In less than 40 days, I’ll be back at the starting line in Staten Island for the TCS New York City Marathon! When I was training last year, I simply wanted to (1) finish and (2) have a great time. This year, my determination is to break four hours. With a little over a month left, I’ve been on a tumultuous physical and emotional roller-coaster journey that has constantly tested my trust in this process.
Reflecting after each training cycle helped me evaluate my successes and failures, while maintaining momentum and staying excited about improving my performance. After closing out the Popular Brooklyn Half cycle in May (my last major race), I took two months off from aggressive training to prepare for the fall marathon season. Rather than pile on the workouts like I’ve done before, I wanted to focus on building my mileage and endurance. This proved to be wise, especially through a rough seasonal change with the summer heat and humidity.
When I reached the midway point of my 18-week program, I felt extremely unenthusiastic. I felt hollow and didn’t know why I decided to put myself through another cycle of marathon training. I tried going back to where it started and why I continue to run but the excitement wasn’t bubbling up like usual. Ironically, I am still able to get myself out there to keep training. I’ve constantly completed more than fifty miles every week, with 62 being the highest so far and set to peak at 65-70. Finding the motivation to run wasn’t my issue. I started to lose faith in the process and in myself. I thought, “Maybe it’s not my year to run a sub-4.”
Frankly, I’m not surprised that my trust is faltering. This isn’t the first time I talk about this. In fact, I’ve had trust issues every cycle. But it’s much harder when the race distance is doubled and the cycle is much longer. I’ve come to realize that marathon training is the ultimate mental test – not because I’m failing to push hard enough in my runs but instead, because I need to have full trust in myself. I need to train with the conviction that I will be the best version of myself when I get to that starting line.
I’ve come to realize that doubt always sets in because marathon training (or training for any race) is counter-intuitive. The things that I think should help are harming me and there are many underrated aspects of the process that I need to revisit. Training is a confusing and exhausting process. This is what I remind myself when the going gets rough and I need validation.
1. I’m supposed to be tired
My program has me running a lot. I’m intentionally piling on fatigue to teach my body to grind through it when I hit the last part of the marathon. But when I have to do a tempo run at half marathon pace and can barely hold it for one, the doubt starts settling in. In those moments, I try to forgive myself and embrace the accumulated fatigue. If I can’t always hit my training runs at race pace, that means I actually race hard enough when it does matter. Plus, when I prepare for a race, I taper for it and I line up feeling good. That’s not supposed to be the case in training. I’m supposed to be tired at a training run. I have to do them to be able to show up to the starting line knowing that I did the work.
2. The easy runs have a huge purpose
I’ve always done my recovery runs at truly easy pace with the mentality that they help me race faster. I can’t tell you the science behind why it works but there must be some form of magic happening when I’ve done all my long runs at 10:15/mile pace (or even slower) and I’ve managed to completed my goal race at two minutes per mile faster. This cycle has me doing a lot more easy runs (85% of my weekly mileage) so I can focus on building endurance, with just a fraction of them at a hard level. When my trust falters, I remind myself that this has, without a doubt, worked for me. It has kept me injury free all year!
3. I do tune-up races
The race setting is magical! Even on days when doubt has taken over every fiber of my body, the race atmosphere extinguishes it. During this cycle, I’ve continued to race. Most programs, including mine, have one or two key races so that I could evaluate where I am at in terms of fitness and put my legs to the test. Last year, I thought I completely blew my key half marathon race (running it five minutes slower than my personal best) but in hindsight, that’s actually where I should have been. Since the race was at the peak of my training, I shouldn’t be breaking records but still remain close to my best time. Knowing that I can race an impressive time amidst peak week is an excellent confidence booster.
4. Don’t compare myself to others
I am so fortunate to be on a team that gives me many training partners. Having that support system is great and keeps me accountable when I’m hitting a wall, both on and off the road. But when they progress much faster than I do, it’s easy to get discouraged knowing that we’re on the same plan and working towards the same goal race. I have to remember that since we all have different schedules that require different training demands, not to mention, different body types and nutritional intakes, I can’t compare myself to others. I do look at people who train similarly to me and my assurance is restored when I see that they’ve produced excellent race results.
5. If I don’t trust myself, who will?
We live in a place where trust for oneself and trust for others doesn’t come in abundance. If I can’t trust myself, no one will. If I can’t advocate for the work I’ve put in, no one will. Insecurities will always sneak in when working towards a big goal but what would the outcome mean to me if it wasn’t for the struggles I faced on the journey? Eliud Kipchoge, the greatest marathoner shattered the world record at the Berlin Marathon and broke the tape at an astounding 2:01:39 (4:38 pace), saying that, “No human is limited.” I need to believe that I’m not limited and I can’t move forward if I shoulder any self-doubt.
It’s a fortunate thing for me to be training for a race I know I could finish. In particular, the NYC marathon is one of the few platforms where elite athletes and recreational runners could share the stage and complete the same challenge. As the biggest marathon in the world, there’s something special about running through the five boroughs with 50,000+ athletes. I’m putting in the work and grinding through the tough times so that I’m ready to fight for that PR I’ve been after for so long.