Tag Archives: half marathon

Eyes on the Prize – But What’s the Prize?

A recent posting on the Seeds4Life blog has me thinking.

When You Have One Eye on the Goal, You Have Only One Eye on the Path – Zen Master

Here a student asks the Zen master how long it will take him to achieve enlightenment. The master’s response basically tells the student not to worry about getting there, but to focus on the path.

Zen cat

My first reaction on reading this was something like: Yes, that’s very Zen and all, but it doesn’t make sense for everything. Like running, for example. Goals are what get runners off the couch and out the door, right? We all set goals for ourselves, whether it’s a 5K, a marathon, a trail ultra, or just being able to run a few miles in the fresh air.

Then I remembered my 100K attempts at Run Woodstock, and how I’d set myself up for failure in 2014 by thinking about how much distance I had left rather than where I was and how far I’d come. This year had been different, as I’d reminded myself to focus only on the trail directly ahead of me. By keeping my mind on where I was at the moment and letting the milestones unfold, I kept myself on a mental even keel and finished the race.

Perhaps this is one reason why I prefer trail runs for long distance running. In a road race, you don’t need to look down at the road, and the mile markers are clearly visible. With less mental energy needed, there’s more to worry about how much there is left to go, and how tired you already are.

By contrast, in trail running there is a literal reason for keeping both eyes on the path. You need one eye to watch where your feet land, as there are stones, roots, slippery spots, and sudden elevation changes to deal with. You also need to keep an eye out for the trail markings. Let your mind wander too much and you’ll wind up on your face in the dirt, or off in God-knows-where-land trying to get back on course. (Ask me how I know.)

DWD Devils Lake - Heading Down

Not a good time to put a foot wrong. (Dances with Dirt Devil’s Lake 50K, 2014.)

So how should goals fit into my running? As an important part of my training. But once out there running it, there’s no value in thinking about the finish line except as part of following my race plan. I’m running this pace because I’d planned to run this pace on loops two and three. I’m picking up the pace because I’m on safe, flat gravel road instead of tricky singletrack. I’m easing back because I’m ahead of schedule and don’t want to burn out.

When I took a Running 101 class five years ago, we were all asked to write down a goal for after the class was over, and how we’d reward ourselves for achieving it. The idea was to give us a reason to continue running regularly, and not stop when the class ended. I chose “run a half marathon” and promised myself a new pair of running shoes when I did.

That goal drove my training for five months, until I ran, and finished, the half marathon. Would I have continued running without that goal? Most likely, but I doubt I’d have improved as much without that 13.1 to work toward.

And it was finishing that race that convinced me I was capable of a full marathon, if I set that as my next goal and continued to train. And so on from there. And having completed the 100K, I’ve set a goal of running my first-ever 100-mile ultra next year. You heard it here first! (Actually, my wife and my running coach heard it first, but you’re next.)

You know, a road 13.1 sounds pretty good right about now.

You know, a road 13.1 sounds pretty good right about now.

Now, how about this? If I can agree that the journey is at least as important, if not more important, than the destination, what happens when the journey becomes unpleasant but I still have the goal? My thoughts on that coming up.

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DXA2 and Me: Five Years and Still an Item!

Recently I celebrated a special anniversary. Five years ago I ran my first half marathon – the 2010 Dexter-Ann Arbor Run. I’ve run many more since then, on roads and trails, but that first one will always be memorable to me.

Dark, heavy clouds were overhead that day and a storm had knocked a tree down onto the road, delaying the start. But then we were off through downtown Dexter and a crowd of spectators, followed by ten scenic miles along the Huron River and onto Main Street in Ann Arbor, with a soul-sucking uphill climb to the finish line. And I found out what happens to nipples that don’t get taped. (It’s not pretty.)

I was hooked, and I’ve run it every year since. Who says men can’t commit?

Yep, last year was hot.

Yep, last year was hot.

