So … that marathon sucked…now what

2018-05-31_13-51-36Nice race picture eh? Notice the fatigue in my posture, the foot completely flat on the road, no bounce or energy at all. There is a reason I didn’t buy this race photo.  Look familiar to anyone?

You sign up for a marathon. You set your sights on a personal best PB (or personal record PR if you are American :))

You train for 16 weeks.

Speed work? hill work? strength training? cross training? physio? long runs in miserable weather? treadmills when running outside was not an option? Dragging yourself through runs when you didn’t feel like it? Getting up early? Headlamps to run in the dark?

When I am doing that last hill, the last 1600, or the last 3 km of a long run in lousy weather I motivate myself with thoughts like “This is what will make the difference, this is what it takes to get that PB!”

Race day approaches, you obsess over the weather forecast, completely pointless because you can’t change it, but we all do it anyway. You taper, maybe you stop drinking, you drink lots of water, you plan your pre-race day meals and rest, everything you can to set yourself up for success.

But on race day. Disappointment. You might even start out well, but somewhere out there on the road you realize the PB is not going to happen, but you still have to finish the race. In Vancouver I started out on track feeling strong and rested, by 23 km I had ripped off my pace band and turned off my GPS because I didn’t want to know how slow I was going from that point forward.  And now the brain keeps asking Did I give up too soon? Should I have pushed harder to stay on pace? Did I go out too fast? My feet hurt a lot was it the shoes? Did I go too hard on the downhill? Should I have done more tempo runs? Should I try active recovery speedwork instead of intervals?

If you run enough races, eventually it happens, often multiple times. Now you find yourself rethinking this whole marathon thing, I mean maybe I just suck at marathons and should go back to 5 km races, those are way less work to train for and if you have a bad race it’s over a lot faster!

So yeah, that’s kind of where my brain is at right now.  I’m also in the post marathon fatigue zone. I went for a run this morning and was working way too hard for a 5 km morning run a full minute / km slower than my marathon pace.

Tonight my running group has their spring party, it’s a celebration of all the spring races (many of which were marathons). You wear your race shirt and medal and we take a group picture. It’s a great celebration and I look forward to talking to everyone, but I don’t look forward to the inevitable ‘how was your race?’ question. Because my race did not go well and I’m not entirely sure why.  It wasn’t crazy hot, it wasn’t crazy hilly, sure I missed a couple of training runs, but all in all I’ve been running strong.

This is such a common story. Whether you run a 2:45 marathon or a 4:45 marathon we all set goals, and we all train for those goals. Training for a marathon is a slog no matter what pace you set, so when it doesn’t pan out it can be mentally tough to get over. I find it easier to get over a bad race if the weather is outrageously bad, or the course is crazy hilly, then at least I have something to blame 🙂

So now what…

well I welcome your suggestions, but here is my plan of attack. 

  1. Talk to other runners You are not alone to struggle with a plateau or a bad race.  Chances are they’ve been there and will be sympathetic. They will remind you of all the things you already know like okay it just wasn’t there today but that training still builds a base for the next race. So yeah, tonight’s party with the running group is probably exactly what I need.  What would you tell another runner in your situation?  You’d probably tell them, hey not every race is a great race, it happens, it doesn’t mean your training wasn’t good training and won’t pay off.
  2. 2018-05-31_14-16-28Read some inspiring books or listen to a great interview or podcast with elite runners who talk about their own struggles.  Finding out the top marathon runners in the world have the same problems can be strangely comforting.  I just finished Julian Achon’s “The Boy Who Runs” (puts running in perspective) and I just had someone recommend Deena Kastor’s new book “Let your Mind Run” because she talks about her own struggles hitting plateaus. You could also watch Where Dreams Go To Die and relive Gary Robbins 6 seconds, and he still got up and back out there! And no he didn’t finish the next year either.  Find the story that resonates for you.
  3. Go out and get in a few runs on your favorite route. For me that means a run on a trail in the woods or along the water away from traffic.
  4. Volunteer at a race. Like they say in the Avenue Q number “The money song” ‘when you help others you can’t help helping yourself’. Whether it’s pacing,  working a water station, helping at registration, or handing out medals.  Putting yourself on the outside watching other runners is a great way to give back and remind yourself of the incredible spirit of the running community. It’s not all about setting another PB. (Note to self: go sign up to volunteer at Canada Day races or a park run
  5. racesignsCheer on or pace a friend for their race. Remember that moment of pleasure mid-race when you: saw someone you knew cheering you on; Saw a sign that made you laugh; passed a banjo player; high fived a 4 year old; high fived someone in a T-Rex costume; passed someone blasting ‘Don’t fear the reaper’ out of a ghetto blaster while ringing a cowbell? You can be that person giving a runner that smile or extra boost of energy! It’s hard not to stay positive when you are cheering on others!
  6. SusanKiltRun_thumb.jpgRegister for a race that will be fun. 5 km color run? a local trail race? snowshoe race? how about your first trail race? a Saturday park run? a Ragnar? For me it’s races with a twist because then I have no way of knowing what pace I should run. I have no idea if running 8 km in a kilt carrying a sword and shield which includes mid-race activities that include a caber toss and wading across a stream to have a shot of whisky in 55 minutes is fast or slow! It takes off the pressure to run in a specified time. I might still push myself because yeah I am a tad competitive, but there’s no PR pressure :). I can just run at whatever pace feels right that day. In the next 12 weeks I will run the Mud Hero 10km, the 8 km Warrior class of the Perth Kilt Run, a relay race called Surf n Turf that includes running, biking and canoeing, and the Peak 2 Brew relay(Ragnar style race).  I need to do something to remind myself that running can be fun again!  In fact just typing out the list of races I have coming up is already making me more excited about getting out running again

So am I at peace with my last marathon. Not yet. But I will get there. It took me 2 years to set my last marathon PR.  Hopefully I still have another PR in these legs and in less than 2 years.

Meanwhile… time to dig up my medal and race shirt for the party tonight, mud race to run Sunday,  and in a few weeks get focused on the next marathon… Chicago!

Here the rest of my running related posts and race reports.






One response to this post.

  1. […] 2018 I ran the Vancouver marathon with a goal of 3:45. I still don’t know what exactly went wrong, probably heat? I’ll […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: