Soaking up the scenery is as important as putting in the miles

It struck me as I ran watch- and music-free the other day. I was dodging tree roots and sand traps on the path, admiring the streams of sunlight hitting the summery green leaves and darting through branches to form golden pools of light on the trail before me. It was serene and peaceful … and altogether opposite of much of my past marathon training.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed the many, many weeks of training for my first marathon this past spring. It was a thoroughly life-changing time (and sometimes very, very serene and peaceful). But, let’s be honest, the rearview mirror can be especially rosy–that’s how hindsight 20-20 generally works. It’s true, I don’t really remember those bone-cold, dark winter mornings of running as much as I do the euphoric feelings I experienced working my body in ways I never had before – and, finally, crossing that finish line after 26.2 tough, rewarding, mind-boggling and amazing miles.

It’s interesting how our minds work that way. We remember most what we want to remember. I know in my heart and head just how much commitment marathon training entailed. But I also tend to dwell on the most positive aspects of it all – a good thing, to be sure, and I think it’s indicative of how much I love this sport. On the flip side, you’ve probably heard stories of runners who train for a marathon, run it, and then promptly decide the distance isn’t for them. “Do you want to do another one?” you might ask these people. “Nope” is their quick response. It was great to do once, but to keep doing it? To keep training for a second, a third or more marathon? No way.

But this is what I want to keep doing —  running marathons. I want to be in constant training. I guess a better way of putting it is this: I want to be, as much as possible, in a state of optimal fitness. I want to be able to go out there and run 30, 40 minutes at a time with no problem whatsoever. I want to knock out double-digit runs come the weekend. There’s just something to be said for feeling strong enough to go out and run 10 miles on a Saturday morning — without keeling over midway through.

So here’s the thing: I’ve discovered that each new training comes with its own distinct personality. The Bayshore Marathon this past Memorial Day weekend? Getting myself ready for that was exhilarating—and all-consuming. It will forever be remembered as the winter I ran 6 days a week, through ice and sleet and snow and bitter cold. I will remember waking up early, dressing in my running tights and layering up on my Under Armour, donning a hat and gloves and sometimes a neck warmer, and braving below zero weather if need be so I could log my 4- or 6- or 10-miler. And later, when spring arrived and the roads finally were clear enough to warrant Yaktrax-free running, tackling those super long mile runs of 16, 18 and 20 miles. It was tough and crazy and one of the very best things I’ve ever experienced.

Training for this October’s San Francisco marathon, meanwhile? Absolutely much more low-key…and yet, still I am training. It just looks different. I am not following nearly as structured a running plan. But I’m also injecting into the experience more racing – a 15K in July, a sprint relay triathlon this past weekend – and this is adding a whole new dimension to how I’m preparing myself for my second 26.2 mile race.

Finishing my first relay tri - I ran the 5K portion, nearly beat my PR by a few seconds. Time: 22:58!

At first I was stressing out about whether I was training right, if I was doing things as well as I had for the Bayshore Marathon. But then I realized I can’t compare past training with current training. Especially since my goals are different this time around. I want to run well and feel good, but this will be my second marathon. One I’ll run with two friends (not by myself as I did last time) and in a far-flung location. It’s going to be an experience. Heck, we get a Tiffany necklace after crossing the finishing line.

So I’m going easy on myself. I think we also need to consider seasons of life (literally and figuratively). I’ve learned summer is a more low-key time for me training-wise, thanks to my love of going to the beach (I <heart> Lake Michigan), spending time with family and friends…oh, and I am much more of a cooler-weather runner than I realized.

Running, after all, should be as mentally enjoyable as it is an actual physical craving. Sometimes I bust out a big ol’ smile as I run. I’m happy (and dorky) like that – even when I’m not paying any mind to my pace or distance, or maybe more so when you’re not worrying about these things? Mostly, I realize as I continue on my running journey, I want to always be grateful for the miles my legs can log. And if that means my marathon training varies from race to race, then that’s OK by me.

How does your race training change over  time? Does it at all?

How ready are you for fall running and races? Or do you want summer to keep going?

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