Hill Therapy and New Fall Running Goals

Bradford Beach on Milwaukee’s East side. Rarely run here, but it’s a great backdrop for some gnarly hill work!

Well, it’s no secret that training for this marathon has been off to a rocky start. I’ve had a lot of ups and downs that I hadn’t planned for. As I mentioned last week, I’ve battled with a good deal of anxiety and frustration about how life has been getting in the way of training and preventing me from building up as much as I wanted to. My performance at the Cudahy Classic this weekend has me doubting my fitness level and abilities. Not having a big goal to get excited about, which I thought would be a relief and allow me to enjoy training more, actually has me feeling empty and lost and struggling to find the motivation to take my training seriously.

And as these frustrations and insecurities mount, sadly it has become all too common for me to fall into the comparison trap. I guess the tables have really turned on me: this Spring I’m sure I drove everyone crazy with my training logs as I doggedly pursued my goal; now, I’m the one feeling inadequate as I watch everyone else beast-mode their training and continue to improve while I still have yet to hit a 40 mile week this cycle.

With all this swirling through my head, I took to the hills last night for 7.5 miles of tough work. A good hard workout is kind of like a rude belch for your soul: it’s stinky, it’s unpleasant, you feel crappy in the moments leading up to it but once it’s out of your system you just feel so much lighter and more cleansed.

And it really helped me sort through a lot of this crap. The workout can’t take all the credit, but it sure did push me in the right direction. I decided I need to cut out the wallowing and start renegotiating the terms of this training. It’s time to get back on track – and I don’t just mean getting my mileage back up.

Here’s what I came up with:

1. It’s time to get back to work
No more making excuses. I am in week 4 of training already and I really need to buckle down and start putting in the work if I want to be in shape to run a good marathon in 13 weeks. After I get back from vacation I only have 9 weeks of build up left (10 if I decide to only taper for 2 weeks), so I can’t afford to slack anymore because every day is going to count.

2. It’s time to reign in my paces and start training at my fitness level
At the beginning of every training cycle I fall into this same trap: buoyed by excessive energy from low mileage and the excitement of gearing up for another big goal, I throw my pace guidelines to the wind and blast through every workout. But the time has come to dial it down and start training at the paces I need to be training at: easy runs need to be at a truly easy effort and tempo runs need to be a little bit more controlled. Training at a level I’m not at yet isn’t going to enhance my fitness at all, it’s just going to push me backward. I will get the best results of I start where I’m at and let progression happen naturally.

3. It’s time for a perspective check
It might be helpful to pull out the life-changing goals notecard I made in April, so I can remind myself of the big picture and center myself around what really matters. No more worrying about whether other runners are logging more miles than me or working harder or progressing faster. I have a journey that I’m on and a goal I’m working toward, and what other people accomplish doesn’t make my journey any more or less meaningful. It’s time for me to remember the wisdom I gained when I made that card: keep your eyes on the prize, and focus on doing YOUR best. Results will follow.

Consider #3 my official announcement about what my Spring 2016 marathon will be :-)

4. It’s time to re-evaulate my fall marathon goals
Before I dismiss all of these negative feelings as just stress or anxiety or a phase, I decided maybe I should actually listen to them first. If I’ve been feeling this way for so many weeks now, maybe it is worth seeing if I should change something in my training and goals to make myself happier.

Now, I said I wasn’t going to train for a huge time goal and put all my eggs in that basket this time, and I do intend to honor that. But I think there is room for compromise here. I am a “go big or go home” runner when it comes to racing. Even if I can’t get a huge PR in every race, I am motivated by working toward goals and seeing improvement and progress. So I decided that maybe having some sort of goal for this marathon will help me feel motivated to keep working hard in my training.

As I was thinking about all of this I happened to stumble upon this great article from Competitor Running about setting realistic running goals. I’ll let you read the article on your own if you want, but I was really inspired by the philosophy of focusing on the process instead of the result – meaning, basically, focus on training at your current fitness level and letting improvements happen organically instead of trying to train at a level you’re not at yet, which is counterproductive to your training and risky for your health and will probably result in not achieving the goal anyway.

I’m not sure how this translates to a specific goal for this marathon, but it has inspired me to keep working hard and given me encouragement that even if it’s not the right time for a huge PR, it’s not unreasonable for me to to hope that I improve my fitness this cycle and keep running at a similar level, or maybe even achieve a modest PR. More importantly, it was a good reminder that this race is only a stepping stone to bigger and brighter things. All marathons are a big deal, but some are bigger deals than others. I would like to improve as much as I can during this training cycle and maybe, if I’m having a stellar day, even nab that sub-3:45. But ultimately however I finish in this race isn’t nearly as important as setting myself up to keep improving and progressing steadily toward my ultimate goal.


