There are few experiences in life which make you reflect deeply. Running half marathons are my personal journeys; Journeys of dedication, commitment, persistence, hard work and achievement, or so I’d like to believe.I love the process. I love the training cycle – that’s what gives me my happiness and pride.
The finish line is a beautiful place. The feeling you get when you step on that last mat which marks the end of the race, the sense of achievement and the state of being exultant makes everything worthwhile. I am not even beginning to talk about finish times here. Just the sense of crossing that finish line. But, is it always only that? For a first time half marathoner maybe, yes? But when you do something over and over again, it does become something of a goal to better. Doesn’t it? The expectation we have from our self. The pressure which makes us want to perform. But, the reality is, that nobody nails every run and it is “misleading to only share the good”.
There are people who are happy to just finish a big race but there are also people who like to compete with themselves, to feel a sense of accomplishment. I once read, “Let’s celebrate finish lines and not finish times”. Although I try hard to believe in that, when you think you have worked hard, you also want to see results. My goal, from myself this year, from the half marathon was not to do my best (2:10) but to run through all 21km of the race, like I used to and better my previous year’s time (2:21) which was my first half marathon post pregnancy.
However, this was not to be – this was my toughest half marathon (I’ve completed 6 including this one; Delhi – 2011, 2013, 2015, 2016, Mumbai – 2013, Jaipur – 2012) and I have my post race body with DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) to prove it, along with my finish time (2:24:45) and the mental state in which I was. I wondered, off an on (when I could get moments to reflect), what made the race such a tough one, post 16km? I was maintaining a happy 6:26 pace throughout, then what led to the lull? I had trained, I had some mileage in my legs but then why couldn’t I perform? Was it just a bad day? Maybe, maybe not.
This Sunday, 20th November 2016, the finish line and the reflection on that experience taught me some lessons about my running life and I am using this blog post more as a reflective piece than a commentary about my race!
Lesson 1 – THE RIGHT PREPARATION and PLAN is key! In retrospect, I realise that although I had a training plan and stuck to it, it was NOT THE RIGHT PLAN FOR ME. It exhausted me and fatigued me due to its demand of a fairly longish run during each session. In previous years, I was used to training 4-5 times a week using the the Hal Higdon novice / intermediate plans for guidance. Due to lack of time, during what is already a busy day with school and a toddler, I committed to a thrice-a-week half marathon training plan for 12 weeks. It demanded more in each run even though the frequency of runs was less. On any given week, I was running three runs approx 9km, 10-11km and a long sunday run building up to 18km. I was running on the treadmill twice a week and outdoors on Sunday.
Lesson 2 – Strength training is ESSENTIAL and I did none! In previous years I was an avid, p90x (modified version) do-er. This time, I over relied on running to take me through, but only on reaching the 16th km, did I understand the importance of a strong core, back, legs and arms. My body was under stress and screaming, my upper back became stiff and my legs felt heavy. I had to walk-run to the finish, to my dismay and complete shock. I had just run a 15km 2 weeks ago, 18 km a week before, then why was I not able to run through? I was clearly fatigued with no strength in my body.
Lesson 3 – STRETCH, STRETCH, STRETCH. Again, unlike previous years, I rarely stretched. My husband who is a prolific foam roller user, told me time and again “you should be grateful that you are able to run the miles you do”! He is perpetually shocked at how little I do before or after running! It is nothing to be proud of boastful about. It is plain ridiculous to ill treat one’s body. If my body is stressed or under strain of any kind, it is not going to perform for me!
Lesson 4 – CORRECT RUNNING FORM – A weak core and back makes you slouch once exhaustion sets in. I need to focus on my posture as I run. I especially need to remind myself to relax my upper body. Here you can find a few tips on running form.
Lesson 5 – TRAIN THAT MIND TOO. The battles of the body are won in the mind. If only I had pushed through and told myself, “I can do it”, “just another 5 to go”, “keep running”, when all you want to do is stop and sit! If only I had trained myself to visualise. Of course, I will finish, finishing isn’t hard, its HOW I want to finish that is important. I have to learn to tell myself that I will not settle for less. I want it ALL.
Lesson 6 – PRIORITISE – I can’t perform in every race! Be realistic about what you expect. Not every run will get me to my best but I should know what I want out of each race. Participation? Finish? Improvement? Personal best? I should have known that this was not going to be my day but I believed otherwise. I should have let my training runs on Sunday tell me the truth and I should have heard it. I was not running at my target pace during any of the training runs. I was far from it.
So, before my next half marathon, (in Mumbai – (7 weeks away) hopefully) here’s what I’m going to do! Irrespective of whether I get closer to my previous best or not, at least I will be able to put my hand on my heart and say, “I did the best I could” and “I gave it my all”!
- I’m going back to the Hal Higdon training plans – they worked for me before!
- Hills and sprints will feature in my training – Mumbai is no easy half marathon!
- Running outdoors over running on the treadmill is going to be another change.
- Strength training and stretching will be a core feature in my training cycle!
- Nutrition and hydration will be priority.
- I will find the balance in the imbalance!
- I will be okay with not giving my 100% to everything all the time
Happy to get other tips!