Earlier this week, I mentioned that my goal for the Marine Corps Marathon 10K is to “approach this race, which will almost certainly not be my fastest, with the grace and enthusiasm of a beginner.”
Which may have made you wonder: What, exactly, does that mean?
Any runner who’s recovered from an injury knows how important it can feel to be “back” once you’re healed—to stop feeling pain from whatever was hurting you, and start chasing PRs agin. It’s great to set and work toward challenging goals, but sometimes, the relentless pursuit of those goals can make you overlook the small, incremental achievements you’re making along the way. Maybe more importantly, focusing only on your PRs, or on being exactly as fast as you were “before” (before your injury, before you took time off, before you just got a little slower—or whatever) shoves your training into a really dangerous black-and-white territory, in which you convince yourself that you are either at or close to your PR, or you’re jogging. And by jogging, I mean … well, worthless.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: There’s nothing wrong with jogging a race, taking it easy to pace a slower friend or just enjoy the race-day atmosphere. But for some of us perfectionist-weirdos (you know who you are!), jogging a race can be code for “refusing to admit that trying my hardest could yield less than personally ideal results.” Expending very little effort to run 9-minute miles is easy, mentally and physically; what’s tougher is to try your hardest, and still come away with 8:45-minute miles. Of course, the times are all relative—we all know what our own personal “fast” and “slow” are, and we all like to hide the races where we fall into the latter category.
So my goal for Sunday? My race will be against my own inner perfectionist—the one that implores me to throw in the towel and jog the moment it detects a pace that’s slower than my goal. My goal is to stop focusing on what I haven’t done—worked back up to half-marathon distance, eight-minute miles, and whatever other markers I convince myself I need to hit for my training to be worthwhile—and start appreciating what I have done.
This training cycle hasn’t been my fastest, but it has been among my most consistent. In early September, I promised myself I would run roughly every other day, adding hills and intensity to my shorter runs, working up to at least 10K distance on my longer runs, and cross-training on my off days. And guess what? I have. No matter what my time is on Sunday, I can be proud of that consistency.
My race plan is to take it easy for the first mile, and to gauge how my body’s feeling. If all systems feel ready to go, I’ll pick it up to roughly tempo pace to make it a difficult training run—one where I’m not necessarily chasing my PR, but where I am challenging myself.
Now. Here’s the beauty of being a comeback queen: You may have a beginner’s grace and humility, but you have a veteran’s wisdom. I know what “tempo pace” feels like, what to eat pre-race, what to wear, what to listen to and how to coach myself through this beginner-esque effort.
Also, and perhaps most importantly, I know to bring mimosas to sip on while I’m cheering for my marathoner-friends at mile 22, after the 10K’s done.
Good luck to everyone racing this weekend!