Since the Berlin Marathon I've been doing a lot of thinking and evaluating. With a PR it's often easy to be satisfied, but with missed goals it's easy to be disappointed. At Berlin I did both. It is always a goal to PR and I will never be completely dissatisfied with a race that is faster than I've previously done. But I had other goals. I have the reach goal of qualifying for the Olympic Trials, and I had a more manageable goal of sub-2:20. Running a 2:23 in Berlin put me right in the middle. It was a 3 minute PR in a 5 month turnaround from London last spring, which I view as a huge improvement. But it was well short of the 2:20 mark and not even close to an OTQ time. Did I perform well? Did I have a good day or a bad day? With so many mixed emotions I've felt the need to evaluate my performance not just on HOW FAST I ran, but HOW I ran. Looking at my run in Berlin in this light has taught me to better evaluate races and workouts in the future, learn from past races and improve upon weaknesses.
In April, 2:26 was all I had. It was a long awaited PR, and it wasn't a small one. I bettered my previous best by almost 10 minutes and while my ultimate goals are much higher, it was a time of looking back at my old goals that were nowhere near my current ability. London was a huge step for me, but Berlin was already on the schedule 5 months away. After 2 weeks of recovery (no running at all, zero steps), and two weeks of easy jogging, four months doesn't leave tons of time for big improvements. As I look back on how short that training segment felt and how the summer just flew by, I'm amazed at the amount of improvement I was able to make. Three minutes off of 2:26 in five months in many ways is as big of an accomplishment as the ten minutes I took off my previous PR which stood for two years.
In the lead-up to Berlin, with such big goals, I couldn't let my goals dictate my race. I had to learn to be realistic and run to my fitness. I knew it would be of greater benefit and outcome if I raced to my current fitness and not my dream goals. Knowing this I had to learn to be more perceptive than before and evaluate my fitness accurately so that come race day I wouldn't get ahead of myself.
During the race, I decided to run mainly on feel. I knew what kind of shape I was in and I know what marathon pace feels like. Performance in a marathon is largely reliant on what type of day you have. With a good day there is potential for a great marathon. With a bad day there is certainty that the outcome will be bad. Running by feel was the best decision I could've made. I still checked my watch out of curiosity occasionally and I checked as I went through each mile, but I wasn't a slave to anything it said. Most of the time it was right on with what I thought I should be running and at half-way I was pleased with the way I had run so far.
When I look back at the first half it's all positive, but looking at the second half, I start to criticize and doubt myself. I put myself in a great position at the half and just didn't perform the way I would've liked or expected in the second half. I was content to not look at my watch in the first half, but knowing how I felt that whole first half, I wish I would've become a slave to the watch later on. Maybe if I had known how I was fading I wouldn't have continued to rely on feel which seemed to be failing me as my legs fatigued. It is easy to look back after your heart rate goes down and your legs aren't on fire with lactic acid and think that you could've pushed harder or run faster. But on the other hand, I have finished marathons more fatigued, more sore, breathing heavier, and recovering slower than Berlin. I can't help but ask, "Could I have run faster?"
I may never know... I do know that I've taken away lots of positives from this summer and fall of training and racing, made huge improvements, and I'll be sure to learn to harness all the speed and strength I have in future races. I know that just by asking myself "How fast?" I'd be missing out on lots of learning opportunities and will always ask after a race "How?"