For the sake of forgoing being humble, 2021 was…well, simply put- a big year for me. I gave birth to my second born, my beautiful daughter Carolina in February. Nine months later, I ran the New York City Marathon and I absolutely smashed my 26.2 PR. Within those nine months though, I had to re-learn everything I thought I knew about endurance, running, and goal setting. With so many important lessons learned, I’m hoping my top five most important lessons can be useful to the rest of the endurance community.
Lesson 1: Running Fast All of the Time does NOT make you a fast runner. Prior to 2021 I thought that every single time I set out for a run- whether it be a 5K or a 15 miler- I had to go all out. I used to push my speed at all costs, regardless of how I felt physically and mentally while doing it. Heartrate? Who cares! I was running fast and that’s all that mattered. Legs feeling like they’re going to spontaneously explode? That’s the point, isn’t it?
When my coach explained the 80/20 training plan to me and suggested (probably 200 times) that I follow it, it sounded straight up awful. The idea of having to run slower than my normal pace didn’t seem enjoyable one bit. If you’re like me, you most likely chase the thrill of how hard you can push yourself during a workout. Being told that 80% of my miles would be ran super slow and in low zones according to my heart rate did not sound exciting to me at all. How the hell would running slower actually make me faster? With a little bit of convincing, I committed to the 80/20 training plan. After all, every run post-pregnancy felt like voluntary torture and I was losing my love for running because of it. I started to welcome the idea of starting from scratch and relearning running again.
Within a month of committing to the 80/20 plan my runs and overall physical health felt brand
new and quite improved. The mental game of running slower than usual was the hardest part, but once I checked my ego at the door I started to find my weekday runs and long weekend runs enjoyable. I’d finish a run and feel like I had plenty left in the tank and enjoyed missing
out on my usual mid-day fatigue. In fact, I had energy. Which is a bold statement considering I
averaged about three hours of sleep a night for the first two months of my 80/20 plan. While my paces were slow, the time I spent on my feet was much longer and I could feel my endurance building. Fast forward to nine months later, following an 80/20 plan as bible throughout 16 weeks of serious marathon training, I PR’d my marathon time by 13 minutes. There it is, ya’ll. That’s the proof in the pudding. Running slower (and smarter) actually makes you faster when it matters.
Lesson 2: Literally not one person cares about your running stats, so stop worrying about what other people think.
I used to be hyper-focused on my statistics on Strava. I’m not ashamed to admit that. If I knew I was pacing a little slower than usual, I’d push my last few miles so that my average speed would remain even and consistent. I didn’t want anyone to think I was moving too slow or not as strong as I should be. Do you know how ridiculous that is?
One of my priorities for 2021’s training was to stop caring about Strava. In fact, I went weeks- if not months- without checking in on my account during training. I analyzed my data through what I feel are more reliable sources like Garmin (which is still somewhat questionable) or Training Peaks. I also have a coach who analyzes it for me, sends me his feedback and lets
me know where I’m exceling and what I can focus on to improve. The only things I cared about for 2021 were making sure my runs were in the appropriate zones and that I was
getting the work I needed done, done. I went as far as turning off notifications on my watch, setting the screen to heart rate data and total duration data, and not checking in on pace or distance while training. I think a lot of us tend to be focused on our paces a little too much- and eventually that can suck the joy right out of the training process. We also tend to “check up” on others who are training as well, and then we fall victim to the comparison game. The only person you should be competing against is yourself.
Lesson 3: Train Smarter, not Harder. And find a coach that will keep you on that path.
In 2019 when I trained for my first marathon, I followed a plan that required me to run 6 days a week. At least three of those training sessions were some sort of high intensity workout- fartleks, intervals, tempo runs, you name it and I was doing it. Not only was I doing it, I was following the suggested target paces. They were way out of my range, but I was determined to hit them. I finished almost every single one of those training sessions feeling completely drained. My heart rate skyrocketed for every single run. This not only affected me physically (cue the IT band syndrome raging), but it wore me out mentally (cue me crying for no reason more often than I should admit). I was following a plan for what I can only imagine is an elite athlete who gets paid big bucks to smash records around the world while running all the miles.
