Mental fortitude and training for a fall marathon

Mental fortitude and training for a fall marathon

When I set out to train for my first marathon over twenty-one years ago, I thought a fall race presented the best opportunity. Even after my second marathon – a spring race – I still believed it was easier to train through the summer than the winter. Of course, I was in my 30s and heat didn’t bother me as much as it does now.

As a coach, and with the experience of having completed eight marathons (four fall and four spring), I will, whenever possible, steer my clients to a spring race. Training through the harsh conditions of winter, I have learned, provides a better opportunity for building what my coach referred to as “mental fortitude.” This is so necessary for staying focused and pushing through in the final miles of the 26.2-mile trek.

Some will argue that training in the heat and humidity of summer also provides the needed training for the mind. It does, but not in the same way. Training through extreme heat and humidity can deplete the body of valuable resources, leaving you drained for the next run. “Pushing through” in these conditions, may be the worst thing you can do. The lesson for the mind here is to know when to stop.

While I would strongly suggest that first-time marathoners do a race that would provide the best opportunity for optimal training conditions, many first-time marathoners have their heart set on a particular race. For many of us that’s a big city race close to home; for New Yorkers and Chicagoans, that’s a fall race. And who am I to talk anyone out of doing a meaningful race?

Some must reads for summer training:

“Marathon Training in the Heat and Humidity,” Runner’s World

“How to run and train through a hot summer,” Competitor Running

“Electrolytes for Runners: A Definitive Guide,” RunnersConnect

Building mental fortitude for a fall marathon is more about developing the discipline and focus to train smart. Training smart I would argue is more critical than training hard. Training smart means staying hydrated; not just during your runs, but consistently throughout the months of training. It also means paying attention to nutrition and making sure you maintain an appropriate balance of electrolytes throughout your training. It means scheduling long training runs at times and locations that will provide for the coolest conditions – for example early morning on a shaded path.

Training smart also means knowing when to stop; knowing when conditions aren’t right. The risk of “pushing through” extreme heat and humidity far outweighs any benefit that could be achieved of completing the last couple miles of an 18 or 20 miler. It’s okay to stop at 16 when you’re feeling overwhelmingly depleted. This is where your head must listen to your body! This is not the same as thinking “this cold and wind really sucks” and running anyway. Heat and humidity can present life threatening issues.

And no, don’t try to make up the miles on your next long run. Rest. Hydrate. Get your electrolytes in balance and strategize how to maximize success on the next long run. It’s necessary to get out and get your body ready for running in the heat because you may encounter heat on race day (especially in Chicago), although you don’t have to do every long run outdoors. I can tell you from experience, a 20-mile run on the treadmill does build mental fortitude no matter when your training.

Lakefront Trail offers a nice breeze, but little shade without some cloud over. Chicago, Illinois. August 2018


2018 Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicago Half Marathon Reviewed

2018 Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicago Half Marathon Reviewed

I ran the Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicago Half Marathon on July 22. I had run the event’s 5k and 10k last year. I did the Inaugural Rock ‘n’ Roll Dublin Half Marathon 5 years ago. This has been my only experience with the Rock ‘n’ Roll Series races. I’d like to do more. From my experience, I can say they are well organized events with great amenities and some really awesome bling!

The expo/packet pick up was at McCormick Place. Parking is easy and this venue has a lot of space for a comprehensive expo and this one was filled with lots of vendors and fun stuff to see and buy. The coolest was perhaps shirts that included all participants names! All men were included on the men’s shirts; women on the women’s – perhaps problematic for anyone who might have wanted the shirt for the gender that didn’t include their name.

Highlight of the expo for me was the opportunity to meet Kathrine Switzer. She certainly opened doors for women runners with her courage and many of us owe our ability to participate in marathons to her. She was there promoting 261 Fearless, a “global supportive social running network which empowers women to connect and take control of their lives through the freedom gained by running.” Go Kathrine!

Although this was only my second Rock ‘n’ Roll Half, it was my 44thHalf Marathon overall and I will say ranks toward the top. I heard someone say in the starting corral that the course offered all the best of the Chicago Marathon course. I wouldn’t go as far as saying it offered all the best parts of the Marathon course, but it included many worthwhile points of interest.