Last year’s race was particularly nasty. It was hot, and the long hard winter meant many people hadn’t acclimated yet. I heard later that several runners passed out. The heat along with a poor hydration strategy caught up with me at mile 8 and ended my streak of faster finish times.

This year I vowed to be better prepared. I hydrated early and brought a handheld water bottle so I wouldn’t be dependent on the aid stations. And with my training runs in Costa Rica this spring, I felt acclimated. Bring on the 85 degrees and broiling sun. I wuz ready!

DXA2 2015 - Starting Line

Obviously, Nature had other plans.

Weather Underground had originally forecast rain on Saturday, with race day fairly clear and warmer. Then it changed its mind and moved the rain to Sunday, with temps around 50. I got an email from the race director – lightning might delay the start, but the race was on!

I wore my triathlon outfit, which is proving more and more versatile. As it’s designed to shed water and dry quickly, it was perfect for the rain. I was wringing water out of my shirt, but the singlet and shorts kept me reasonably dry and warm. For shoes I wore my Kinvara RunShields, which are designed for inclement weather. My feet got wet, of course, but there was no squishing or waterlogged feeling.

Another great boost - the PR Fitness aid station at mile 6. Thanks again!

Another great boost – the PR Fitness aid station at mile 6. Gatorade and friendly faces – what more could you ask for?

I left the handheld behind. With the rain and cool temps I would have no hydration issues. And I ditched the poncho at mile 4, deciding it was better to embrace the rain than fight it. As I’ve said before, one can only get so wet.

My strategy was to stick with the 1:35 pacer, my goal being any time better than that. All went well until mile 8 when despite a double knot, my right shoe came untied. With five miles to go at a strong pace, there was nothing for it but to stop and tie it, my target group disappearing down the road.

I tried but failed to channel my inner Denard.

I tried but failed to channel my inner Denard.

Not again, I thought. And I decided right then that it would not be “not again”. I stepped it up and ran through the next aid station instead of grabbing a drink. Thanks to the rain, I could afford it. Within a half mile I spotted the 1:35 sign again and in another half mile I’d caught up. Around mile 10 I went ahead of them, this time for good.

DXA2 2015 - Finish Area with PacerThe final climb on Main Street was still rough, and I came the closest I’ve ever come to tossing my cookies. But seeing “1:34” on the finish line clock gave me a boost, and I finished in 1:34:39. A new best time for me on that course. Hard to be annoyed at the rain when it does that for you!

Hard to believe it’s been five years since that first half marathon. And next year will be five years since my first full marathon! Like they say, you never forget that first one. And – oops, gotta go. My wife is walking toward me holding a rolling pin. She must want to make me cookies!

Martian Recap: The Little Athlete and the Little Monster

Last Saturday was the Martian Invasion of Races, and man, was it a beautiful day. Temperatures started in the forties but warmed up quickly to the sixties, and the sun was out the whole time – a complete contrast from the wet and cold race days the past two years.

As for my race . . . did I mention it was a beautiful day?

Wow. Enough energy at the finish to do a somersault? That's just wrong.

Wow. Enough energy at the finish to do a somersault? That’s just wrong.

Actually, it wasn’t that bad; only 17 seconds off my best half marathon time. But I’d been hoping for better. I started off at an aggressive pace, and held it successfully for the first six miles. The second half was different – six miles of continuous struggle to keep going. I’ve never felt a stronger urge to quit a race before. I didn’t – but it was close. And that worried me.

I talked with Coach Marie about it, and she wasn’t too concerned. “Thirteen miles is a long time to be running hard,” she said. She also noted that the Martian course has a long stretch up one road and back, which I agree is not the most scenic.  “Sometimes the monotony of a race can get to you,” she said.

As it happened, the latest newsletter from TrainingPeaks has an article – The Psychology of Suffering – which addresses the very thing I’d been fighting. Here’s a small excerpt (edited for brevity):

Q: How do I effectively control the voice in my head that’s telling me to slow down? Do I try to turn this off or control it?

