A Fire has Been Lit: On Marathon Training and Goals

The Fire Lit: On Marathon Training, Surgery, and Goals

I want to quit. Or at least, slow down. I thought for a brief moment. This feels hard and uncomfortable. I was in the last two miles of a 20 mile run and had been holding marathon pace for over an hour at this point. Needless to say, any running was hard at this point, especially running at goal marathon pace.

No. I thought, with a tinge of anger and determination. You don’t really want to stop. You want to keep going. You are stronger than a little bit of pain. You’re going to be sitting on the sofa in a month and wishing you could run. You can push a little harder for a little longer now. And so I pushed, finishing those last two miles as best as I could. 

In his book How Bad Do You Want It?, Matt Fitzgerald draws a connection between the drive to push hard, despite physical discomfort, and win with having undergone tough experiences or failures. Anger and suffering produce resilience, and it’s resilient athletes who have the fire lit beneath them to work harder when they feel like they have nothing left to give.

Maybe you have been there too.

Maybe you finally overcame a cycle of injury and are seeking redemption after too many Did-Not-Starts and Did-Not-Even-Register.
Maybe you struggled with an eating disorder in the past and now refuse to let it take away your running from you.
Maybe, after time off for pregnancy, you are ready to push yourself a little harder, knowing that you can handle more pain than you once thought you could.

All of these things can light a fire, an unquenchable desire to push yourself harder than before, to prove to yourself that you can do hard things, that you can achieve what you previously thought was beyond your reach. You tolerate harder work, more discomfort, and even then still find it in yourself to give just a little bit more when you thought you have nothing left to give.

In this marathon training cycle, I feel that fire burning deep in my heart: the urge to push myself, prove myself, challenge myself. Every hard run makes me want to work harder, to endure that burn a little longer or run that tempo mile a little bit faster. Each week of training has built upon this fire, this desire to be able to leave everything on the race course and run a faster and stronger marathon than I ever have before.

A Fire has Been Lit: On Marathon Training and Goals

This is more than just a desire for a PR or another BQ. The fire lit to train and race harder is about more than solely a finish time.

In the early weeks of training, I had a series of doctor appointments, blood work, and consultations. Four weeks into training, I scheduled exploratory laparoscopic surgery to officially diagnosis and treat endometriosis, a surprisingly common chronic disorder in which the uterus’ endometrial lining grows on other parts of the body, causing pelvic pain, dysmenorrhea, heavy periods, gastrointestinal problems, and infertility. My surgery happens ten days after I run the California International Marathon, capitalizing on the post-marathon downtime. 

While my symptoms and family history indicate endometriosis, surgery is the only way to know with certainty. This surgery has been a long time coming, something I delayed for years out of fear. But in the past year or so, some recurring symptoms and tests results pushed me to finally diagnose it and treat it rather than relying on a band-aid of medication that wasn’t even completely working.

Initially, I worried about the impending surgery causing anxiety and that anxiety affecting my training. I have had anxiety than I should about the surgery, diagnosis, and post-op recovery – if there’s something for me to worry about, chances are that I have already started worrying about every single detail. I honestly panicked when I realized that my surgery was scheduled for two days before the new Star Wars movie and that we might not be able to see it opening day. This surgery in particular carries an emotional weight with it.  I wondered if the stress of surgery would wear down my mental strength as the race approached or if the physical manifestations of stress would derail my training.

But almost to my surprise, the opposite occurred.

A Fire has Been Lit: On Marathon Training and Goals

My impending surgery lit a fire for one of my strongest, most challenging, and most enjoyable training cycles ever. Knowing that I will be out of running for a couple weeks as I heal up has pushed me to train harder. I can rest in the weeks post-op when my energy is low and body is healing; now is for the hard work. Whenever I want to slow down during the last few minutes of a tempo run or cut a long run short, my desire to push and fight and run my best possible overrides.

Rather than threaten to break me down, the anxiety and upset I experience regarding surgery and a possible diagnosis have transformed into resilience when I’m running. Somehow, I’ve developed a higher tolerance for discomfort during this training cycle. I finish a grueling tempo run feeling strong and satisfied, rather than tired. With each week, the long runs made me more eager to embrace the discomfort of race day for the reward of a strong race and hopefully a PR. Last year, I wanted to qualify for Boston to prove myself against an external standard; this year, my motivation for a PR runs much deeper.

The fire has been lit. CIM, here I come, hungry for a sub-3:30 and ready to run with all I have to give both mentally and physically. And you better believe that I’m setting some big goals for 2018 as well, no matter what they diagnose. 

Linking up with Coaches’ Corner and Wild Workout Wednesday

What has lit a fire for you to push yourself in your running?

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17 Responses

  1. You are going to do so well in your race! Whenever Im feeling emotional about something – running related or not- I get a stronger drive to run and push harder. At least the surgery will be during the recovery period anyway, but its always hard to know you will have forced time off running. I cant wait to see how the race goes for you!

    1. Thank you! It’s amazing how negative emotions can turn into something positive with running. I am glad I was able to schedule the surgery then – I wouldn’t be running much after the marathon anyway!

  2. I had my fire stoked over the weekend. 2017 has been one shitty year for running for me. I had been feeling pretty blah about what was to come next. But spectating a race got that fire burning again. I’m not letting myself get too far ahead but I’m allowing myself to hope that I may be able to train hard for a goal in 2018. I could tell there was something pushing you along. Your training has been on fire!

  3. Love it, Laura! My ups and downs with running injuries, infertility a few years ago and other challenges in life definitely help light the fire in my running too to just go for it. Bummer about the surgery- I hope everything goes smoothly! The timing is definitely perfect.
    And I’ll be cheering so loud for you from here!!

    1. Thank you so much, Laura! I really appreciate all of the support 🙂 I am really fortunate I was able to schedule it at a good time for running – I wouldn’t be running much then anyway!

  4. Way to turn an obstacle into a motivator! Hope the surgery goes smoothly and it just keeps your fire lit for when you’re recovered and ready to get back out there!

  5. This past year has been HARD for me. Being sick, having surgery and possibly another surgery on the horizon, I am feeling super motivated to make 2018 my comeback year!

    1. That is a lot in one year – I am so sorry to hear you might be facing another surgery on top of that all. I hope it goes smoothly and that you can get back to running. Keep that fire stoked for 2018!

  6. I think the decision to train for the marathon definitely helped you work through your thoughts/fears/feelings with the surgery as running always seems to have that positive effect on our brains. While it may not make us completely less nervous or totally solve problems, it definitely helps us to deal with things in a better, more calm way at times.

  7. Hugs, Laura. You’re an amazing runner and I have no doubt you’ll achieve your goal. And your mental toughness will carry you through your surgery and any anxiety you have. You’ve got this!

  8. The best runners, and the best runs, are fueled by something greater. Something that gives us a reason to run. Something that gives us heart. That is why you are a good runner. That is why running helps us.
    Surgery is scary, but the good news is that there is so much good that can come from it (and that I am determined to believe will come from it). Talk about mandated post marathon rest!

  9. I love how you’re using your diagnosis and impending surgery as a push to work harder until then. I think it’s smart to utilize the recovery time to get the surgery done.

    I’ve been lucky that I haven’t had any major health scares in my life, but people who are dear to me have (my bff is battling brain cancer, my mom had a cancer scare this summer, which luckily turned out to be begnin, and a couple of other friends go through hard times) and I feel like that this makes me want to push harder and be thankful that I can run when others can’t.

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