Falling In Love with the Process: My Erie Marathon Race Report

I’m a firstborn. As a firstborn, we tend to be stubborn know-it-alls. I find it hard to listen to instructions, from putting together furniture to someone explaining how to play a board game. I always assume I’ll figure it out. Most of the time I eventually figure things out, but it often takes longer than necessary and this time is filled with one too many cuss words. This trait goes against all of that mindfulness junk I’ve been throwing at you lately. But that’s the point of mindfulness, to be present with all of the parts of yourself, including the demons.

One of the assumptions I have about myself is that I should easily be able to run a Boston qualifying time. Now, this isn’t a symptom of an over-inflated ego; all of the race equivalency calculators say I could run anywhere between a 3:25-3:30 based on my other PBs. But what stubborn Ginger forgets is that racing a marathon to our potential often requires experience and quality marathon-specific training, especially when we’re lacking in the genetics department.

For Erie, I had a great training cycle, nailing workouts I have never attempted before and built up confidence in my strength. I always dreamed I was strong, but never worked to achieving that. I also had marathon experience, but I wasn’t sure it was enough to run an entire 26.2 miles at a specific pace. I never achieved such a feat before this race.

Looking back, even with my more evolved mindset, I put too much expectation on myself for this race. Sure, I talked about it less than other races in the past but internally, I felt an unneeded amount of pressure to run a Boston qualifying time. In my visualizations leading up to race day, I struggled to imagine the middle of the race, which I knew would test me. In fact, even my visualizations, which I incorporated into my mindful meditations, ended up feeling stressful. It wasn’t enjoyable to sit with the silence anymore. Instead, I was hanging out with the demons of judgment, anxiety, and that darn stubbornness. And instead of having tea with them like I would tell you to do, I was arguing with them.

In my gut, I knew I needed to focus on running an entire marathon, remaining mentally strong throughout and not worrying so much about what the finishing clock would read. The good news is that in the end – spoiler alert! – I did just that. But you’re probably looking for more details.

It started after four miles when I slowed my 8:12 average pace to 8:20s. The nice thing about most of my mental preparation beforehand is that I told myself it would be ok if I slowed down and that I could trust myself to recover from doing so. Where I failed was in assuming that wouldn’t happen. So for it to happen four miles in was soul-crushing for miles. Had I not re-read Running Within before the race, I likely would have let those demons take over the race at this point and the end result would’ve been a lot uglier!

14225394_10104635911717784_4224076391689005092_nThe remaining miles ranged from small mental battles to enjoying each individual moment. As soon as I let go of the need to perform, I felt more relaxed and surprised myself with a solid 21 miles, the pace of which began with the number 8, including the last mile. Miles 21-24 weren’t too much slower. I was hanging out in new territory, somewhat scared and somewhat excited. Mile 25 would be my slowest, a 10:30, but maybe the stars aligned it that way. For soon after that beep of the Garmin, Cinnamon passed me.

I didn’t recognize her right away. I was starting to wallow in my own pain, but I looked up and saw the flowers in her hair, bouncing with the wind. Surely, I sped up to get her, not because I wanted to beat her. No, my first thought was, wow! this would make a great story for my Salty race report! This distraction rid my body of pain. I passed a man who shouted, “Wow! Look at you go!” This instant energy made me realize how much of our running pain and discomfort is in our heads.

As soon as I got close to Cinnamon, I shouted, “We got this! Let’s go get our PRs!” I was now right up next to her but she didn’t talk. “Oh, we can race, too, if you want.” Funny thing is, she was in her own little world, focusing. It took a few seconds for her to realize we were running side by side.

“I can break 3:50, every second counts!” she said.

“We got this, then!” I replied.

Before we knew it, mile 26 was approaching. I had disregarded my splits at that point but was shocked to see an 8:30 pop up when I felt like death the mile before. While it was already too late to go back and re-do the race with the new knowledge that the body can usually go faster than our minds tell us, I did practice the lesson for next time and sprinted toward the finish.

img_3181

Surely it was divine intervention to finish that race with my friend. The same friend who I had done a long run with months before at Salty Camp. On that run, we talked about the process of training and how once you understand the process, training becomes fun. Sure, goals and times keep us motivated, but it’s the day-to-day grind that you get to savor after crossing the finish line. The process, you ask?

It’s feeling like crap at the beginning of a training cycle and wondering how you will ever run race pace for all of those miles.

Then a few weeks later, without warning, being able to run race pace in a workout at almost all of those miles.