A: There are a few things to consider. [It] may be telling you to slow down because your body needs something…Instead of “fighting” the voice, you want to recognize that it’s there and figure out what it’s trying to tell you. [We] all have a little monster on one shoulder and a little athlete on the other and whichever one you feed is the one that’s going to get stronger and grow. Sometimes trying to “turn off” the monster voice takes more energy than it does to accept it and then counter it with your “inner athlete”.

Little Athlete vs. Little Monster

This pretty well describes what was going on with me. Fortunately, the “inner athlete” was a little stronger on Saturday. But the little monster may have been trying to tell me something. For one thing, I’d brought a Gu with me, but never used it. I’d even passed up a free Gu at an aid station. Why hadn’t I fueled myself properly? Pride? Annoyance at my slipping pace? Something to think about – and apply to my next race – which, by the way, is coming up pretty fast. More about that coming up.

I'm not sure roller skis were race legal, but they're way cool.

I’m not sure roller skis were race legal, but they’re way cool.

Why I’m Not Giving up Goals

Last month at my favorite writers retreat, I was talking with a friend about my running, and that I’d just run my first 50-miler (hey, she asked). She shook her head. “How did you ever do something like that?” she wondered.

I told her about my “year of being 50” activities and the stuff I’d accomplished, including a 50K, and this had been the next challenge. “You are so goal oriented!” she said. And it’s true: I got where I am by setting goals all along the way. And I intend to keep doing so.

Now wait a minute! In your last post, you argued against setting goals!

Now wait a minute! In your last post, you argued why you shouldn’t set goals!

True. Lemme ‘splain.

Have you learned yet, grasshopper?

Have you learned yet, grasshopper?

I’m fine with the idea that you can pursue something for its own sake, and you don’t need a goal to grow and improve. My Aikido instructors have been trying to beat this into my head for eight years – that I should focus on the training, and not on what rank I am. So I didn’t set an arbitrary date for achieving black belt, although I have set goal dates for tests. (But not this year: my injured shoulder has made testing impossible for the time being, so I am forced to focus on the training itself. Karma?)

But with running, setting goals has helped motivate me. It’s how this infrequent runner who did the occasional 5K race became a 1,000+ mile per year runner who can run 50 at a time. I didn’t really get serious as a runner until I signed up for a Running 101 class at a local running store. The instructor handed a questionnaire to all of us, asking what we wanted to get out of the class, and – significantly – to choose a running goal and a timeframe for achieving it. I’d never run more than 5-6 miles at one time, but I committed to a half marathon later that year.

Crossing the finish line at Run Woodstock.

Crossing the 50-mile finish line. Never woulda happened without that first commitment to a distance I’d never run before.

Now, I wasn’t going to “fail” Running 101 if I hadn’t set a goal, and no one would have been disappointed (except me), but putting it in writing, and handing it in, made it real – something I felt obligated to carry out. Every milestone since then has been the result of setting a goal, then putting in the training needed. If I were just running to stay fit, or for the social aspects, then I wouldn’t feel the need to keep setting them. But there are still some personal limits I’d like to test.

And then there’s this quote from Bill Copeland:

“The trouble with not having a goal is that you can spend your life running up and down the field and never score.”

Is it possible to do well at something without goals? Sure. But will you? Without that first half marathon, would I have run a full one the next year, or my first ultra the year after that? Maybe, but likely not. The simple act of committing to the half was that rare event – a genuine life changer.

NaNoWriMo Web BadgeGoing back to the writers retreat – I’ve been writing stories since I was in grade school, attended many retreats, and even managed to “win” the 2012 National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge by writing a novel of 50,000 words in one month. With NaNoWriMo 2013 fast approaching, I’ve had to ask myself why I didn’t finish that novel, revise it, and look to publish it. Yes, I have a rather busy rest of my life. But is the real reason because I didn’t set a goal to finish what I’d started?

I think I’m going to make myself find out. Stay tuned.

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P.S. My thanks to the Personal Excellence website for introducing me to the Bill Copeland quote with their article on why you should set goals. Read the article here.