Fast forward to 2021 and I had myself a coach that understood my goals and set me on a training path to reach them without overtraining. He also understood that I had a four month old baby and a five year old at home, that I was starting from scratch (it took me almost two months to be able to run a 5K without thinking I was going to throw up) and that I needed to
attain these goals without injury or complete fatigue. My plan included four days of running; one speed workout during the week with two low zone runs, and one long low zone weekend run. It also included attainable daily strength workouts and stretching (do you know how important both of those are? Mind. Blowing.). Believe it or not- training was actually FUN. Going into a speed workout feeling completely energized and rested was FUN. Running 18 miles on the weekend at a low heart rate zone was ENJOYABLE. This doesn’t sound like groundbreaking revelations, but for me, they were. If you’re running 20 miles and feel like you can’t function for the next day or two, you’re doing something wrong. I highly suggest we all contemplate that. After 16 weeks of strictly following my 80/20 plan I went into marathon day feeling confident and ready, and full of energy for the task at hand.
Lesson 4: Remember your What. Focus on your Why. And Stop freaking complaining about it.
My daughter did not sleep through the night for the first 9 months of her life. Yes- we’d get
lucky and have a night or two where she’d sleep six or seven hours straight and I’d convince myself that she was finally going to be a baby who slept. But just like that, she’d be up all night. Which meant that I’d be up all night, too. It’s somewhat poetic to know that she became a 12-hour-per-night sleeper one week after the New York City Marathon.
Whether you have a baby at home or not, there is absolutely nothing easy about training towards a goal. It requires motivation, grit, and pure determination. There were days where I’d finally get to sleep by 1am, only to be up again to start the day with baby C at 3 and have to be out the door for a track workout or a long run by 5:30am. I was straight up holding on by a thread, ya’ll. And yes, I would complain about how tired I was and some mornings I’d downright cry my eyes out while getting changed and ready to be out the door for a run. But I allotted myself only five minutes to enjoy my pity party. Sometimes my coach would be lucky enough for me to save the pity party for the start of my run. I’d talk about how I slept thirteen seconds the night before and express how absolutely exhausted I was. And then, it was over. No more complaining. It was time to do the work.
I knew my goal and I knew why it was important to me. Complaining throughout the training process would only hinder my progress and cloud my determination. Race day does not care about how tired you are. Or how late you’ve been working. Or about any other possible curveball life can throw at you. Just like life doesn’t care about what your plans are. What will come your way will come your way whether you like it or not. You and you alone are responsible for how you react to those situations, how you learn to pivot, and whether or not you’re willing to learn the lessons at hand. Think about it hard enough and you’ll realize that endurance training teaches you a whole lot about life.
Lesson 5: Goal Achieved or not; if you gave it your all, you succeeded.
I missed my marathon goal by 3 minutes and 40 seconds. That was my exact first thought when crossing the New York City Marathon finish line. I called my husband and he picked up screaming in excitement. “I didn’t do it. I didn’t hit my goal.” “Are you kidding me? You just blew your time out of the water! Kate, you PR’d by THIRTEEN MINUTES!!” That’s all I needed to hear. It was the jolt I needed back to reality.
Here’s the truth about my training journey and my experience in NYC: I gave them both everything I had. I followed my plan to the absolute tee; I left it all out there through five boroughs. I have absolutely no regrets about how I trained, no second thoughts about what I could have done differently, and have never once questioned if I could have pushed just a little bit harder on that course. At mile 24, I was certain that I was either going to throw up or pass out. I kept my word and laid it all out there.
I did something to be damn proud of.
We are so quick to be hard on ourselves as runners, triathletes, parents- humans. The second things don’t go the exact way we’d hoped, we focus on the negative. I will never again finish a marathon-or anything else I’ve worked my tail off for- and think about what I didn’t accomplish if I am absolutely certain I couldn’t have tried to hit that goal an ounce harder. I carried a beautiful baby girl for exactly nine months. I started from scratch and learned how to run again. I PR’d a marathon by 13 minutes nine months after the birth of my daughter.
See ya’ll again in 2022 at the NYC Marathon. 3:59, I’m coming for you.