I’m on week 10 of the 18-week marathon training plan. I tell myself this is “junior year” of marathon training — past the fun introductory classes and into the core of your discipline — and for me, the toughest part.
I’ve been following Hal Higdon’s Novice 2 marathon training plan — the same as I have for the previous 3 cycles I’ve trained. I choose this plan because it’s about the same number of miles per week as the Novice 1 plan but there are a bit more longer runs. I think that the psychological benefits of pushing that distance outweighs the overall milage, especially when you’re new to that kind of endurance distance.
I haven’t gone a level above Novice 2 because … it’s still, even after 3 years, still really hard to train just enough to show up to the start line.
Last week I went camping with Tony and his brother Joe and Joe’s fiance, Lilette. It was at Cobscook Bay State Park, one of my favorite places in Maine and a perennial vacation spot for Tony and I. It’s also deep, deep into the heart of Washington County and I had no Verizon service east of Machias.
On the schedule was a 14-miler. I knew that was not something I could do on vacation. I knocked out 3 miles around the park on Sunday morning and called that good.
Often it’s fun to run on vacation, but it’s never been easy on the family camping trips. Everyone is back around the campfire eating beans and hot dogs and drinking coffee and I’m sweating out in the middle of nowhere running against fast-moving traffic with no cell reception if I’m in trouble. For three hours.
So would this be the weekend I give up on a marathon in 2013?
I surprised myself when it wasn’t. As I got home on Sunday afternoon, energized from the trip, I measured out my Gatorade and grabbed my fuel belt and knocked out a 14-miler in Bangor.
Fast forward to this weekend. I didn’t even have the excuse that I was camping. I just didn’t do it.
A 15-miler is hard. It’s the real bridge into marathon-distance training — that’s why I call it the “junior year” of marathon training. A 15-miler is nearly a 5K beyond the half-marathon, and at least for me, near the 3-hour threshold. A 15-miler truly pushes past the half-marathon fitness.
I knew I could skip this long run and it wouldn’t keep me from showing up to the Maine Marathon on October 6, but again, I was questioning my motivation to keep going with this training plan.
Then Monday night, mostly on a whim, I set out and did it. 15 miles. That’s a new milestone, I believe — most miles run after work. I got home, after dark, and passed out mid-episode of the X-Files at about 9:30.
I have a lot of new things going on in life than I did when I started running and focusing on getting fit three years ago. The first time I trained for a marathon I needed to put very careful and very concentrated effort into completing every long run to make sure I was successful.
This time around I know myself and what I’m capable of a bit better, so I don’t feel the pressure to prove to myself I can do it like I did the last few times around.
What’s different about me between then and now? I hear again and again from established runners, runners who have been at the sport for years and years, that it’s not like it ever gets “easy.” There will always be days where you have to make bargains with yourself to go out there and get your miles in.
What does get easier, though, is the routine. I know when I really don’t feel like running I if I can at least force myself to at least start with a plan, I (usually) can force myself to finish. It might not always be pretty, but I’ll finish.
And if I can’t finish, I don’t beat myself up. That’s how I can keep momentum going to the next time, knowing that at least I laced my sneakers up and gave it my best faith effort.
My goals for the Maine Marathon this year aren’t what I thought they would be last winter when I set them. I think about this race in terms of baseline fitness — I want to be able to train at this level, I don’t want to forget what running marathons feel like — but I have little motivation to put in the work to push my personal records.
And to that, a big part of successfully maintaining a fitness plan is acceptance.
I push hard when I have the energy and the passion to work on the next goal, but I accept that can’t be all the time. I accept that sometimes the best I can give to this might only be showing up today.
And it’s only in truly knowing and accepting yourself can you start to make real and permanent change.