Goals

Redefining Success & Marathon Training When You're Slow As Heck

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I'm in week 12 of marathon training. 

Last Saturday, I hit a new personal record for distance run, pushing my self up to about 28 kilometres—1000 metres for every year of my life. I've never had physical anxiety before a training run, but I did before that one. I had no idea how my legs would fare, or how my brain would cope.

It was a tough-ass-run. Probably about 30 C with 90 per cent humidity. I got rained on—twice. It seemed to stretch on forever, like empires rose and fell while I was struggling those loops.

Shortly after that, I discovered the Toronto Scotiabank Waterfront Marathon—my end game, my dream—has a 6-hour time limit. For the rest of the day, I caught myself doing intense running math. If I kept the same pace, would I make it to the finish line on time? How much faster would I need to go to make it without being swept off the course? What about my MEDAL?

I was, for lack of a better word, shook. 

Running Scared

When I expressed this anxiety to friends and family, reactions varied. Most were quick to assure me that I was going to be fine—that I would pull it off. I wanted to believe them but, the truth is, there’s no way to know.

When I started training for this run I told myself there were no guarantees of success—I also told myself I was okay with that. Suddenly, faced with this time limit, it was very clear I wasn't so nobly above wanting a crowd to meet me or a medal.

Fact: runners get hurt. Other fact: start lines can be as hard to get to as finish lines—but a finish line is just that little bit further. Even if you make it through training without injury, you might injured on the day. If you’re too slow, you might be pulled off before you even see that victorious "finish" banner.

So now I'm faced with the fear that every step I take is moving me towards a moment I don't get to see and a finish line that isn't actually mine. I’m honing myself to recognize all the work I'm doing now, just to make it to race day and beyond, as an accomplishment.

A Marathon Is A Marathon

Does this mean I'm going to ease up? Or try less because I'm trying to understand that struggle doesn't just lead to success, struggle itself is success?

Heck no. I'd venture to say I'm probably going to push harder to do the best I can, so no matter my results, I can be proud of my accomplishments.

The best feedback I got about this subject was from a friend and fellow runner: “you might just have to finish on the sidewalk.”

A marathon is a marathon is a marathon.

If I run 42 km, I'm a marathoner, whether there's a huge crowd or there's nobody but me there to see it. I'll be the first to admit that the finish line of my dreams is surrounded by roaring people spurring me to the last few steps... But if that ending is not in the cards, I'm preparing for anything. Everything.

The 3/4 Rule: When Reaching Your Goals Starts to Suck

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Next Sunday, I'm running the Scotiabank Montreal Half Marathon.

I'm starting to get excited now, but a week or two ago I was ready to lay on the ground and admit total indifference.

I blame the 3/4 Rule. 

The idea that 75% of the way through something—a training schedule, an actual race, a Tom Cruise movie—is when the going gets tough. Really tough. Like maybe-this-was-a-bad-idea-is-it-too-late-to-quit?

It happened during my last half marathon, around the 16th kilometre. Legs losing steam, sun blazing above, I started questioning why had I willingly paid money to put myself through this? But by the time I crossed the finish line, my doubt had totally dissolved. Faith in my own legs was restored. I loved running again. But... 

This isn't an isolated phenomenon.

Another example: I ran the Hypothermic Half 10 km race in March and got the most intense side stitch I've ever felt—3/4 of the way through. Then, weeks 7-9 of this training for this upcoming half marathon felt like a senseless, exhausting struggle. I'm not the only one it happens to either. My friend and fellow runner Melissa Gonzalez, (who I wrote about last week), hit the 3/4 wall during her first marathon a few weeks ago. It's REAL.

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Basically, 75% is No Man's Land.

At the beginning of something, you have the exciting boost of the start. At 50%, you can channel your inner Bon Jovi—being half way there is a much-needed lift. Then you straggle into the 3/4 desert. You're close but you're not quite at the finishing stretch. It starts to hurt.

The good news is that once you manage to muscle your way through this point, you get end-game adrenaline. 

Maybe find yourself nodding along with agreement to this. Maybe you think I'm crazier than Tom Cruise leaping onto Oprah's couch. Either way, you didn't come 3/4 of the way through this blog to leave without a satisfying conclusion.

So how do we push through the 3/4 wall?

Personally, I believe that the trick is making what's old new again. I'll use training as my example.

• Change it up. Tweak the routine. Instead of using my usual routes, I mapped some new ones with Runkeeper—same distance, different view! (Even running the same route in the opposite direction is helpful!) I downloaded new podcasts. I found some new parks to run in.

• Reward yourself. Often if I'm having trouble getting motivated for a run, I'll promise to cook myself something I've been craving for dinner that night, or allow myself an extra episode or two of whatever I'm watching at the time. Bartering works!

• Slack, please! It's key to recognize that you have already come SO far. I could quit if I wanted to, but I've put in more than 50% of the effort. Might as well knuckle down and finish... right?

Get recruiting. Find someone else who has a SIMILAR goal and team up with them for awhile. Or just recruit someone to join you along for an attempt! 

So next time you find yourself lagging in goals, try using these tips to help you take on your next goal, destroy the 3/4 wall, and cross that finish line! Whether it's a race or the credits to Mission Impossible 15.

Do you think the 3/4 Rule exists? How do you stay motivated when struggling to achieve your goals?

Let me know on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or in the comments below!