The thing I love most about marathon training — and sport in general — is its application to life. As in life, there are always ups and down. Some days go perfectly and some days just don’t. There are days when you feel like you could run forever and days when you can’t muster the motivation to even step out the door.
I have learned to love this part of the ride when I am training for a marathon and to respect that it comes with the territory.
During the last month, however, I have been on a rollercoaster ride unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. I’ve had difficulty finishing my runs and have bonked—or crashed—on almost all of my long runs. I’ve had a difficult time keeping up with friends on group runs and have had to walk up many hills. I’ve been feeling like a beginner — like someone who hasn’t ran much before. My mind wants to go but my body just can’t.
I knew something was up, so I got a blood test and found out that I was anemic, or deficient in iron. The iron deficiency impacts how quickly blood moves through my body, which explains my shortness of breath, the difficulty I’ve had running and my fatigue in general. I’ve been on iron supplements for about two weeks now and am slowly starting to feel like my old self again. If I continue with my supplements, my iron stores are likely to be at the low range of normal by the time I toe the line at the Boston Marathon on the third Monday in April.
I believe things like this happen for a reason.
This experience has made me realize several things that allow me to work better with others. It made me reflect upon what it’s like for someone to start running who has never done it before. It made me realize how difficult it can be to stay positive about exercising, yourself and your performance — something I’ve trained my mind to do because I know it helps me perform to my potential. But during this recent low, I had struggled to stay positive.
In life and training, we will always experience ups and downs. Things don’t always go as perfectly as we planned. Here are a few tips to help manage those highs and lows.
- Expect both highs and lows in life, and in sport specifically. If you realize that every day cannot and will not be perfect, you will be able to brush off the bad days easier. I tell my clients to have a short-term memory when it comes to a bad workout, race or performance. Instead, we should focus and remember our good workouts, races and performances because that will build our confidence.
- Some days are just about putting one foot in front of the other. This is particularly important for a beginning runner or someone starting a new exercise program. Recognize that not every day will feel great; some days, it’s just about doing it.
- When you experience adversity or bumps in the road, adjust your goals. When I was growing up, I use to think that once I set a goal I should never change it. But life sometimes gets in the way of that goal. I’ve been training for the Boston Marathon since November and wanted to run it fast. My body will likely not be able to run as fast as I would like, and I need to listen to my body and care less about my pace. I plan to savor the experience of running the Newton Hills even if they are more difficult than they should be.
- Reframing or changing the way you look at a situation can help. When I found myself walking up the hills, I tried to appreciate that I could still run and walk. When my friends were blocks in front of me, I worked to appreciate that I could hang with them for at least half of the run. Just changing our perspective can work wonders on our motivation and confidence.
- When things don’t go as planned, we need to remain calm. It’s easy to freak out and focus on the worse possible outcome, but controlling your emotions will help you face adversity head on.
- Find social support and people who will help you stay positive. I continued to run with my friends — even if I slowed them down or couldn’t keep up for the whole run — because I knew they were good for me and would provide positive support and encouragement. Seeking out people who will help you stay positive is especially important when you experience these bumps in the road.
We all experience adversity in sport and in life. The key is to manage your reaction to that adversity. We get to choose how we will respond to each day and each situation. Successful people find ways to manage the ups and downs that come with life and sport. It’s up to you to shape your life. Remember that this is your world. If you don’t shape it, someone else will.