Monday, June 04, 2007

A long confessional post about mental turmoil and decision-making!

Oh dear, I have spent the weekend consumed in mental turmoil, it is ludicrous because really I should adopt a more "sufficient unto the day" policy, surely enough to worry about today and tomorrow rather than this excessive months-in-advance-type worrying! But the upshot is that I have made a sensible and grown-up decision, even though it pains me, that I will not run the marathon this fall.

The New York Road Runners announce the results of the lottery for places in mid-June, so I don't know yet about that, but I had in any case become feverishly caught up with thinking about what to do if I didn't get a spot--initially I thought I'd run in Philadelphia instead, but I found myself thinking that the New York Marathon really is special and that it would be worth waiting for that.

More pressing are the questions of injury. My stress fracture really is healed, but you know how it is if you've ever had an injury of some sort, all the other stuff around there is just kind of messed up still--the hip flexors are much tighter on that side, for one thing, which can be partly remedied by stretching, but there's something going on with ligaments or tendons or some such that's not ideal--I am going to get some sports massage to see if it can get fixed that way, and it doesn't hurt at all while I'm actually running, but it's worrisome enough, I think, to prevent me undertaking marathon training this year. The conventional wisdom is that you should have two years of serious running before you do a marathon, and if I wait till next fall, that's what it will have been--I did run on and off in my twenties, but never as regularly and consistently as this, so it's definitely the recommended mode.

(If I get a lottery spot in NY, I will defer it to next year, and then I won't need to worry about doing the nine races this year that will qualify me for a next-year spot. And if I don't get a spot, I'll keep on doing the races to ensure a spot, just again keeping injury risk in mind and not putting the nine-races goal over the run-safely-and-injury-free goal.)

This decision pains me because it is my heart's desire to run the marathon and I am not really a very patient person at all, though I put up a good show of it! I am more on the "but if I work fiendishly hard and drive myself into the ground, can't it happen sooner?" line of things.... If the world was definitely going to come to an end in December of this year, in other words, I would totally run the marathon in November. If the world does in fact come to an end and I haven't run a marathon, my thoughts in the last five minutes officially allowed for reflection under such circumstances will be the most intense self-reproach!

However in reality the world is not especially likely to come to an end in December, and meanwhile various other factors are mitigating against marathon-running anyway, chief among them being the fact (this is more than I usually say here about work stuff, but it's relevant in this case) that my tenure case has been pushed back for also quite sensible reasons altogether beyond my control. So I'll be submitting more materials at the end of the summer, and won't know about that till April or May 2008, and meanwhile (oh, dreaded thing!) must apply for jobs elsewhere in the fall so that I'm covered if the desired results don't come through.

I will need my wits about me in September and October, in other words, rather than collapsing every Saturday into the pleasant haze of post-long run syndrome! And even more than that, I will need to have running as a mental-health resource during the stressful waiting period over the winter, so I cannot risk blowing it all on the marathon and then having to sit out for months afterwards just when I most need it!

On a brighter note, there are some real advantages to doing it this way, advantages I will now list in order to persuade myself that I have fully embraced this difficult decision:

1. My dear friend and favorite training partner Liz is waiting till next year also, so this will mean we can run it together for the first time, very exciting.

2. TRIATHLONS! Marathon training would really mean having to back off a bit more from the other stuff, and I am mentally consumed with the allure of triathlon (I am going to save this for a separate post, this one's long enough already)--suffice it to say that I purchased a bicycle on Saturday, though it's still at the shop having a couple things done to it, and that my serious non-running project for the summer is to keep working on swimming and become a decent cyclist.

3. I am still running the Nike half-marathon in August, and I hope to run another half-marathon every couple months over the fall and winter and keep improving on my times, so it truly is ludicrous to be making such a big deal of this, it's not as though I'm not going to be able to have tons of delightfully enjoyable training and racing in any case!

4. And right after that half-marathon, if I'm not doing marathon training I can totally sign up for the NYRR BRiX bike-run class which has me salivating with desire in any case. (This is the most positive reason to wait.) It's a six-week class on doing the bike-run transition--you cycle for 10-12 miles, run a couple miles, learn techniques for doing the transition quickly, etc. This is especially useful because since I live in an apartment building with the slowest elevator in the world I've already been fretting about how I'm going to be able to practice this stuff--for the non-triathletes amongst you, it should be observed (I know this only from reading about it!) that when you switch from biking to running all the muscles in your legs are just wobbly and weak in protest at the changeover (the swim-bike transition has different challenges, namely getting out of the wetsuit and into the bike shoes and stuff, but these are not muscular challenges so much as logistical ones that you could either practice poolside, though it would be mildly embarrassing, or even at home with a bathtub of cold water if you're just thinking about the mechanics) so that it is very important to get your body used to it by doing it regularly. At this class, they've got one of the instructors supervising the bike area so you can really leave it there without worry--as a cautious and security-conscious person who has just bought a rather expensive bicycle, I do not think I'm going to be comfortable just chaining it to something & hoping for the best while I do my run, it is going to have to be stashed inside.

