Saturday was my second-to-last long run before Boston and I enjoyed 22 miles under a warm sunny sky at a consistent pace that left me feeling awesome and READY! This was happy me after I finished. It was the best I ever felt at the end of a long run or marathon and following a nap and some food I was good to go.
It got me thinking about how marathoning, really any racing or triathlon-ing, is best enjoyed as a multi-year experience. It provides the opportunity to reflect on how things change physically and mentally as you learn and grow as an endurance athlete over the years. That's where the good stuff is! One-and-done doesn't offer the same.
I've done three prior marathons - November 2009, November 2010, November 2011 (all the same one - the Richmond Marathon). Including those, I've completed 15 runs (training or racing) of 18 miles or more. I can remember every single one of those runs, where I went, and how I felt. It's different now. I've learned a lot, and continue to.
What has changed?
Well, at my first marathon, I learned that I need to wear a hat for shading and photographic purposes! (I just realized all these pics are pretty much the same moment in my stride -- arms are all the same.)
I learned that it's not worth getting super psyched-up/worried about long runs. I used to carefully map the route and plant water bottles and nutrition ahead of time. Now it's more a matter of just making sure the iPod is loaded, watch is charged, and grabbing a fuel belt and gels and going. It's better for me not to overthink it and I enjoy it more.
I've learned to pay attention to and address the little aches and pains. I'm doing more now in terms of preventative maintenance. This time around I've been faithful about seeing the chiropractor and massage therapist and working out trigger points before they blow up into something worse. It's so important to stay healthy to continue training!
I've figured out that I can't train legs super hard in the gym like I used to and expect to hold up with the type of bike and run training I do. Gone are the heavy squats and deadlifts. Now I focus primarily on bodyweight/prehab exercises and I do a lot with stretch cords and stability balls. I'm a big proponent of strength training but through some trial and error I've figured out that while I can still push the upper body stuff pretty hard, the legs need care.
My inner coach has evolved too. The dialog is no longer fear-driven but focused more on the fun of outsmarting myself, holding myself back, or coaxing myself forward.
Marathon training has taught me how to be in the moment and shown me I can do that. I can't -- and don't -- think about the miles or runs to come, but rather the instant I am in, the place I am. It's a kind of mental training ground that life does not generally offer.
Finally, I've learned through the ups and downs to be ever more grateful for each and every mile...and for the ability to reach those final painful ones. Those final toughest ones are the test of what we've learned, and the reward we have earned.
Whatever happens race day in Boston, I'll be glad for the miles I've invested and all they have taught me.