Where the Flame Turns Blue: Marine Corps Marathon Training

“I’m in collision with every stone I ever threw
And blind ambition where the flame turns blue” – Flame Turns Blue, David Gray

So, we just finished our last long run on Saturday – 20 miles in the rain. Never fun. I don’t feel like a badass. I just feel like shit. In some ways, it was better than the first 20 miler back in August simply because it wasn’t so damn hot. In some ways it was worse because I could not catch my breath and I ended up walking more during the last two miles than I would like given, that at Mile 18 of the marathon, I will still have 8 miles to go. It kind of messes with your mind. I ended up in bed later on Saturday with a low grade fever, general achiness, slight cough and fatigue so, maybe, I was coming down with something and that is why I just had no gas in the tank. I didn’t feel well going into the run but I wasn’t going to not at least attempt it. I PR’d at the Marine Corps Trail run back in March after coughing up a lung all night and having an asthma attack out on the course so you never know (yes, I am very stubborn and tend to ignore common sense when it comes to running). In this case, I just did not feel well in the beginning, the middle or the end of the run. Heather looked great so I have high hopes for her. The jury is still out on me. No pictures to document this. We were soaking wet, muddy and kind of gross.

I now begin the taper and the part of marathon training I call “The Storm of Never Ending Doubt”. The second-guessing of every run. The “maybe, I should add 14 miles to my training run this Saturday just to make sure I am prepared” phase (or the “OMG, STFU” phase as Mike refers to it). I already made my packing list  for DC and revised it, twice (at this point, many of you are feeling sorry for Mike and my children but I assure you that my anxiety has its benefits like 400 nights of meals in the freezer and we’re fully prepared for the zombie apocalypse).

At this point, I’m 90% sure I am undertrained for this marathon. Last time, I was 90% sure I was overtrained (and injured) which made for a shitty race. I think toeing the start line undertrained will be painful but, hopefully, not the same kind of painful as toeing the line with a chronic injury and thinking it will “work itself out” over the course of 26.2 miles (spoiler alert: it doesn’t). I’ve told myself that I can do anything for 6 hours (hell, I was in labor for 12) so, really, it will all be just fine on race day and I’ll have Heather by my side, embracing the suck right along with me. It will be painful, no doubt, but painful in a different way than last time but still, just fine. My Volee teammate, Sarah, refers to this as “Survivalist Running” and I think that is a good name for it (her training for NYC has gone about like mine). I am not sure that is the “right” way to run a marathon but, then again, the “right” way is to probably weigh 30 pounds less than I do now, have lots more free time to train, be 20 years younger and to run significantly faster than I do. Since none of those things are possible for me at this point in my life, I just have to work with the cards I was dealt and it shouldn’t (and, very likely, won’t) stop me from reaching my goals, assuming that just finishing the marathon is a satisfactory goal for myself.

So what have I learned? Here are the things I recommend not doing:

  1. Don’t get promoted at work and suddenly become busier than you have ever been. I appreciate that my workplace of 10 years recognized my contributions to the organization but a promotion provides you with the opportunity to make more contributions. For me, those contributions involved lots of meetings, many in the early morning, during lunch or late in the day, greatly impacting my running and gym schedule. It also involved a lot of high profile projects that I could not mess up. No pressure there.
  2. Don’t start your training plan weeks before all your running friends because you are running a different race than they are! You will lose your motivation to do your weekday runs because you will have to do them alone on the treadmill, later in the evening than you wanted to, while you try to mediate arguments between your kids. You will begin to dread running, it will become a chore and, since running is supposed to be the fun part of your life, there will come a time when you will feel like all the joy was sucked out of your life (true story).
  3. Don’t get up so early on the weekends for so many consecutive weeks to run before it gets hotter than 10,000 hells that you end up with a huge sleep debt you can’t pay back because you have a job and a family who won’t let you nap. We said we’d rather be tired than hot but now, my sleep deprived self, would probably rather be hot. Sleep deprivation is impacting my memory.
  4. Don’t have a teenage daughter who wants to do a bunch of activities that require you to drive her around during your allotted training time. Don’t have a 4 year old, either, who wants you to watch Frozen with him “just one more time”.
  5. Don’t try to plan a trip to Disney and get sucked down the Disney blog/Pinterest/My Disney Experience/Etsy rabbit hole of trying to figure out what rides to ride on what day, which matching shirts you want and how to take your own turkey sandwiches into the park instead of running. Seriously, my iPad has been attached to my hand on a permanent basis. I’m a little OCD (you’re shocked, I know) so I love to plan, plan, plan. Everyone in  my family hates me now and I think I am the only one who still wants to go to Disney.

