I am fully immersed in marathon training now. The last time I did this was 2017 in preparation for the New York City marathon. I absolutely loved the experience of training for a race of this distance and with races coming back after Covid closed things off for a bit, I knew I wanted to get one on my calendar.
As such, I’ve been spending a lot of time pounding the pavement and there are two big lessons that have hit me this past month that I’d like to share.
Sometimes, I run interval workouts in the park or even on a specific loop of city streets. Because I set my running app up to measure my distances and tell me when to be running my fast 800 or my slow 400, it can probably look pretty silly to see someone running really hard and then hitting the brakes at no real marker or with no obvious explanation.
Then, there’s the weekly long runs—most recently a 16-miler. I might be running the last stretch toward home and look pretty silly when I fall into the grass and laugh and cheer after what may have looked like a gentle, casual jog.
Lesson number 1: They don’t know where I am in my run. If you pass me on interval day on one of my rest intervals, flailing my arms around and gasping up air, you’re going to have a very different impression of me as a runner than when you see me focused and gliding through my fast intervals. Similarly, I don’t know where the other runners are in their runs. So when someone breezes effortlessly past me as I’m starting to feel weak, it’s a reminder that I don’t know what they’re running today either.
Ah, and isn’t that true of life? We don’t know how long someone has been running or who has just started with new energy and excitement. We don’t know if someone slept terribly the night before or is at the peak of their training and athleticism. I don’t know where they are. They don’t know where I am. The better thing to do is focus on our own workouts, our own journeys. The best thing to do is cheer others along the way.
Running as much as I am, I sometimes find myself tempted to compare. For example, I sometimes find myself falling into a trap of “well, the hill workout was a mess the other day so maybe this interval one will also be a mess and that’s just because the hill workout was too!” But frankly, what does the hill workout have to do with the interval workout?
Lesson number 2: All that matters is this run. It’s a new day. Sure, perhaps the last time I ran this trail, I had a bit of stomach pain or maybe the last time I ran this loop, I felt mentally wiped by the closing incline. Ah but that’s not now, is it? How unfair of me, then, to write off this workout because of the results of the last one. And similarly, what a disservice to self to assume that because one workout went swimmingly, this one should be just as easy.
All that matters when I lace up my shoes is what I do on this day. While there is some merit to comparing workouts and working to improve, in the actual moment, all I care about is doing what I need to do to have the best possible workout today.
So there you have it. A few lessons from the park. There will likely be more of these as I edge closer to race day but in the meantime, I invite you to not get distracted comparing yourself to anyone else this week and to focus on each task as it comes. You’ve got this. Let’s go!