It's not a sprint, it's a marathon! (Part 1)
“It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon!”
Please tell me you’ve heard this before. (....... well? I’m waiting!)
It is a phrase used by many to describe many things. Usually it’s a way of telling someone that something is going to take a while. Whether it be an observation on life, starting a voiceover career, telling a 6 year old to slow down on the sweets, or the most obvious task of running a marathon. I’m sure there are many others, but you get the idea.
To me, that phrase means so much more. That is for a pretty big reason: I have actually ran a marathon. Well…. A half marathon. Here’s why this means so much more than ‘it’s going to take a while’.
Let me start with a little background. First I need a happy little sky, and that sky has a happy little cloud. Well, I don’t want that cloud to get lonely, so let’s give him a happy little friend.
I was never a big fan of running. I ran track in high school, because… ?? I honestly have no idea. The more baffling part is I did it for two seasons. I was put on the long distance team because I was much too slow to be on the short distance team and they could get away with waiting a few minutes for me to finish a mile instead of a 100 meter dash. I hated training, which involved running around the area of the school. I hated running lap after lap and being concerned I ran one lap too much because there’s NO way I was that slow (well, I was)!
Fast forwarding to graduating college and getting married. For some reason I decided the best way to stay in shape was to run (perhaps I was drugged). Well, I had never ran any farther than a few miles. Many friends and coworkers started talking about 5k races. A 5k race is about 3.2 miles long. At the time that seemed pretty awful. But it was something I decided I was going to do. Once I had finished my first one, something very strange happened: I enjoyed it!! What was happening to me?? Well, the 5k eventually became an interest in doing sprint triathlons (usually 200-500m swim, 15 miles biking, and a 5k). That evolved into biking 50+ miles, which evolved into running farther distances than a 5k.
The thought of running a marathon, or even a half marathon at the time sounded absolutely insane. Last year I had set my sights on a specific half marathon, the Hokie Half. It was about 9 months away at the time and knew I had some work to do.
A half marathon is 13.1 miles. Yikes.
Here is what a marathon means to me:
Preparation: The average person can wake up and decide they are going to just go out and run a sprint. I never said it had to be fast or good, but it can be accomplished without much consideration. Running a marathon is a completely different deal. It takes a lot more preparation than a sprint. In order to accomplish a marathon, you probably need to plan months in advance. Do you have the equipment you need? Will someone please talk me out of this? The last question is optional.
Goals: Ahhh, THAT word. Does someone need to set a goal to accomplish a sprint? Aside from just getting to the end, not really. On the other hand, if you want to become a good sprinter, goals need to play a factor.
When running a marathon, goals were a huge factor in my success. In fact, I don’t know if I would have been able to finish the race if I had not set goals. Obviously I had set my main goal of finishing the race. But I also broke my goal down into small pieces. SInce I had never ran 13 miles before, I had to set goals to get there.
Training: Absolutely key to succeeding in running a marathon is training. There’s no way I would have been able to finish the race if I had not trained for it. Every month I had set distance goals for myself to reach. While most of my training was focused on distance, I also added some running workouts of varied paces to build up my average pace. In addition to running, I made sure to include some weight training to strengthen my muscles and gain more endurance.
When it comes to a sprint, usually they aren’t the goal of a training session, but the actual method of training. In fact, I used sprints at times to train for the marathon.
Pacing (running your own race): In a sprint, pacing is non-existent. Basically you run as fast as you can to the finish. In a marathon, if you give everything you have at the beginning, your tank is going to empty out pretty quickly and you’re going to need a tow truck to get you to the finish line. That does not count as finishing a marathon, by the way!
Pacing is crucial in a marathon. Through training, you can usually figure out how fast (or slow) you need to go to finish. In a distance race, you usually need to “running your own race”. What does that mean? You don’t worry about any other racer but yourself… and that ghost chasing you. Not to worry, though, as the ghost only wants to help you run faster.
Mental games: The longer the race, the more important of a factor this becomes. In a sprint, there’s the buildup to the race which is absolutely a mental game. However, during the race, there really is no time for mental games to play a factor.
In a marathon it’s a totally different beast. The race is long and your mind can really play a huge factor in your success or your failure. How are you feeling after the first mile? Does anything hurt? What can you do to loosen things up? How much sooner until the next water station? Running too fast/slow? Why am I doing this? Didn’t that guy just pass me a mile ago?
Part of the mental games is also the idea of getting into “the zone”. The zone is that place where nothing else matters and you just run.
Unpredictability: The longer the distance, the more chances of something unexpected happening. Perhaps halfway through the race you are greeted by a marching band playing for you and cheering you on (actually happened!). At the 10 mile marker you start to feel a pain in your knee. The water station runs out of water. The course has more hills than you expected. Your running playlist has somehow been changed to a forever loop of KISS’ “I Was Made For Lovin’ You”.
Side note: that actually happened to me in another race previously in the season. It was a trail run so I didn’t have time to mess with my phone so I just dealt with it for most of the race. The bizarre part is I never had that song on any of my playlists. I still think it was done by Gene Simmons in an effort to boost their song with runners. Apparently it worked because I can’t help but associate that song with running (it does have a good running pace) and it is now on my running playlist.
Reassessment/re-evaluation: At some point along a long race, a reassessment needs to be made. While this could be categorized into the “mental games”, there is a bit more to this. I think of it as a top down check on everything. How does the body feel from head to toe? Is the pace good, or do I need to speed up or slow down? Mentally, am I in a good place? Do I need to relax or push myself more? Am I hydrated? Do I need more energy? These are important questions to ask yourself otherwise you are just blindly moving forward and may miss the warning signs your body or mind is trying to tell you. It’s also important to the final result of the race. To finish strong, it’s important to continually assess where you are and make adjustments when needed.
During my race, I had several moments where I made some slight changes. There were times where I adjusted my pace. About half way through the race, I had to change my focus on rehydrating and taking some energy. Looking back, had I not made the adjustments I made, I may not have raced as well as I wanted.
Adversity: Along the way, adversity usually makes an appearance. I am not going to say a sprint cannot have adversity. However, the longer the duration, the greater chances of adversity. It can come in many different forms. In a race, it could range from a cramp to a significant injury. Something could happen that no amount of training could prepare for. A sudden rainstorm or slipping on a banana peel. Adversity can also be mental. Something could happen that could change your mental state. Perhaps someone does something that makes you angry.
When I was racing, I had a cramp in my hip with little warning. I had a few moments where I lost focus and started thinking too much about whether I should start walking. Towards the end of the race, the fatigue in my legs impacted the way I was running and changed my stride.
Finishing strong: In all races, you always want to finish strong. In a sprint, it could definitely be the difference between winning and losing. In a marathon, it could impact your placement and your final time could be impacted by minutes! Those minutes could make a big difference in your results. Usually a marathon race also can have hundreds of participants.
You want to finish with no regrets and be able to look back and say you did everything you could have done and gave the race everything you had.
As I mentioned in the “adversity” my legs were really fatigued by the end of the race. However, I really wanted to finish strong. So the last half mile I started picking up my pace and ran as hard as I could through the finish line. Looking back, I definitely feel like I gave that race everything I had in me and was so glad to finish. I was very tired. I was mentally worn out, but I felt great knowing I had accomplished something I never thought I could ever do.
When I hear people tell me that something is “not a sprint, it’s a marathon”, there is a lot more than distance and time in comparing the two. While most of this post has focused on my half marathon, this race has translated into real life changes. How exactly have I done that?
To be continued….