So what exactly does this mean? Do I take a week or two off to reset and hope it doesn't derail my training too badly? Do I give up on my training plan and just wing it, hoping for the best come race day? Do I just suck it up, push through and ignore any signs of over-training or injury (been there, done that). Or, even more extreme, do I just throw in the towel and not even bother any more? And the answer is, well there is no easy answer. What I do know, however, is after having been through this very phase in virtually every single training cycle I have ever completed, this too shall pass. I will get over this funk, finish out my training and run my little heart out on race day.
But I certainly cannot just sit around waiting for my running mojo to just magically reappear. Not only do I want to finish this, my 6th marathon, I want to a shiny new PR and to finally get that BQ I have been working so hard on for the past 3 years! But I recognize there is a fine line between that relentless pursuit of our goals, and knowing when to pull back to avoid burn out, illness or injury. It's about training hard but more importantly, training smart. So, if you're in the same boat as me, here are a few things to consider when you feel like throwing up the proverbial middle finger to your marathon training.
Take a Little Break
Gasp, she said take a break from running during marathon training, has she lost her mind!?!?! Obviously skipping several workouts or even a weeks of training is probably not the best thing to help you reach your goal, but taking a day or two off here and there when your body absolutely hates you will not totally derail your training. In fact, it will most likely do you some good physically and mentally to slow down or stop every once in a while. Recognizing the signs of over-training is vital in avoiding injury and illness. If you feel you are reaching that point, take a little breather because getting injured or being sick is even worse than having some bad training runs here and there! I have pushed back runs later in the day, or even skipped a run and did something else (like swimming, biking or yoga) even even just took a full rest day. Sure, I felt a little guilty for not completely "sticking to the program," but my body, and mind totally needed it!
Make New Goals
I am by no means saying to give up on your goal all together because training has been rough. You never know what you may be capable come race day, so don't give up hope. But I always highly recommend a plan B, C and maybe even D goal as well. Having just one BIG goal in mind with an all or nothing approach can potentially set you up for failure and disappointment, trust me I know! Having an ultimate goal along with some "I can by happy with this" type goals will help take some of the intense pressure off as well as allow you to make adjustments for situations out of your control (like weather, GI issues, etc). I suggest doing this for training runs too, especially the long runs. It will help keep you accountable out there, giving you something to work for and will be great practice for race day.
Readjust Your Plan
As you know, marathon training is time consuming, but it does not have to consume. We do have jobs, families, other hobbies and a life! Sometimes training can take too much away from that and we start to lose our appreciation for running. If you find that your plan is too stringent, causing you to resent running, or even worse, causing you to over-train, change it! I have tweaked my program mid to late training cycle for that very reason. Make sure your plan is still preparing you for race day with the appropriate mileage, speed work and tempo runs. But do some research, seek the help of a professional and/or seasoned runners and readjust your plan so it better suits your life, goals and commitment level.
Repeat After Me: "Marathon Training is Not My Job"
As I stated above, we have lives outside of training that often include careers, that some of us actually like and/or want to keep. Though it would be pretty awesome if we were compensated for the time we spend running and thinking about running, but we don't. We run because we enjoy it, it's our hobby, our stress reliever, our "happy hour" with friends! Yes, you made a commitment to a goal, so stay focused and honor that, but don't take yourself too seriously. When training starts to feel like a full time job, remind yourself it it's not your job, it's your hobby and it's what you love. Be sure to reconnect with that love of running every now and then with things like a watch-less run, a new route, a group run or a fun, easy local 5 or 10k!
Take Some Time Reflect
Whenever I hit a rough patch in my training where I feel like I'm losing my love and feeling for running, I take some time to reflect on all the wonderful things running has brought into my life. I like to look back at old pictures, Facebook posts and training blogs to be reminded not just how far I have really come in distance and pace, but how much I have grown as a person along the way. Running has transformed my body, making me stronger and leaner than I have ever been. Running has given me so much inner strength and courage to do the things that had once terrified me. And most importantly, running has brought so many beautiful, encouraging and motivating people into my life. So yeah, sh*t gets hard some times, but reflecting on all the positive things running has brought me and will continue to bring me certainly helps put things in perspective and drives me to keep on going.
Mix It Up
Often times during marathon training, running is all we feel we can and should do. But this couldn't be further from the truth. A solid training program should include cross training, strength training and recovery. If you find yourself getting burnt out on just running, try adding in some other forms of exercise to help keep things fresh. For me personally, I would go crazy if all I did was run. Even during marathon training, I absolutely love getting after it in the weight room, swimming laps in the pool, getting out on my bike and hitting up a yoga class. Having variety in your weekly training regimen well help your body get stronger, leaner, more efficient and even aid in recovery, but it also give you other things to look forward and work hard at during your training cycle, breaking up the monotony. [Side Note: I know some programs focus solely on running and shy away from cross training, but consider yoga as well as a core training program to help mix it up, provide strength and aid in recovery.]
Take It All In Stride
I can't stress enough the importance of trying to keep it lighthearted. Yes it is time consuming, yes it takes a toll on your body, yes it can be a little tricky getting in all your training runs, yes it can be terrifying (especially if it is your first or if you're going after a big goal). But that doesn't mean it still can't be fun! After all, you committed to doing this because though you knew it would be a big challenge, you also hoped it to be (at least a little bit) fun. So let it be fun! Try to relax and not take it all too seriously. Don't beat yourself up after a rough training run. Don't feel all is lost if you missed your mileage for one week. Don't sweat the small stuff, trust me you'll figure it out. And most importantly, don't lose hope even when you feel like your goal is so far out of reach. Keep your head up, keep working, stay positive and have faith in yourself and your training. Trust me, you WILL cross that finish line on race day. So why not do it with your head held high, a smile on your face and pride that you kept at it and gave it your all! And even more so awesome when you CRUSH your goal!