marathon. You can't hide from a lack of preparation in the marathon.  The results will tell whether you did or you didn't. A marathon is not going to gift you a fluke 15 or 30 minutes in speed if you haven't put the time in, or if you happen to be naturally gifted and you are just giving it a try for curiosity sake.  If you fall short, the excuses ring pretty hollow with anyone who is in the know. The honesty of it and the direct correlation between efforts and results are a pretty reliable thing to behold. This time around it didn't feel that way throughout the race. Despite running about 200 more kilometres between January 1 and the Calgary Marathon in 2017 than I did in 2016, I was only 90 seconds better (officially) than the year before, when I ran on a bad leg as well. That amount of training, which amounted to a sluggish start to the race, left me particularly vulnerable to the accuracy of the lyric from "In a Big Country"...

I thought that pain and truth were things that really mattered,
but you can't stay here with every single hope you have shattered.  

While I've run to that song in previous races and accelerated to it, during this marathon, I nodded grim agreement to that sentiment.

So as the battered legs shed their tightness tonight as I blasted through a hill in the summer swelter of Calgary and rediscovered the form and speed that were nowhere to be seen four days ago, the lesson from this race, should I heed the advice is simple: I have to look after a lot more than my legs and cardio if I'm going to keep this up.  I have to look after me and restore the calm that I found tonight, when the run rejuvenated rather than fatigued me as I went along.

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