The first sports bra run of the summer.

Going from 90 degrees and 90% humidity on your run to an air conditioned living room after finishing.

That popsicle after finishing, too.

Envisioning yourself reaching your goal at the end of your runs.

So hard in thought, you almost start crying on the treadmill at the gym.

Stumbling upon a new muscle in your leg when you sit up. Oh hey there, Mr. Muscle.

Running to a really, really, really, REALLY good song that makes you feel like a badASS bitch.

Cooking a new recipe after an intense workout and tasting all of the wonderful flavors of something you made.

Not cooking on a Tuesday night after an intense workout and getting dollar tacos instead. Mmmm, tacos.

Having a community (ahem, this community right here) to talk to and share your training with.

Posting pictures on Instagram throughout training and then worrying you shared too much the night before the race.

Lying completely wide awake the night before the race, partially feeling like it’s almost Christmas morning and partially feeling like you’re about to give a speech to 500 people in your underwear.

Lining up at the start and trying not to puke from the nerves and the smell of so many body odors.

Realizing while running mid-race that this is exactly the experience you needed to get better.

Crossing the finish line and raising your arms in the air even though you were far from breaking any tape.

That first sip of a cold beverage not served in a Dixie Cup.

Feeling each little muscle fiber shout and scream the next day as your rise from your bed.

Ah, compression socks.

No, stairs, no.

Asking yourself when it’s time for the next one.

14379808_10104645363715904_1064559088486740178_o

The best thing to come out of this race is excitement, that love of the process. It’s amazing what happens when I stop being so stubborn and start listening.

What lessons did you learn in your last race?

I run and work as a mental health professional. I write about mindfulness, my own experiences with depression and anxiety, and the professional sport of running. I'm currently taking a break from competitive running, which means I'm brushing up on my swimming and yoga skills.

Leave a Reply

25 comments

  1. Ginger: a little late to congratulate you on the race (Congratulations!) but could you give me a few details of the course? Trying to figure out if I CAN/SHOULD do a marathon at this point…and Erie Marathon is not too far from my State College son and family. Thanks!

    1. Hi Patricia! Thanks! I would do this race again. It was very scenic nature wise and had good course support (although a few quiet spots). It is two loops of 13.1 so that is good to mimic in training. The second loop did go by much faster, though much more painful! If I were to do it again I would make sure I took the first loop easier and more relaxed. Hope this helps!

  2. I really enjoyed this. Thank you for sharing. I needed to read this 15 days before my attempt to break sub 4 hours. thank you again! and congrats.

  3. Ginger, this is awesome. When I first started running, I only liked the racing part of it — the training was just a necessary evil. But about halfway through my training cycle for my first marathon, I realized that there was something really great about the daily grind of the training too — and now I love the process almost as much as the racing. You sum it up so well in this piece. Congrats to you and Cinnamon on the PRs, too!

  4. I love everything about this. I don’t remember the exact point where I fell in love with the process but I do remember it being a game changer. I am so proud of you and loved following along with your training this time around- and finally meeting you in person at camp. I KNOW you have so much in you and this PR is another step forward! Hugs

  5. Congrats a milly! <3 I loooooove this. Reading the list at the end made me tear up a bit. Sometimes I take the grind for granted. I often forget how much I truly love it. I'm finally getting to the place where I can appreciate it again. Thanks, Ging!

    1. Thanks, Bergie! One thing I forgot to mention in the process is running with your friends and stumbling upon a uniquely spotted turtle on the trail and then taking a “shelfie” :)

  6. Wonderful, wonderful post Ginger! Finding love and peace within the process is what keeps us going from cycle to cycle, right? We spend countless hours and hundreds of miles training all for a race that is over in such a (relatively) short time.

    Just because the race isn’t exactly what we visualized doesn’t mean that it’s all a wash, we gain so much from the process. I’m already feeling nostalgia for those first summer runs and winter isn’t even upon us yet! PS – I think your epic snap-stories should have featured in your process :P

    1. Thanks, Pesto! Wow, how did I forget all of the snap stories? I guess there were too many. Add them to the process. Thanks for your support and encouragement along the way. I’m not opposed to doing this race again next year, I would totally recommend it if you’re looking at next year! Happy training and injury comeback wishes sent your way :)

    1. Thanks, Pumpkin! Your snaps and adventures at camp were all apart of this process and for that I thank you! I guess it’s time to order How Bad Do You Want It, haha.