The Start.

The start was on Columbus Drive, same as the marathon. The Rock ‘n’ Roll Half turned right onto lower Randolph and around to Lower Wacker.  Having the cover of the roadways like this in several spots on the course was beneficial to the runners and also provided shelter from the rain for some of the bands that lined the course. There was a lot of diversity in the sound provided by the 17 bands along the course.

The Course.

As the course winds through downtown, it makes a couple passes over the Chicago River and around the stunning architecture for which Chicago is famous. Runners pass the Chicago Theater, Daley Plaza, and The Lyric Opera. Only the final two and a half miles are in the park. The only negative on the course at this point was the pass-through McCormick Place. It’s a service tunnel. Nothing nice to see. Not a great road surface. Although it did shelter us from the rain. I’m not sure why anyone would design a course this way when there’s a much more scenic, open, lake-view option.

For me, having done both the Chicago Spring Half and the Soldier Field 10 in May, this mostly-city course was a nice change from those courses that included mostly Lakefront Trail. If you are not going to run the Chicago Marathon, this course is a good way to tour the city while running. And did I mention the bling?

The finisher’s medals included a rendering of the Chicago Theatre. I liked it, although maybe not as elaborate of other medals I’ve received. Maybe I needed to run the 5k the day before for bigger bling. The Rock N Roll race series certainly does a nice job of encouraging participation by offering special incentive medals for multiple races in the same weekend or numerous races with in the series in a specified time frame. For more information and picture of medals for inspiration (assuming you’re motivated by that sort of thing), visit their website.

The only issue with this race is that it can be pretty hot in July in Chicago. We were treated to a cool overcast day. And rain. Lots of it at times. It was refreshing for the most part. Last year it was hot. As we runners know, the one thing we can’t do much about is the weather. Although signing up for races in months with potentially hot or cold conditions is a choice.

My final word – or lesson learned – don’t run a half marathon on a broken toe! Although because of my stubbornness, I can – for the first time in 286 races – include a review of the medical tent. Although my toe became excruciatingly painful at around mile 8, I didn’t seek medical attention until after I crossed the finish line. I figured if my toe had actually fallen off as I felt like it had, my shoe and sock weren’t going allow me to misplace it completely and I was sure it could be reattached. Besides there was no blood. The medical staff carefully removed my shoe and sock, applied iced, wrapped it up and let me sit for about 20 minutes (while I posted to Instagram).

I hobbled back to the car in a deluge of rain, changed into dry clothes, and signed up for next year’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicago Half Marathon as soon as I got home. So yeah, all good. And I vowed to take better care of my feet between now and then.


Traditions and transitions mark the start of summer

Traditions and transitions mark the start of summer

Last Memorial Day, I talked about 5 great Memorial Day weekend races, and said, “some creative time on your travel apps could get you on the starting line for one each day.” While I didn’t quite do that, I did fulfill my desire to do the Soldier Field 10 Mile again…and continue my Ridgewood Run tradition for one more year. Read more

2018 Chicago Spring Half Marathon Reviewed

2018 Chicago Spring Half Marathon Reviewed

Sunday was the Chicago Spring Half Marathon (and 10k). “Spring” is a relevant term. According to the official race results, the temperature at race time was 59 degrees. They lie. According to my Garmin, it was 46 degrees. While I was running, the wind chill felt closer to 28.

So, I learned a really important lesson about running in Chicago. Even if the calendar says “May,” pack gloves and a hat, and arm warmers, and maybe even rethink shorts and a singlet as being appropriate spring running attire.  All that said, and factoring in that I was 3 weeks post marathon and didn’t do much training in between (and that personally, I had a tough race as a result), it was a nice event. Read more

The Finish Line: Only the End of This Chapter

The Finish Line: Only the End of This Chapter

The 2014 New Jersey Marathon was, by all accounts, easy. I was four years younger than I am now. I was also five pounds lighter (okay, maybe closer to ten).  I was also coming off a year where I had run 13 half marathons, so I started my marathon training with a lot of miles in the bank already. When I started working with a coach, I had a goal to break my previous personal record for the marathon which was 4:11:16. Read more