Why a runner's best laid plans often go awry + what to do about it
Plus races in Callaway Gardens, San Francisco, Porto-Vecchio, Nova Scotia + Bar Harbor
“For me, running is a lifestyle and an art. I'm far more interested in the magic of it than the mechanics. It's that interest and exploration that make running fun for me. It's easy to become outcome-focused; for me the unfoldment of self is what is meaningful in running and outlasts any medals.” — Lorraine Moller
Back in the early 2000s, I trained for and ran the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Marathon — the 26.2-mile race, years before the event offered the half marathon distance.
“Trained for” actually belongs in quotation marks, because the training I did for that race was a far cry from the effort I put in training for my first marathon a couple years earlier, when I ran the Bermuda Marathon.
Somehow, I persuaded myself that I was already in good enough shape from that first marathon training cycle that I could run another without the same level of effort — even though a couple of years had passed since I’d trained at the level one should for that distance.
(Back then, I was 26 years old and invincible. I’m a little less so now. 😊)
It wasn’t that I didn’t want to stick to a training plan — in fact, on the days when I didn’t get my scheduled runs in, I knew it was a mistake. But life kept intervening. Work and other things felt like higher priorities. And I figured that somehow, I’d be okay on the day of the race. It would all even out. Somehow.
Running 26 miles through San Diego’s streets, it won’t surprise you, was tough. The course was beautiful, but it included some long slogs on interstate highways, with gradual climbs that seemed to take forever.
Because I hadn’t built up the stamina I needed, I drifted to the back of the pack, where it’s considerably lonelier on those tough highway stretches. Walking more than I expected, I ended up getting separated from the friend I’d traveled with to run the race.
It didn’t occur to me then, but now I’m reminded of the famous poem by Robert Burns — “the best laid schemes of mice and men go often askew, And leave us nothing but grief and pain for promised joy!”
So what did I learn?
Try not to ‘break the chain’…
Unless your name is Rockefeller and you don’t have to earn a living, you’re going to have to schedule your training runs around your workday and your family/friends/social life.
That means running four to five times a week is going to be a challenge, even in the best of circumstances. If you can clear out your schedule to make running a priority for a block of three to four months straight, that’s ideal — you can count on getting your runs in.
… But when you do, limit it to a single day.
Again, most of us don’t have that level of control over our schedules. You should aim, if you can, to keep the chain of your scheduled running days intact.
But if you do break the chain by missing a day, try to limit it to just that day — you’ll be okay if you miss a day here and there. Missing a week or two (or three) straight is what can set you back.
It’s understandable that you’ll want to kick yourself for not following through — I was kicking myself big-time as I huffed and puffed through miles 17, 18 and 19 back then in San Diego.
Be patient with yourself, and (try to) take the longer view
What I told myself then was what a screw-up I was not to have trained the right way. Which, again, is understandable.
But what I didn’t get back then was that mistakes and setbacks aren’t aberrations; they’re a natural, normal and ordinary part of the process of getting better — and that I should expect to experience them, not scold myself when I do.
Along these lines, this tweet today by the 2018 Boston Marathon winner Des Linden really hit home for me:
Some days, you’re going to feel great. Strong. Confident. Like you can take on the world.
And some days, you’re not. And that’s okay too. Because the goal with all of this isn’t to run one amazing race; at least that’s not my goal. (If I even have a goal!)
What I want is to keep doing this, keep running in amazing places, and keep improving — and that’s something I don’t think I’ll ever complete. It’s a little like traveling east or west; no matter how far you go, there’s always more east or west to go.
That’s my two cents, anyway — what do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts too.
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Pine Mountain, Ga. | Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020
Known for its golf courses, award-winning gardens and Cecil B. Day butterfly center, Georgia’s Callaway Gardens resort stages this small race each year in mid-winter — this year, just shy of 400 runners completed the 5K, half marathon and full marathon combined. You’ll run a loop route through the 13,000-acre resort’s neatly manicured gardens, bicycle trails and woodlands, and you’ll find few spectators out along the course — though this is what many past participants also find appealing about it, because what it lacks in energy it makes up for in providing a quiet, refreshing escape.
$75 and up | Sign up here
San Francisco, Calif. | Sunday, Feb. 2, 2020
If you’ve ever driven through or just walked past the gorgeous landscape that is Golden Gate Park, then you know why Runner’s World named this one of the country’s most scenic half marathons a few years ago. From the long, expansive meadows on its eastern end to the beachfront areas along its coastline, the park is home to some of the city’s most magnificent views — and you’ll take them in as you run through the interior of the park in the first half of the race. The second half features a long stretch along San Francisco’s Great Highway, combining breathtaking oceanfront views with the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance.
$75 and up | Sign up here
Wolfville, Nova Scotia, Canada | Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019
Run the gently rolling hills of Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley at this fall half, which starts and finishes at Raymond Field on the campus of Acadia University. The town where you’ll run lies about an hour’s drive from the provincial capital Halifax, and is known for its gorgeous views of the Bay of Fundy, Cape Blomidon and the wine country just outside town. Runners follow an out-and-back route for the half, along which you’ll take in views of nearby mountains and meadows as you run across a bridge over a river and then later finish the race back inside Raymond Field, where a cheering crowd will be waiting for you to make your final lap before the finish line.
$70 and up | Sign up here
Porto Vecchio, Corsica | Sunday, Oct. 20, 2019
Nestled along the southern end of the French island of Corsica, this port city looks out onto a beautiful Mediterranean harbor, where yachts come and go under the watch of 16th-century Genoese fortifications and watchtowers that still stand today. The point-to-point course for the half marathon, which starts near the port, is flat for the first couple of miles and then features a steep ascent followed by rolling hills throughout the remainder of the race. Some stretches of the race take you past the beaches of Palombaggia, while others unfold right alongside the Mediterranean Sea, before heading toward the marina near Santa Giulia, where you can take a dive in the sea after you cross the finish line.
$37 and up | Sign up here
Bar Harbor, Maine | Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019
A stunning run through Maine’s Acadia National Park, the only race of its kind that actually runs through the grounds of a U.S. national park, and takes place at a time when the autumn leaves are turning brilliant shades of orange, red and gold. Most of the race unfolds along the 47,000-acre park’s carriage roads, built by the philanthropist John D. Rockefeller between 1913 and 1940 to offer a way for “city-folk” to escape the urban jungle to get away to the park’s seashores, forests and lakes. Today they’re filled year-round with walkers, hikers, bicycles and horse-drawn carriages — but no cars.
$155 and up | Sign up here
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Photo at top by Jeremy Lapak on Unsplash.