All the Years Combine, They Melt Into a Dream
Over 6,000 runners recently completed the Boston Run to Remember Half-Marathon. The weather certainly wasn’t typical for the annual Memorial Day Weekend race– mid 40’s and light rain, but it was perfect for a half-marathon. As I crossed the finish line and acknowledged my time, I couldn’t help but reflect on my previous half marathons and begin the dreaded self-comparisons. I ran a respectable 1:50:56 but felt that I could have performed better (as most runners do). There are always numerous “what-ifs” that go through a runners mind. What if I had been at the front of the pack as opposed to the back when the race began? Would my first couple miles have been faster? What if I didn’t have to take the annoying pee-break? That would have saved me precious seconds, right? You could go on forever about what may or may not have influenced your race. Curiosity was killing me so I went back to the archives to look up my past races. Was I accurate in my perceptions that I was “slow” today? Or was I having the all-too-common “distorted perceptions” about what I really achieved?
Well, what I discovered was rather telling: in my 11 years of running Half-Marathons (7 total), the difference in finishing time from my first (when I was a young, spry 29 year old) to this most recent (as an older, more experienced 40 year old) was all of 1 minute and 16 seconds. Guess I’m nothing if not consistent…which led to my next thought – why was I so consistent? Well, what are the differences, if any, between the 29-year old me and the 40-year old me? At 29, I was eager to immerse myself into the world of long distance running. My life revolved around training for races – marathons, half-marathons, 10K’s, 5-Milers, etc. At 40, I am immersed in changing diapers and my life revolves around getting the kids down to bed at a reasonable hour (and hoping they sleep past 6:00am). I certainly don’t have the freedom to run when I please or to cross-train at any point during the week. I have to take advantage of the time I can carve out for myself and make my workouts as efficient as possible. But one aspect of my training hasn’t changed – and that’s the mental training.
While many runners discard the true importance of being mentally prepared for a race, I’m constantly “thinking” about the next challenge. When it came to running this half-marathon, I knew from the get-go that regardless of the training program I was following, numerous deviations from the plan would occur – such is life when married with 2 kids. But I didn’t let those skipped days bring me down mentally. I would use the time to visualize the next workout. I would reconfigure the workouts for the remainder of the week to help make up for the lost runs. I would constantly engage in positive self-talk and reaffirm my belief that I will be as ready as can be for race day. So it was during the race that I relied on my mental training more than my physical training. It took me a good 6 miles to break away from the cluster of runners and find some space to finally hit a groove…my target time of 1:50 seemed out of reach when I passed the 8-mile mark at exactly 1hr 11min. Some quick math told me it would be 8-minute miles for the final 5 to hit that time…I didn’t do any speedwork during my training so I couldn’t rely on that – I had to rely on my brain (and IPod)…the combination of Jerry Garcia, deep/controlled breathing, positive affirmations, and more Jerry Garcia pushed me beyond my perceived limitations and across the finish line within 1 minute and 16 seconds of where I was 11 years ago….Has anything really changed over the years? The body may get older but the mind will always have the ability to take you a little bit further than you’ve gone before.