What did I do right this training season?

  1. I ate. So, most of you know I lost a lot of weight before I got into endurance running. I survived on few calories but it all worked out because I was only running 3-4 miles at a time. Last training season, I did not eat much because I did not want to gain weight and I paid a price (and still gained 5 pounds). I bonked at the end of almost every run. This time, I ate.  I ate pasta for the first time in 3 YEARS the night before my first 20 miler. I added more carbs back into my diet. I also gained weight. Not a ton but more than someone who worked her ass off to lose 70 pounds would like to see creep back on the scale. I’m a little freaked out about this one but I am still going to put it in the positive category.
 2. I nailed my fueling issues on the run. I found gels I can tolerate, I started making my own runner food (the rice cakes from The Feed cookbook are life changing) and I use Scratch in my hydration pack. I also drink more while running. I added Base electrolyte salt. I am really happy. Heather helped a ton in this department
3. I am not injured.  I still have my aches and pains but I am not facing an issue at this point in training that I think will prevent me from finishing my race without having to drag an unwilling body part through the last 10K of my race (yes, I’m talking to you, IT band). I stuck to the time goals my coach put on the training plan. I also stuck, strictly, with my intervals of 4 minutes running/1 minute walking. It was slow but it paid off by preventing injury. I also ran a reasonable amount of miles (which may have contributed to my feeling of being undertrained) but I would rather have undertrained and not be injured than be overtrained.
4. I switched to heart rate training rather than insisting on a certain pace. This was a big change. I am a rule follower. If you tell me I have to do a run at 10 minute miles, I will try my hardest to do this and, if I can’t for some reason, I will tell myself mean things in my head and feel like a failure. Heart rate training gives me permission to listen to my body during each run. Thank you, Tom Tom, for making a watch that makes this easy for me.
5. I did not feel as much pressure. I think it is because I was not part of a program like 26 Strong where I knew people were depending on me. The only person depending on me to show up was Heather. That meant something to me and got me out the door but I also knew she gives zero fucks about what I do (or what anyone else does for that matter and that is why I love her) so it was a judgment free zone. Heather sent me a version of this meme yesterday.
behold the field in which i grow my fucks
6. I hired a coach (who I met in person) to create an individual training plan. I was straight up with him about my training time limitations, my speed limitations, my meager goals, etc and he listened to me. It made a big difference.

So, I am at a crossroads with my running. I’m not sure survivalist running is the best way to run marathons. I’m also pretty sure that I don’t have the time in my life right now to train the “right” way. I could put off running marathons for a while. I can knock out a half marathon at just about any time. Is that enough for me? I don’t know. I also know that I am 44. I know there will come a time when I, literally, can’t run marathons, anymore. Is there really a right time to do hard things (go back to school to get a law degree, have a baby at 39)? I want to keep doing this but I wonder if it is realistic when I run so slow. I’m not saying that us slower folks can’t run marathons and I am really grateful that races keep the courses open for 5, 6, 7 hours but I think 26.2 was designed for people who can do it in under 5 hours. My PT told me that there are some recent studies showing people really shouldn’t run for more than 3 hours at a time. That’s great. I’ve run about 10 runs this training season over 3 hours.

Then, I think to myself, why am I making up all these rules? Who came up with this shit about the “right” way to do this (the answer is I did and I’m just “shoulding” on myself). I am reserving a final decision on another marathon, for now. I want to run another and I don’t want to run another. I love it. I hate it.

Between now and the MCM, I’ve got three short distance races,a 16 miler, a ton of work to do and some kids who need things from me. Eyes on the prize from here on out.