A running friend asked me recently how I do so many marathons without burning out. She wondered how all the training that goes into the effort doesn't make me crazy. She's no stranger to the game, having run five mararathons herself so far, with three more scheduled for the next month or so. However, for some reason, she wondered how I handle it all. So...here, for the first time ever, anywhere...here...are my "secrets".
#1. Tame Your Goals
The first marathon I ran was Vancouver, BC, in 2003. I took it to heart when our National AIDS Marathon Training Program coaches told us that the goal for first timers should be to do nothing more than finish. If my fading memory serves, I finished that bad boy in something over 6:30. It was not fun. It was cold and rainy. I had never felt such pain. But, after crossing beneath the finish banner, where my sweet wife and hot soup were waiting, my first thought was, "What's next?" I had achieved all that I had come to do. There was no beating myself up because of my time. I still don't beat myself about time. Would I like to be faster? Sure. Do I stress about it? Not for a minute. My marathon goal remains today what was back then, 30 marathons ago. Finish.
#2. Respect the Distance
Ever since Vancouver I have had a reverence for the sheer majesty of the 26.2. In my mind, the distance is always in charge. I will never "beat" it. My goal has been to manage my experience over the distance to the best of my ability. That ability, by the way, may be way different on event day than it was during training. Over time I have learned to live with that disparity when it makes itself known. Some days I'm just a little bit better at doing that than other days. I go into every race knowing that this is the one that could kick my ass. Instead of trying to lash out first, I try to make friends with the task at hand, and ease myself through it. I have gotten much more adept at managing my races, and going with the flow. However, doing so has never, not even once, been anything remotely close to easy.
#3 Train Smart
I know so many runners who simply have to get out there practically every day. For me, that's just not practical. The AIDS Marathon folks started me out at two maintenance runs and one long run a week. I have hardly ever run more than that. I may have run four days a week twice in nearly eight years of training. Over that time I have never had a serious injury. I have never had to take one day off because of excruciating pain. Honestly, I would like to run more. There are times I see other runners running and I wish I was running, too. There are many days there's nothing I'd rather do than run. I am willing to set those days aside in hopes of just being able to run until I'm 100.
#4 Run Your Own Race
The hardest part of doing this is when everyone else in your race is leaving you behind. I know this because it happens to me every time I run a marathon. Despite the warnings from all the experts, the temptation to go out too fast when the starting gun sounds, because everyone else is doing it, is monumental. I, however, have really learned how NOT to do this. I will admit it is difficult to convince myself EVERY time that I will be happy for my choice later. A lot later. But, it has ALWAYS proven itself out. I cannot recall the last race I ran in which more people passed me over the last six miles than I passed by. It's a feeling worth waiting for...and a far better feeling than most of the speed demons of 20 miles ago are experiencing.
#5 Go a Little Crazy
The previous "secrets" are long on control. This one is not. I dream a lot about where I might run next. I am slightly, but only slightly, embarrassed by how much time I spend doing just that. I spend way too much time online, searching for destination races for myself, and keeping up with where other runners are running, for inspiration. I find nothing more motivating than paying the registration fee for another event. I hate paying for a race I don't run. Once I've paid my money, there's a 99% chance I'm gonna be there. I get an adrenaline rush when I score cheap airfare, hotel room, hostel bed, and/or car rental. To that end, I subscribe to a long list of services that let me know when there are savings to be snagged. I snag as many as I can.
So. This is just how I handle this marathon thing. I don't claim to be a coach. I am thrilled that some find inspiration in what I've done so far. If anything I've left here strikes a chord with you, I am grateful for that. Hoping to pay forward the inspiration I have drawn from so many.