In both cases there was some factor out of my immediate control that impacted me. In 2010, it was the heat. In 2013, it was hitting the wall and then pain in my knee.
But in both I did not have a realistic expectation for my time/pace, and that probably had the biggest negative impact on how I went into the day and in my experience of the event. It took some very focused effort in 2013 to change my thinking halfway through and to start enjoying myself.
I started off this year thinking I had a good chance of meeting my ultimate goal for a marathon (sub-4:25). My first break in training came and went (a week in Ohio at the beginning of July) and with it any realistic hopes of meeting that goal. Just because going on that trip gave me time to think about the big-picture goals for my life --- as trips so often do --- and I realized I didn't want to commit to the training I would need to do this year to reach that time, as I have other goals also taking my attention. I still believe that one day I'll be able to reach it, I just think it will take me more than a summer's worth of training to get there.
I wen through July and August feeling good about my mileage, although not necessarily about my speed. At this point I was doing no speed or tempo workouts, just running 6 days a week with progressively higher mileage. I was also not doing any strength training, in part because of ongoing issues with my shoulder, and in part because of lack of time. I was also barely doing any stretching, again for lack of time. Nearly all my runs were early morning ones and I would come home and immediately have to jump in to getting myself and the kids ready for the day.
Then at the end of August we went to Germany for a week, and when we came back the wheels went completely off the track. I had stayed reasonably active while there, so then came back and jumped right back into my previous training without thinking how I might need to recover from the trip itself. (Trips to see family are many things, but they are never restful.) I had my highest ever mileage week, topped off by my 18 mile long run, then gardened like crazy on my "rest" day, then started right back in... and crashed and burned, unable to run with any energy or for longer than a few miles. I thought I would just need a few days of easy running to recover but it ended up being more like two weeks, and by then it was time to taper.
Once I realized I was in serious shape I decided to act as if I didn't have a marathon coming up. Easy runs at first, more stretching, putting back some easy strength and core training... all the stuff I've not been doing this summer but really needed to have kept up with. And eventually I started feeling more like myself again and thinking I might be able to do this.
But not quickly. And, I think, without any time goal.
Of course I have hopes. I do really want to break 5 hours, since I haven't managed to do it yet and every time I've expected to. Allowing for at least one porta-pottie break (with wait to get in), that would require an average 11:15 pace. And really I'd like to maintain an 11:00 pace. Looking at my long runs, that's not an unrealistic goal. So it's certainly reasonable to hope for that. (Though with the temperatures forecast to be in the mid-70s, that turns an 11:00 pace into... an 11:15 one.)
But weighing against those time goals are three memories. Three good ones, not just the memories of what it's like to run with just a time goal in mind. (It sucks, at least at that distance.)
The first is of the one marathon that was "successful". My birthday challenge from last year. I took lots of walk breaks, going by distance and feel, rather than time. I refueled constantly. And I had no expectations about time. The result? No wall. No pain. I felt amazing during the last six miles. I could have done more. (In retrospect I wish I had, just to have broken that 50K mark for myself.)
The second is from that 2013 marathon, once I gave up on time. I started to really enjoy myself, looking around more and enjoying the sights and sounds of the city turned out to support us. When I hit the wall and had to start walking, I told myself, "Well then, I'm going to walk with pride." I put on some good tunes, gave high fives, smiled at everyone, waved at the kids. Then when I got tired of walking ("Man, it will take me a long time to finish this way!") I just ran when I could, taking in the love and giving it out.
And the last one is a more recent memory. On my last long run I left the house in a downpour, so I didn't have my iPod out for most of the run and it was just me and my thoughts, for hours. Somewhere around mile 15 I thought, "This is a journey." And it was kind of a mind-blowing vision. I know this is a cliche in running circles... and this was definitely fueled by exhaustion... but I had never felt it so clearly before. And I wondered, what would it be like to run the actual marathon with that as my focus.
So, as before, my desire to meet a time goal is warring with my desire to just run this and see what happens (and leave the time goals for shorter distances). My better self knows which one is right for me.
Good travels, friends,