It's Not About the Marathon
In 2007, when I turned 40, I ran the New York City marathon as a celebration of my life in sport. I had been racing since I was sixteen, and I felt that I was ready to step back from high performance. I had two small children and had started coaching and my priorities had shifted. It was one of my last big pro races. I was so fortunate to receive an invite to run in the elite female master’s field, which meant we were given a thirty minute head start on the men’s field. It also meant that, after about twelve miles in, the women had spread out, and I ran a large part of the race solo. This was simply extraordinary, to be running through the empty streets of New York City in the early morning.
Unequivocally, running that race was one of the highlights of my career. Not only because it is really one of the most iconic and famous marathons, but because of a collection of memories I took home. I met and spoke with Paula Radcliffe, for starters. The marathon world record holder (until 2019), she came with her tiny baby, and her husband. She went on to win, placing 17th overall, in 2:23.
On the morning of the race, we were bussed out to Staten Island, where the elites were held in another location than the rest of the runners. About half an hour before my start, a black Suburban with tinted windows pulled into the warm up zone. I thought it was a security vehicle and I was right. After a few minutes quite a few young male athletes started to emerge from the car; it was like a whole track team of distance runners had arrived. I didn’t see him, but this was Lance Armstrong’s pace group. He had won his 7th Tour de France in 2005, had retired from cycling, and had decided to give marathons a try. He ran 2:59 in 2006, so I guess he was there to improve on that. I never did see Armstrong, as my race was about to start and he had to wait in his car, for obvious reasons, for the men’s start.
We were lined up on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, and then we were off, I was off, on an adventure in a lifetime of running adventures, to run through five boroughs of New York City.
Somewhere in the late stages of the race, the elite men caught me. I knew they were coming as I could hear vehicles approaching from behind and the crowds cheering as well. The overtake was impressive, and I’ll never forget it. First a lead car with marathon officials hanging out of windows, then another press car, and then a police escort motorcade, at least five motorcycles in a ‘V’ formation, and then the lead male sprinted past and was gone. After that several of the pro men ran by, silently, serious, all focused on a finish line that probably couldn’t come soon enough.
During the last two miles, which wound through Central Park, I was overcome with an intense feeling of joy and gratitude for what my body had done, and for the path I had passionately followed for over 20 years. I had completed many of my previous marathons in an uncomfortable exhausted struggle, both spent and cramping, having blown up at twenty odd miles. They were grim finishes, full of the desire to be done with it all, for the pain to be over, willing my aching body to the line. It was a different story at this race. I was tired but still doing ok. Maybe I had finally nailed my nutrition, or maybe I had simply started slower and paced it better, but I spent the last ten minutes of the race smiling inside, to no one but myself. Those minutes remain some of the happiest moments of my running story.
The Top Five
One aspect of self awareness, is the ability to be open minded. That is, to know when our perspective of a situation is based on our opinion or point of view, and to understand that there may be other ways to thinking about things. I was recently offering some advice to a friend who is pondering running the Finlayson Arm 50k. My perspective came from my opinions about training, preparation and execution of such an event and was focussed on what practices and habits will be required for success. Another friend of his simply said "Drink a bunch of beers the night before and SEND IT!".
There have been times in my coaching life that I feel like the 'Lucy' from the Peanuts cartoon, dispensing advice for 5 cents. Obviously my advice to runners always come from the perspective of what I have learned over many years. What follows then, are the most common themes of running advice I have dispensed over the years, distilled into five tips.
1. Develop positive habits.
Have the courage to know when your habits are creating the same mistakes over and over, and cultivate the courage to change these. Good habits work for you, and easily become the norm for your workouts.
Take care of basic details: prep logistics and being organized with gear and time.
Find and embrace opportunities to succeed. You get better at this the more you practice it.
Weather the ups and downs of training and racing. Be no nonsense about that one. Life goes up and down. It just does.
Do not entertain a change of heart when having a tough day or after a tough race. Allow time to emotionally recover from disappointment. Reflect and move on.
2. Reflect honestly.
Review your races. Improve what you can and give yourself credit for what you did well.
Refine what didn’t go so well. Be honest with yourself, without judgement.
3. Take care of yourself and surround yourself with a healthy community of friends.
Eat well, sleep well, and take care of your body and health. It’s quite simple.
Surround yourself with likeminded positive people who lift you up. Put yourself in environments that support your dreams and passions. (Such as the Island Series and other events). In other words, spend your time well.
4. Listen to others.
You never know what you may learn but be discerning as well. From what you learn, custom build the program and lifestyle that works for you.
5. Find a greater purpose.
Give back when you can. Share the joy of your process and your achievement and celebrate others’ successes. Find opportunities to give back and accept opportunities to give back when they come. Thank the volunteers.
Run For Joy!
Writing about the art of moving well and the lived experience of a life in sport.