Marathon training is tough work (I know what you're saying, 'Tell me something I don't know'). Fartleks. Hills. Endless intervals. Grueling long runs. Cross training. And dozens of monotonous regular runs.
Yet sometimes, the 20-mile long run that you woke up at 4 a.m. for is not the hardest part of the training. Sometimes, the most difficult aspect is doing it all on your own.
Marathon (and half-marathon) training can be as much a mental workout as a physical one. When you're nine weeks into a 16-week training plan and the schedule calls for a a five mile regular run on a Thursday, motivation can be in short supply. The end goal - crossing the finish line and picking up a medal - is not always in sight and those base runs can be laborious and demoralizing.
For the Chicago Marathon in October 2016, I had a PR goal and that's all I could focus on. Any early morning fatigue for regular runs and run as you feel workouts was shaken off with as much gusto as Taylor Shift when I reminded myself of the goal and what needed to be done. And when you're that laser-focused on a goal, determination can push you through brick walls - even in the dullest of moments, such as a five-mile run as you feel workout six weeks before race day, when nothing is on the line.
And that brings me to the New Jersey Marathon. After Chicago, I ran the New York City Marathon three weeks later for fun. And enjoyed it. Following that, I took a short break from running. While my body didn't show significant signs of wear and tear, mentally I was tired, a little exhausted.
For my next marathon, I knew deep down I didn't have another 16 weeks like that in me. With the New Jersey Marathon penciled in as my go-to marathon at the end of April, I knew I had to approach things differently. There's no way I could replicate my Chicago form, even with help from my trusty NYRR Virtual Trainer program. I knew the program would push me, as per usual, but mentally, I didn't have it in me so soon after the October PR extravaganza. The question was: How do I change it up?
During Chicago Marathon training, I bit the bullet and joined the New York chapter of November Project. Simply put, November Project is a free, open-to-the-public exercise group. Yet my participation was sporadic at best. I would pick and choose workouts. At the beginning, I certainly wasn't #weatherproof, avoiding rain and cold weather at all costs. If I were scheduled to do a five-mile run on my training plan, I would skip a day at NP that called for burpees or jumping jacks. "I had no time for that shit," I told myself. "I have to get my miles in."
For Chicago, my singular focus was mileage, which was idiotic as I ignored key core work in order to run farther on tired legs. But these thoughts consumed my mind: "Mileage, mileage, mileage. Stick to the plan. Don't deviate."
Since I was showing up intermittently, I felt I wasn't a real member of NP, rather just a blow-in who used it whenever it was convenient. And then the month of November (ironically) changed it all. With nothing to train for, or no mileage targets for the first time in 20 weeks, I was able to go to workouts with two specific goals in mind: Work hard. Have fun.
What's transpired has been something I never imagined.
Rather than carefully selecting dates on the calendar as to whether I turn up or not, I've tried to dedicate myself to NP at least twice a week - with my trusty NYRR Group Training sandwiched in there, too (more on that on a later post).
From November to February, I've tried my best to #JustShowUp. And in that time, progress has been made.
At my first initial workouts, I used to stand arms folded, sheepishly at the back, waiting for someone to talk to me or for my mouth to open. It showed me yet another reason why people should never grow up - it's easier to talk to people and make friends as a child. "Hey, I like your hat. Want to be my friend?" is not something you can really get away with as an adult.
After way too many sessions of loitering in the back, I finally decided to #JustShowUp in more ways than one. Rather than just stand around, I bit the bullet, overcame idiotic nerves, took a significant deep breath, and fully immersed myself into things as best as I could. I opened my mouth and ears - by talking and listening.
In that time, I've gotten to know people better and bounced off like-minded people in an effort to push myself harder at the sessions. Most importantly, I've learned to be more like myself again and fell back in love with running for the fun of it.
Marathon or half-marathon training can play havoc with your inner self. A missed PR can lead to a path of hurt and betrayal with the sport of running. Other times, the devil on your shoulder can often play mind games with your tortured running soul. For example - when you find yourself not performing as well as should, you find ways to make excuses for something you really shouldn't be sorry for. Ultimately, if you're not careful, you end up pretending to be someone else. Thankfully, November Project teaches you to be the opposite. It pushes you to the limit and to be yourself, while having fun at the same time.
At NP, you can go balls to the wall at a workout - and feel awesome because other people are doing the same thing - and giving you a spate of sweaty hugs and high fives for it.
If you're exhausted - you can take a two-minute break - because other people are doing so. And those people are the same ones pushing you back on the course and encouraging you to go that extra mile.
Currently, I'm in Week Five of New Jersey Marathon training and I've never felt better. Yes, I'm back to weekly mileage counts, but I'm approaching things differently. Four miles scheduled in the book - yeah I'll get those in at Gracie Mansion while running some stairs and doing #FuckYeah push-ups.
A seven-mile regular run on the docket for Wednesday? I'll run to PR Day (four miles) and then do the course to get the other three-and-a-half miles in. And to push me through it, I'll get some high fives from the cheer squad on the way. Flexi day scheduled - Yeah, I'll go to a Friday NP workout. Intervals - I'll do them at NYRR Group Training.
Oh - and what about long runs? Well I've turned that on its head, too. By going to NP, I've found others I've found others to run with on a Saturday morning - breaking up the monotony that can sometimes come with doing loops of the park.
Whatever happens on the Jersey Shore at the end of April, I'm fine with. So far, the training has been thoroughly enjoyable, almost too enjoyable - and with longer days ahead, I'm embracing the grind rather than dreading them. For Chicago - I'd stubbornly decided to go solo with my physical training, despite the online support of NYRR's Virtual Trainer gang. In the Windy City, it was me against the world in Chicago. For New Jersey, it's me with the world while still #racingeverything - isn't that what running should be?
So - if you've ever been interested in joining November Project, or always made an excuse such as "it's on too early" or "it's not near my home," then take a leap of faith and push yourself in a direction you never though possible. You'll like it. As the tagline goes, this shit is good.