5. The other most positive reason, though somewhat excessively type-Aish also: I'm pretty sure that if I wait till next fall, I'm more likely to be able to aim for a time that will really please me. Obviously you need to be somewhat conservative for the first one (people tend to have three different time goals, the first and most cautious of which is just "Finish"!), but if I've run six or seven half-marathons by then and continued to improve my times, I will have a much clearer sense of what I should be able to do, and I'll be able to set more ambitious goals.

My goal for the August half-marathon is to do it in under two hours; this is a challenging but eminently attainable goal. My dream goal, but I think it's something that will almost certainly take longer (of course I am secretly wishing for a dramatic increase in speed over the next couple months, but this is not within my powers to ensure!), is to turn the 10K pace I had a couple weeks ago into half-marathon pace: that's to say, completing it around 1:48-1:50, for a roughly 8:45 mile pace.

The long-distance runners amongst you will see where I'm going with this: if I did the marathon this fall, it would be pretty certain that I should aim for 4:20ish kind of time, but if I wait until fall 2008 and keep on working on speed and endurance in the meantime, it seems to me there's a good chance I could pull off a just-under-four-hours kind of time. 3:59:50, irrational as it may be, will make me immeasurably happier than 4:05! (Don't get me wrong, 4:05 would be amazing, and it may well be that my first one is still an over-four-hour time like 4:10 or 4:15, that's fine and very realistic also, but wouldn't it be good if I could get under four hours?!?)

(Also for the non-runners, the reason I keep on saying that I want to qualify for the Boston Marathon the year I turn 40 is that you get a bump up on qualifying times when you move up to that age group--here are the details--currently I would need to make 3:45:59 to qualify, but when I turn forty it will go up to 3:50:59. I'm certainly holding out for the possibility that I might really be able to get quite a bit faster and make the 3:45 goal, but I've got a strong suspicion that my natural speeds are kind of right on the boundary where I will have to scrape under, and the crucial extra five minutes will make a real difference. Mile pace for the slower qualifying time is 8:48, and for the faster is 8:37--of course this is all speculative, I am nowhere near capable of doing long runs at either of those speeds for now, but I can imagine very clearly being able to do so in future.)

(Here's the calculator that helps you work this sort of thing out, and here's a table that lets you make a rough guess as to how paces for shorter distances might translate into longer ones--the paces are dismayingly slower, of course, for long races, so that my current 10K pace/time would basically translate into a 2:00 half-marathon and a 4:13 marathon, which sounds to me about right, I know I could do those in my current state of fitness. I also know that these times are definitely improvable upon, I know I can get quite a bit faster than this if I keep working very steadily and sensibly on it--I've only been running seriously for a bit less than a year, with some months off over the winter, and I can expect substantial improvement for some years more before it kind of levels out and becomes hard to improve on times.)

Oh dear, I am not sure it is to my credit, I admire people who sunnily breeze through life without thinking so much about the future, but I do like having absurdly specific long-term goals, for some reason I've always had very strong powers of visualization of this sort. So here's to me being the slowest runner in my age-group in the Boston Marathon in 2012 or so!


  1. Whew. I was stressed FOR you after reading that-- you poor thing!I'm going to pretend that it also didn't make me feel like a total exercise two miles a day on the treadmill were starting to feel like...uhhh..progress...until I read this and wanted to jump off a bridge.;-) (teasing, of course). You go girl.

  2. Jenny, congratulations on the new bike. A well deserved reward.

    The bike-run (transition) class sounds absolutely ideal. You will definitely be better prepared than most to take on the sport of triathlon!

  3. based on the evidence presented, I would say wait.

    1. better to train with friend

    2. you will almost certainly get tenure, and you can use your marathon as your reward to yourself

    3. what's your rush? If the world comes to an end, I just don't think you'll be using that last five minutes for remorse. you'll be smoking up a bunch of cigs, perhaps

    4. Since I've been living abroad, I've tried to live more in the present and less in the future (something that I could never do in NYC). It seems to be working fairly well for now (although my future may very well suck-- we'll see).

    5. Why not come here to Kenya and learn from the best marathoners in the world?

    6. good luck on the triathalons

  4. Hey Jenny,

    Just stopped by your blog for the first time in a while-- we should talk! I've just started to train for some triathlons, too! Send me your current email address?


  5. I've been meaning on commenting on this one but have been running a little frantic the past few days. I think that taking time to meet a goal in an unpressured way is a luxury: so much of the time we are meeting deadlines for others. So if you can control a deadline that is putting unhappy pressure on you, rather than welcome pressure--if you can postpone it in a way that preserves its usefulness--you should do it. And it seems that you have!

    Looking forward to seeing you soon!