The marathon is a distance that I started doing as a one-and-done bucket list race in 2007. It was a "let's see if I can finish a marathon" idea born out of curiosity, the way it starts for many other runners, but somehow here I am more than 15 years later getting ready to training for another marathon. Before you think that I've been blessed with constant improvement I'll specify that my last PB was in October 2019, which is starting to feel like ages ago. I have since run several marathons that were five to ten minutes slower and felt harder, which sometimes makes me wonder why I keep coming back to this distance. I know I'm not alone. Most runners hit a plateau in the marathon at some point and this plateau can end up lasting several years since you can only run one or two marathons a year when you're trying to achieve your best performance. Maybe you've wanted to qualify for Boston for the last five years. Or you have been trying to break that 4-hour barrier for the last three marathons. The goal doesn't even have to be a round number to feel meaningful, yet seem to remain out of reach. Sometimes you might not even know why it's meaningful and you wonder if you should hang up your running shoes and focus on something more worthy. I'm here to tell you not to get discouraged if you're mostly having fun in the process. I even think you might be inspiring someone along the way.
That marathon goal has motivated you to get out the door every day, kept you healthy as an adult, and has solidified friendships that might not have otherwise existed. If you have training buddies then marathon training has been your excuse to prioritize those relationships, and we know how easy it can be to drift apart from your friends when you're an adult. Of course I want to achieve my sub-3 hour marathon goal so I'm the last person that will tell you to just be happy with maintaining friendships, but it is a positive byproduct of all those hours you spend running. What about inspiring others? If you don't think you're inspiring anyone, well you're probably wrong; you just don't know who you're inspiring. Sometimes all of those running pictures on Facebook inspire someone to try it for themselves. Or maybe after six months of running by your neighbour's house in all kind of weather, they started a morning walk ritual of their own. I don't know if I have ever inspired anyone, but I know that I'm inspired by other runners and they probably have no idea. One of my inspirations is marathoner Sara Hall who I follow on Instagram. She inspires me to continue testing my limits because she is still running personal bests and competing on the world stage at 40 years old. I figure if she can do it, then I can too... maybe not compete on the world stage, but I should be able to run some more PBs, right?
Of course I'm not always feeling positive about my running, especially after another discouraging marathon performance like I had on May 21st where I ran just over 10 minutes slower than my PB. I know how disappointing marathon day can be and if you're feeling discouraged because of your last race then I want you to know that it's okay. It's normal to be disappointed after working hard with one goal in mind for 12 weeks or more, just to not achieve it. It's okay to grieve that marathon but you don't want it to be so overwhelming that you give up on the goal all together. The best advice I've heard was to allow yourself to feel discouraged but put a time limit on it. For me, that time limit was one week after my recent spring marathon. I told myself that I'm allowed to feel disappointed and sorry for myself for one week, after that it's back to finding solutions so that next time the outcome is different. This is where disappointment can be helpful; it means that you care about this goal. Once you're ready, you can use your experience to plan your new training training strategy and get back out on the roads.
What is your heartbreaker marathon goal? How long have you been training to achieve it? What will you change in your next training cycle to make it happen?
Photo: My race bib and finisher medal from my most recent heartbreaker, the Longueuil Marathon on May 21, 2023.