How 14 Failed Runs Got Me to the Chicago Marathon

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I was still running high after a successful winter of training and a mammoth marathon PR in April. But an unusually cold spring quickly gave way to an unusually humid summer, and by the second week of July I knew something was wrong.

July 5 was a buildup run: Hold pace for a couple of miles, speed up and hold pace for a couple of miles, speed up again and hold pace again. I burned out after the first section. I just didn’t have it. The next week was the same run and the same result. That weekend, another failure.

Weeks of this turned into months. I stopped enjoying my training. I started hated it.

I was discouraged. I’d never struggled like this in all my years of running. But I was not defeated.

Every running morning, I got up, laced up and headed out. I slogged through many a workout, alternating walking and running after the running part failed. I forgot about my pace. At worst, I could manage only a tenth of a mile of continuous running. I take that back: At worst, I stopped my watch and walked home.

It was the slogging—continuing past the point of needing to walk, of feeling like a failure—that prepared me for where I am now, oddly confident on the eve of the Chicago Marathon. Every run since my 20-mile disaster (it was supposed to be 22) has been good to great. My stride has returned along with the cooler weather, and just in time.

Despite all my failed runs—14 of them, I counted—over the last four months, I am finally (FINALLY!) ready to take on this iconic race, just not how I imagined it. I may not have it in me to achieve my original goal (cut the gap to my Boston qualifying time in half), but I’m feeling good about my fallback plan (PR).

If a new PR isn’t in the cards, that’s OK, too. I’ll forget about my pace like I did in all those failed training runs and simply enjoy racing through one of the country’s greatest cities. Win-win.

Why I Spent $24.95 on This Awful Race Photo

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I received the email with my official marathon photos. You know the one. I clicked the link to access the proofs, knowing full well I wouldn’t like what I saw.

In this case, it was proof that I was indeed suffering during the race. This was January 2013.

One particular image so finely epitomized my experience that I grabbed a screen shot of it—though I couldn’t bring myself to pay for the download. The screen grab stayed where I saved it, on my computer desktop, for over three years. Occasionally I’d call it up and look at it, and I’d recall the misery of that moment.

It was past mile 20, after I’d hit the wall. I’d given up on my plan to walk only through the water stations and was instead willing my body to keep moving at all. I’d also given up on my time goal, cursing my failure to achieve what I worked so hard for. I hated the taste of my gels. I hated a lot of things. I was past the point of exhaustion—physical and psychological—and I had an eternity to go before I could be done with it all (and, not surprisingly, go directly to the medical tent).

I look at the picture now, and the pain is as real as it was then.

This week, I finally paid for the digital download. $24.95 on my credit card. Three years after the fact.

Why in the world would I keep the screen shot on my desktop for so long—or maybe more curious, why would I ever spend hard-earned cash on such a forgettable photo?

Because I don’t want to forget what happened. I don’t want to forget how I failed, or how I felt. Ever.

Two weeks ago, I ran the marathon of my life, and I have all the happy pictures to prove it. (I bought them right away.) I’ll cherish these photos, along with the memories they evoke, for as long as I have room for them in my brain and on my hard drive. But I’d better not forget that awful 26.2 in 2013, either. And now I’ll always have that picture to look back on—in unsightly 300 dots per inch. I want to zoom in and see the anguish in my face and remember the wall and the water stations and the wayward goals. I want to remember what went so terribly wrong on the racecourse that day.

It’s by reflecting on our failures—and learning from them—that we lay the groundwork for improvement. I’ve elevated every aspect of my running since 2013, I’m pleased to say, and with this awful picture now in my possession, I’ll know by exactly how much.

 

Area Man Ends Running Streak After Nine Days

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.—The Kierland community streets were noticeably quiet this morning, the missing element being the labored huffing and puffing of 40-year-old Matt Morgan, a more or less familiar face to walkers and other runners who only sometimes acknowledged him on the roadways.

He had already run two days in a row—a Saturday and a Sunday—when, spurred on by Runner’s World and other promoters of running streaks, Morgan decided to see what it would be like to string more days together.

“I didn’t even intend to start running every day, necessarily. That’s the funny thing,” Morgan said. “It sort of just happened.”

The streak began in earnest on a Monday, a day Morgan normally doesn’t run, when he went out for a mile after a cross-training session. He recalled that his legs felt heavy from doing an awful lot of kettlebell swings and jump squats. Still, he persisted. And after his cross-training session later that week, when he should have been not running, he ran a mile again.

On Friday, he tacked on 2 more miles, despite the fact that it was his rest day. The streak, it seemed, was in full effect. And because it’s not unusual for him to run both Saturday and Sunday, those two days were a gimme.

