"Now if you are going to win any battle you have to do one thing. You have to make the mind run the body. Never let the body tell the mind what to do. The body will always give up. It is always tired in the morning, noon, and night. But the body is never tired if the mind is not tired.”

- George S. Patton, U.S. Army General, 1912 Olympian

Monday, September 13, 2010

On Race-Day Discipline

I ventured out for a long run on Saturday morning, one week after the Pocatello Marathon. I had run three miles earlier in the week just to loosen up and make sure all my muscles and systems were still intact, but Saturday was my first real training since returning home. It was a forgettable 15-miler. I finished in just under 2:04, cleaned up, consumed my morning fruit smoothie and went on with my day. As I sat watching college football during the afternoon, something about my run kept nagging at me. I couldn't put my finger on it until I started crunching numbers.

15 miles in 2:04. An 8:16/mile pace.

To have finished 26.2 miles in 4 hours (my current goal after three unsuccessful attempts), I would have had to run the final 11.2 miles in 1:56. A 10:21/mile pace.

This bothered me.

It bothered me for two reasons. First, short of an injury I can't think of any circumstance when I should not be able to run a 10:21 mile. Second, my 15-miler was a so-so run at best. I didn't feel great. I didn't even feel good. I still felt the effects of running downhill for 2 solid hours the week before. But I ran it at an 8:16/mile pace. And what was my strategy? Exactly what I DIDN'T do in Pocatello -- walk early and walk often. From the very first mile I was running 8 minutes and walking 1. Over and over again.

It bothered me because I already knew the benefits of walking early, often and regularly. I had done it in my long training runs. Heck, I had don't it on my 5-milers just to solidify the habit. But once the gun went off in Pocatello, this strategy went right out the window and I paid for it in the final 10 miles.

I'm so disciplined in every other aspect of my running. I'm a schedule-oriented person who has the number of miles I'm going to run on a particular day scheduled and written on my calendar weeks and months in advance, depending on how far out race day is. While in training I keep to my planned diet right down to the number of regular and frozen bananas in each smoothie or which days I'll allow myself to put a little bit of olive oil on my whole wheat pasta. My pre-run/race rituals are the same every day.

What bothered me so much on Saturday, as I was watching my alma mater get rolled by what should have been an inferior team (no, not Virginia Tech), was the realization that I am so undisciplined once a race starts despite working so hard to be exactly the opposite during my training phase.

I recalled what I thought and wrote just a day or so prior to my first marathon, "I began a...plan that I believed would help me achieve my goal or running a marathon. I put my trust in this plan and haven't deviated from it since." That plan has been refined a bit as I have gone from one marathon to the next this summer, but the principles have remained constant.

I'm healed, I'm rested and I'm ready to tackle another one. The next one will be different though. If I stick to my plan and it blows up, fine. I'll go back to the drawing board and start over. But I don't feel like I've given myself a chance to achieve the kind of success I desire or have worked for.

And that bothers me.

(Side Note: The Portland Marathon in now less than a month away. Good luck to all my running friends participating, especially to the three whom I know will be making their first marathon attempt. Keep up the good work!)

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