On Sunday I ran the Chicago Marathon. I went into the race with the idea of a paced, "easy" long run. A training run for my ultra. A means to a medal and another marathon notch on my belt. A way to continue familiarizing myself with the marathon start atmosphere in a relaxed way in an attempt to make things easier when I race again in 2012. The marathon was a success. I did everything I said I would do and it unfolded beautifully, as planned and on schedule. I needed that to happen, because just 1 week prior, I once again began toying with the idea of racing it. And I believe had I raced, the results would have been disasterous (not sure if that's a word or I'm spelling it wrong since spell check has it underlined. Totally going with it, though). Not only would I not have run what I was aiming for (way too little taper and a little warm for the marathon time I wanted... oh yeah and not nearly enough speed work this year), but I'd have completely ruined my ability to run the Indianapolis Marathon this weekend if I went all out on Sunday. But for awhile, I had stars in my eyes. Visions of nailing the time I wanted on a whim, without worry or pressure. It doesn't help that I am currently obsessed with the stories of ultra-gods, such as Marshall Ulrich and now, Scott Jurek and try to submerge myself in there mindsets. Reading Ulrich's book gave me a chilling look into what happens mentally and physically when you push beyond your perceived limits and enter into unknown territory. I've read most of Dean's books, and I love the guy, but this was way more raw than anything Karnazes has ever described. To be able to mentally "disown" your foot because you have tendonitis so severely that every step sends jolts of pain up your entire body, is something I am trying to process. That is what Ulrich did on his run across America. He told himself "this is not my foot. It does not belong to me. It is getting in the way of my goal" and so he continued running with over 1,500 miles still left to cover. Obviously that takes years of dealing with mucho discomfort on countless runs for hundreds of miles. Likewise, there is a discription of Scott Jurek's experience with running Badwater for the first time (135 mile run across Death Valley, where temps reach the 130s at times).
|Scott Jurek with the family. Meeting Ulrich and Jurek was the highlight of my weekend.|
|Marshall Ulrich, ultrarunner and author of "Running on Empty"|
WHEW! Ok, read stuff like that and then try to talk yourself out of racing a measly 26.2 mile run on the flat streets of Chicago. It's not easy. John had Scott sign the above excerpt in my book at the marathon expo. He followed his signature with the words "DIG DEEP!" Big thrill to meet him. You get so fascinated by the physical extremes these guys overcome with mental mojo that you begin to believe that you can do that.... THAT VERY DAY. Eventually the reality did hit me that I am neither Scott Jurek nor Marshall Ulrich and that I really should stick to the plan and go after my short term ultra goal with adequate training and common sense. My mental strength has grown and will continue to grow gradually when it comes to distance running. I told John that a couple of times during the marathon I found myself getting irritated with how warm I felt. Remembering the conditions of my brother's race in July, as well as Scott Jurek's description of running through Death Valley was all I needed to be suddenly "cooled off". I remember thinking "this isn't bad at all. I ran in hotter weather in the summer. For God sakes, just stop bitching!" By God, it worked! I found more power in my stride, my posture straightened and I began to feel pretty darn good. Never mind that I had to tell myself that like 15 times over and over :). I was also taking a constant assessment of how I felt, realizing I'd run faster and more difficult training runs than this. There were points where all of the endless chatter in my head just ceased and I just ran, enjoying the crowds cheering and the entertainment along the way. I stopped thinking so much and just ran. And it was the best. Sometimes I really do make things so much harder by my thinking. And I am CERTAIN that people who read this have figured that out. Running is so simple. Just put one foot in front of the other and keep going. Physically, that is all there is too it. I sometimes regret the fact that I make it so hard. I become obsessed with distance and splits and fueling and recovery. I focus on minute details. I am very grateful for the advice of Kathleen who told me to just go out and enjoy the day on November 19. That I have all day to complete that distance and I should notice the scenery, take pictures and just have a good time. I think that is fantastic advice!
As for becoming mentally bulletproof like the ultrarunners I've described, well, again, I'll focus on meeting smaller, more realistic and achievable goals, such as running up every hill on my trail run yesterday, the day after running a marathon. I was pretty impressed with myself, and John, who hit the trails with me for the first time. Some of those hills were mental climbs for sure. I came home, submerged myself in an ice bath and put on some compression tights for a few hours. Just for good measure. In case my legs got super mad at me after two days of hard running. And I'll be happy with these small, encouraging victories in the world of mental toughness. I won't try to be Scott Jurek or Marshall Ulrich. I'll be happy with who I am and what I've done.