My Christmas gift to myself last December was an early-bird registration for the 2012 Atlanta Marathon. The race date wasn’t until October 28th, so I had plenty of time to work on my endurance and prep for the race. I had run my first half-marathon in November in Chickamauga and felt that the marathon was the next logical step. I spent the winter researching training plans and (first mistake) I chose the one with the most unrealistic goal pace. I had finished the half marathon in just under 2 hours, so a little over 4 hours for the full would have been the obvious target. My plan insisted that I should be able to run the 26.2 in about 3:40 based on my 5k PR, so 3:40, or almost 40 seconds per mile FASTER than my half marathon pace became my goal.
My training turned foul faster than the weather in Atlanta on a July afternoon. I had a couple of good speed and tempo runs, but once my long runs got above 12 miles, my pace started slowing way down (when compared to my expectations – this is key). I began to doubt that I would be able to finish the race at the pace I was training for. Once I saw finishing the marathon in under 4 hours as out of reach, I simply quit training. I gave up. Over the course of about 10 days, I changed from a man who was unstoppable to one who was immovable.
I struggled for weeks to get my head on straight and I almost didn’t run the race. I actually emailed the Atlanta Track Club and asked to change my registration from the Atlanta Marathon to the Atlanta Half Marathon, which is held on Thanksgiving Day each year. They offered to give me a partial refund and would allow me to register for the half on my own, but, luckily for me, they turned down my request for an even trade.
I had continued to run short distances during the fall, but never felt that I had it in me to even attempt the race. But something strange and unexpected happened. When I sent that email the ATC and gave myself permission to not run the race, my fire was reignited. Suddenly, I wanted to complete the marathon at ANY pace. This was about 3 weeks before the marathon.
I went out on a Saturday about 2 weeks before the race and attempted what was to be my only run approaching 20 miles. I ended up running about 19 and began my taper (really, most of the summer and fall was a taper for me) and waited for the big day.
A couple of days before the race, I read a quote from an 80 year old man hoping to run the NY Marathon for the umpteenth time. He was asked about his race plan. Simply put he said: Start slow and finish. That was the plan that I needed to hear.
On race day, I paced myself from the very beginning. I was able to hold about a 9:30 pace through the first 15 miles or so. At this point, the hills and the miles began to take a toll. My pace steadily fell to about 10:30-11:00 by the end of the race. I finished in 4:32. Not what I hoped or planned for, but I had done it. I finished the race.
My (almost) failure has shown me that I need to have a sound strategy for goal setting and, more importantly, follow-through. This is where I am at right now:
1. Develop your plan.
2. Implement the plan.
3. Assess your progress.
4. Adjust your plan as necessary.
I realize that there was actually nothing wrong with my plan. There is absolutely nothing wrong with setting the bar high for yourself. In fact, if I had followed the plan and had run the long training runs at a slower pace, I would probably have been able to run the race faster in the end. There was also nothing wrong with my implementation of the plan. I scheduled my time and my runs so that I was able to complete them as scheduled. When I reviewed my weekly progress compared to the targets, I was constantly coming up short. My failure was that my assessment led me to doubt and question my ability. Instead of my assessment leading me to give up, it should have led me to adjust my plan (and my expectations) and keep going.
It is the journey, not the destination, that changes us.