Thursday, October 29, 2009

Marathon Lessons 12-15: Marine Corps Marathon Style

I know others have said this before me, but it is certainly true that you learn something new from every marathon that you run. The Marine Corps Marathon was my 15th marathon race in less than 5 years, and it was novel in a couple of ways that add to its value for learning. So, I offer the following lessons as an addendum to my 10 lessons learned following my Twin Cities Marathon race a little over 3 weeks ago. I added number 11 in another post.

12. Try something unconventional. Certainly, running two marathons in 3 weeks is unconventional, but racing two marathons hard might be seen by some as a recipe for disaster. No doubt, some people were predicting all kinds of nasty outcomes for me. This was the quickest turnaround I had ever attempted for two marathons, so I was viewing it as an experiment. I have said before that I don't let fear rule my world in running or in life. With running, this means that I don't let the fear of potential injury limit how high I push my mileage or, in this case, deter me from running two marathons within 3 weeks of each other. I also don't let the fear of potentially being attacked by a psycho while running alone limit when or where I train. These are, of course, calculated risks I take. If something bad happens, then something bad happens, but I will always give it a try just to see. Whether things do or don't work out, well I've learned something new either way. I think this lesson applies to everyone from the beginner to the seasoned runner. You can always try something new and learn from it whether it's wearing a sweet terry cloth headband for the first time in a race to keep the sweat out of your eyes or running over 120 miles per week in your training. Take a risk!

13. When in doubt, surge. I have received a lot of feedback about the situation I faced with my Ethiopian shadow over the last 3.5 miles at MCM. I now believe that there was little I could have done to win that race. Gurmu was out for a stroll that day and had been told to just sit on the leader, whomever that might be, until the last 1/4 mile and then kick it in. She was running the race as a favor to her coach who had been in the Army and wanted her to win there. I do think that I could have given her more of a run for her money, however, had I sped up rather than slowed down when I passed her. I had lots of energy still at that point and needed to mess with her mind. By slowing the pace, I was playing to her strengths. I had the upper hand in terms of surprise, clearly based on her reaction to my Forrest-Gump-like appearance next to her at mile 22.5. I wonder how the race may have played out if I had kept pushing the pace. By the way, the woman she drafted off of for the first 22 miles dropped out of the race right after I passed her. She was worn out, and I can see why! Having someone tailing you for the entire race like that has a psychological effect to be sure.

14. Don't let small children put lids on your coffee cup. While I hate to disappoint, I am not invincible. I have come down with a cold. I am convinced that the germs originated on a coffee cup lid that was given to me by a small vector, I mean child at the Amtrak Train Station in Emeryville, CA last week before the marathon. I ordered my coffee and was stirring in my sugar when a little girl who was being super helpful walked over chewing on a coffee cup lid and handed it to me. The smile on her little face was so huge because she knew she was being very helpful. I tried to think of clever ways to get out of putting the slobbery lid on my drink, but I just didn't have the heart to turn her away. I took the lid knowing that I would likely get sick soon thereafter, and I did. Luckily, it didn't kick in until after the race.

15. Listen to your coach. I have stated before in my blog that I am blessed to have a super coach that is both supportive and not afraid to dish out the tough love (in a very nice way, of course). She understands that ambitious runners like me (and her too I might point out) tend to push so hard that we can lose focus on what's best for us in the achievement of our goals. I sent an e-mail to her today with a suggestion that I run the half marathon in a couple of weeks as a race rather than a workout as my training plan currently suggests. I got a very wise response from her suggesting this might not be the best plan. She reminded me that I have bigger goals than placing one place higher in an age-graded race series. I want to try to qualify for the Olympic Trials 6 months from now. Most importantly, she reminded me that what I do now will have either a positive or negative impact on how I perform then. That right there was the reminder that I needed--the long view. I know that I forget to think about the toll that continuous training and racing takes on my body. The kicker is that you generally don't see the effects of overtraining right away. It plays out little by little until, wham! One day, you can't run without pain or you're feeling tired all of the time. I am lucky that I can push myself pretty hard and still perform well, but I need to perform at my peak in 6 months. So, tracking back to lesson number 12, it's fine to take risks, but don't lose sight of your end goal. I will rest and make sure that my body is 100% for my spring marathon attempt at the Olympic Trials marathon qualifier.

I think that's enough learning for now, friends. I am looking for suggestions for that spring marathon, by the way, in case you have thoughts you'd like to send my way.


  1. Interesting lessons...
    Question on point #13: what if you had not passed Gurmu.. but held back about 10-seconds behind her. And then passed her with a 1/4 mile to go. She would never have known you were there. You were running to the clock, she was running against you. Just a thought.

    On point #14: thanks for not blaming me for your cold!

    Mo Weiser

  2. See, you are Mo Weiser. In hindsight, I can agree with you about #13. The problem was that the information I was getting during the race indicated she and the leader were both fading. So, sitting 10 seconds behind her didn't seem like a good move if I wanted to break the course record.

    How could I blame you for the cold when you fed me such a great meal and were my eyes and ears on the course that day?

  3. Actually, wearing a sweet terry cloth head band isn't really a risk. Its just really sweet.

  4. I just found your website, and you really give me hope for my running! I don't think that I am that serious about running to make it to the olympic trials, but I didn't start running until college and I'm not too horrible at it. Thanks for being an inspiration!!

  5. How about trying Eugene again in May? As you know, it's really flat with only one hill I believe at mile 8. The weather was great last year -- 45 degrees and a drizzle. Plus, this year, they are going to end the race with a lap at Hayward Field, instead of just outside of it. Also, it's closer to your family -- built in cheering section.