Though starting the running streak sort of just happened, ending it was quite deliberate.

“I suddenly realized, why the heck am I running every single day? Am I trying to prove a point? This is silly,” Morgan said. “And so I stopped. Besides, odd numbers like nine make for good story headlines.”

Morgan said he enjoys running for the cardiovascular benefits, weight management and some other stuff, but he needs his breaks, too. “My body and my brain need the rest,” he explained, wincing in pain as he rubbed a muscle roller stick over his calves. “I know that for sure now. I just don’t get why some people would ever want to go out and pound the pavement every single day.”

In Morgan’s nine consecutive days of running, he totaled 36 miles, logging runs of 1 to 6 miles each, none of which is all that impressive.

With the streak over, Morgan vowed to continue running his normal, boring route every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. “But not those other days,” Morgan said. “That’s just nuts.”

One Last Run on the Streets Where I Live

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I figure I’ve logged more than 2,000 miles on the roads and trails around my neighborhood over the last three years. Hundreds of runs begun from the same corner down the street from my house. It’s boring, but I love it. It’s comfortable, like a favorite pair of running shoes.

That corner is the spot where at times I really didn’t want to start a run, and it’s the spot where at others I really didn’t want to stop. I’ve struggled for so many of those miles, and yet I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. I sorted out a lot of things, just me and my thoughts. I’ve notched more PRs than I can count. It’s on these streets where I truly fell in love with running.

Today, as my stuff is being boxed up and we’re preparing to leave this place, I ran my last loop through the streets where I live. It’s time to find a new route.

 

Bouncing Back From a Demoralizing Run

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This isn’t a how-to. This is a help-please! A desperate plea to the runners of the world.

I have a 10K race coming up a week from today. In fact, by this point I’ll be home and cleaned up and chilling on the couch. I thought I would be ready by now. But I am not ready. Not even close. I’m sure of that now, after this morning’s disaster of a run.

Instead of settling into a comfortable pace for one last long(ish) run, I struggled and had to stop to walk. Eight times. I even cut my distance short. At least by now I know when I’ve had enough.

Instead of feeling primed and powerful and ready to take on this 10K, I’m feeing like a failure. I’m floundering. Flustered.

So I ask you, oh wise ones of the internets, a week from my race, what should I do?

  • Do I hit the roads hard this week to try to make up for my lackluster long run?
  • Do I take the week off and rest up?
  • Do I carry on as planned and shoot for my original goal?
  • Do I pull up the reins and run a slow race, so long as I can actually run the whole thing and maybe even enjoy it?
  • Do I step down to the 5K?

Good Vibes from a Good Run

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This morning, I had a good run. It didn’t strike me just how much a good run affects my day until I sat down to write this piece. Today, even without that realization, I had pep in my step and a hunger in my belly. (Literally, as in I can’t eat enough food!)

I’m shooting for 8:15 miles for my Thursday tempo runs, and today I nailed it. I’ve only done that a few times for my tempo runs since I started training almost two months ago. If you don’t run, it’s difficult to describe the feeling of meeting a running goal. If you do run, you probably know exactly what I’m talking about. Nice, right?

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^ I seem to always start off herky-jerky as I settle into a comfortable pace. By mile 4, I was in a groove.

Anyway, studies have shown that running and other exercise is good for the brain. After a good run—heck, after a bad run—my brain takes a bath in endorphins and other feel-good hormones. Accomplishing a goal during said run (like meeting a certain pace) is icing on the physiological cake.

Plus, it’s such a pleasant change from a few weeks ago, when I was struggling to meet my new, aggressive goals while training for a faster half-marathon finish. I’m not struggling any more! It seems I’ve turned a corner.

That feels good.

A Tale of Two 10-Mile Runs

I run the same route for all my 10-milers (boooring, I know), but the last two could not have been any different. Behold:

Date: Oct. 26        Time: 1:38:41       Goal pace: 9:00     Actual pace: 9:38
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^ Ugh. Don’t let the kick at the end distract you from what was a miserable run. You can see the pace start to erode after mile 4, and then things go further south from there. What you can’t see is that I walked four times in the last three miles. My body was toast for the rest of the day after this mangled morning run.

Date: Nov. 9         Time: 1:31:17       Goal pace: 9:00     Actual pace: 8:5510_miles_1109

^ Hooray for negative splits! Hooray for starting strong and finishing stronger! Hooray for having energy to spare by the end! Hooray for not walking! I like this pace plot. A lot.

This is what success looks like for me.