false confidence/marathon follies

long and somewhat rambling but includes a story I’ve been meaning to write. will probably break it up. . . but not today (which is now the day after I posted this and kept editing)

map showing a running route with a graph of pace and elevation change
Running data. Yay for all seeing tech? Eek?

Today I ran to pick my kid up from school, about 4 miles away. When I did this two weeks ago, it was blazing hot (yay!) but I ran out of steam (was over steamed? ) and hopped on the bus after about 2 miles. Today was in the 50s (boo, but I concede a  better temp  for exercise). And I have a few more runs under my fanny pack.

I was feeling strong out of the gate. Definitely faster than my recent treadmill excursion. As I closed in on the first mile, I looked forward to checking the stats. Would Map my Run’s cheerful coach report a pace in the low elevens? Mid tens?

11:52 minutes?? I was on the Bloomingdale Trail for most of that time so I can’t even blame intersections. Maybe I need to set the treadmill incline up a bit  to compensate for lack of wind resistance.

Dejected, I walked a bit. I was also winded from pushing myself to maintain what I thought was a brisk (for me) pace. After a quarter mile, I rolled my eyes and got going again.

I don’t know how much I should trust the app anyway. My stats often include a mysterious 100 foot dip. But I can also use basic math (easy enough to check distance and time) and common sense to know that I have a ways to go to build up speed and endurance.

close up of a hand wearing a running watch with numbers written on the hand for pacing guidance.
Heehee I guess this was my pacing plan for the Mag Mile 10K Sept. 2019. I usually do best with negative splits but those look pretty ambitious. Through the miracle of the internet, I dug up my race results. Er. . . . average pace of 10:46 (1:06:51) Good to have goals though!

As I sulked/chuckled, I remembered what happened at the halfway point of the last marathon I ran, almost five years ago.

It was about six weeks into my ill fated return to classroom teaching. That summer I had actually been  training more seriously than usual (still not all that serious) but when I got the job with no time to prepare and a classroom that needed major work, my  running stopped.

However, I did start biking 5 1/2 miles to school, standing on my feet all day, and forgetting to eat. When marathon day rolled around, I decided to go for it. My running muscles were  rested, I was 10 pounds lighter, my aerobic conditioning was fine, my bladder was a fortress (teachers have few opportunities to pee) , and 26.2 miles was nothing compared to the marathon weeks I was putting in.

Still, I didn’t have high expectations seeing as my longest run that summer had maybe been 16 miles. But as the miles ticked by, I was amazed by how well I was doing. I was on pace for a personal best (low bar, but still). Maybe I was on to some new low effort training system.

woman on a bicycle pulling two large chairs and a box on a trailer
Friends donated furniture for my classroom. Writers need to be comfy!

Emboldened, I pushed myself a bit more. I  was feeling strong as I neared the half way point.

Yup, was ready to whoop it up at the half way point. Any minute now.

Why haven’t we hit 13.1 miles yet?

Excuse me, what mile are we on? 12? OK thanks now excuse me while I crumple off to the side.

My Garmin was over a  mile off.

By the time I met my family at mile 14, I was both a mess and bemused. I told them not to bother trying to meet me at the finish line because who knew how long I was going to be. It also gave me an out.

Miles 15-17 follow the Forest Park Blue Line. When we reached the Halsted Station, I seriously considered bailing. Stood and stared at the entrance I knew so well from commuting to UIC for an M.Ed 20 years before (master in education? ha!). I could just hop on the train, be in a shower within the hour, and have a chance of being able to walk with only moderate pain the next day.

I had nothing to prove. I don’t have major aspirations as a runner.  The people who had donated to support my cause would more than understand. They knew life had changed since I started the job.

But I knew I could do it. Slowly and painfully, but there was a clear finish line, a metric, something I could check off. Done. Complete. Something I could feel proud about during a time when I felt I could do nothing right (hmmm pretty similar to current conditions) .

Miles 16-23 took us south, with energy boosts at Pilsen (19) and Chinatown (21)–and more train temptations. The Halsted Orange Line stop is perfect for folks done in by the dreaded 20 mile wall. After Chinatown, the next stops are near Sox Park, about two miles further south (which brings up some questions about equity and station distribution. . .)

Map showing the south section of the 2017 Chicago marathon route, with circles around transit stations.
South side portion of 2017 Chicago marathon map, with bail out train stops highlighted.

But once you make it to 35th street, the turning point for heading back north, it’s all good. Just a mad dash a couple of miles up Michigan Avenue. The thing about being a mid/back of the pack runner is that I see a lot of folks suffering. I know the really fast folks suffer too, but at least they end up spending less time on their feet. (OK wait, I need to save this digression for another post.)

Anyhoo, I finished. Well over 5 hours. Personal worst but hardest earned.

Is the lesson to not rely on technology? Sure that’s always a good takeaway. But I am also wondering  about how great I felt when I thought I was exceeding my expectations, just like this morning.

I had a tearful morning before lacing up. Ugly crying. Talking to my therapist about a lifetime of feeling incompetent, that i have not lived up to potential. These feelings are illogical, inexplicable and tenacious as bindweed.

Maybe I like running because it’s so low stakes and I can have a sense of humor about it. It also gives the brain buzz which is always helpful. I just need to be careful about not letting it reinforce unhealthy core beliefs about underperformance.

I mean really. It’s kind of cool that I completed a marathon on a hot day, not having run in weeks, and made it to my 3rd floor classroom the next day.

A chart showing running stats
My pace dropped off precipitously after the demoralizing realization that my watch had been using the equivalent of vanity sizing for my pace. But check out that last sprint 🙂

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