Finally, after some thought, I’ve decided I’m no longer going to pursue my big goal of breaking 1:45 in the half marathon this fall. I just don’t think I am there yet, and I really don’t want to fall into the trap of pushing myself to achieve a goal that I’m not ready for. Even if I had more time to train I can tell that a sub-8:00 paced half marathon is just too hard for me this year. And that’s okay. I’m realizing that this goal wasn’t that important to me to begin with. It would have been cool to brag about, but ultimately has little real value to me. I feel comfortable giving it up because it’s actually way ahead of the fitness level I need to be at right now if I want to be on track for my long term goals.

Prediction calculators and my own hunches estimate that I should be able to run the half marathon somewhere between 1:45 and my current PR of 1:48. I think this is a much more realistic goal and one that I would be happy with, not to mention it is right in line with where I need to be right now for my long term goal plan, so I have decided that my new goal for fall is to PR in the half marathon and get my time as close to 1:45 as I can. The sub-1:45 will happen when it’s ready.


At the end of the day, I need to be patient with all the negativity I’ve been feeling toward training lately. What should I do? The only thing I really can do: keep putting one foot in front of the other. Keep trying my best, keep showing up – mentally and physically – to each of my workouts. Staying strong through a hard workout today also reminded me of how important it is, especially during this cycle, to run the mile I’m in and just focus every day on having a good workout and having a solid week. If I just keep going, I’m confident the anxiety will work itself out.

As usual, thanks for listening, everyone.




26 thoughts on “Hill Therapy and New Fall Running Goals

  1. Last June was when I ran my marathon PR and I felt exactly the way you described after – lost and empty. I came home on a high, “recovered”, and then catapulted immediately into a rocky training segment. The difference here is you are much wiser and listen to your body – this feeling will pass. I think your plan of attack is really, really good. I don’t think you should abandon your time goals, but don’t put a time frame on them. That’s when I find that I don’t achieve my goals. Like last year, I said I would nail a sub-3 hour marathon by the fall. Here I am, a year later and further away from that mark than I was a year ago. I feel like putting a time on things rushes the process and doesn’t allow you to listen to your body and take the necessary recoveries. I just know from meeting you and seeing your Grandma’s experience that your goals are within your reach and you are going to surprise yourself this fall. The summer has a way of messing with your head. Hang in there, sister!

    1. Thank you so much!! It’s so comforting to know that others have been there and survived it.

      “I don’t think you should abandon your time goals, but don’t put a time frame on them. ” <—I love this! You basically said in one sentence what I needed like 8 paragraphs to express LOL. I just get so excited about my goals that it gets hard to be patient about them and not want everything NOW. But I'm remembering that just because something doesn't happen in this race, or the next one, doesn't mean it's not meant to be. It's weird how I'm totally okay with being patient about my long term goal (Boston), but I can't be patient about any of the other goals I have. Go figure!

  2. I am sure the anxiety will work itself out. You did a big thing and worked really hard for it. Don’t forget how huge that is. Whether or not your next race is a PR, you will still learn a lot in this training cycle and you will get yourself closer to that goal of a BQ. I like that you are trying not to push your fitness too hard by going for a goal that might be a little out of reach. Just keep moving forward and you will get there soon enough.

    1. Thank you so much for your encouragement Kerry, and your reminder to remember what I’ve accomplished instead of dwelling on what isn’t perfect right now!

  3. I’ve actually been a bit jealous of your almost nonchalant attitude about training lately. I’ve been putting quite a bit of pressure on myself to have a really amazing debut marathon, because I feel like I am behind all of my running friends who have already run marathons or because I missed out on my first attempt and I now I have a bit of a chip on my shoulder. Which is really the wrong attitude to have towards my first marathon. I want to get back to enjoying the process and feeling excited about the race, not stressed out about the race.

    You always have such a level headed perspective on your training and goal setting so I’ve been trying to channel your attitude. I’m sorry you’ve been feeling negatively about your training lately. Hopefully the re-evaluation of your long term goals will help turn those thoughts around.

    1. This was so enlightening for me to read, Heather! It just goes to show that no matter how much we read about someone else’s training, we never really know what battles that person is fighting inside. It’s easy for me to think that everyone who is training harder than me right now is on easy street, but I have to remember that we all struggle with insecurity of some sort. I often make an effort to be brutally honest about how I’m feeling even if it makes me look vulnerable, because I guess I hope people will remember that what you see in the training logs isn’t the whole story.

      Thank you for your kind words!

  4. I like this, mostly because I am feeling the same way. Life has been crazy busy lately and it’s been getting in the way of training, but now I’ve found myself making excuses for why I can’t train. And it’s not a good time for me to do that. Things will calm down for me after this week, but I can’t waste this week either. Being in these ruts is hard to get out of, but reading others is helping slowly focus more in the positive and getting my ass back in gear. It’s always good to re-evaluate our goals. You’ll get it back, I know it!

    1. Thank you! This is why posting these “real talk” posts is so worth it – it’s uncomfortable to put myself out there because it doesn’t paint a rosy picture, but learning that so many others can relate is really uplifting. July is almost over and I hope we have better Augusts!!

  5. I think your new half marathon goal is a great one and definitely do-able for you. It will definitely allow you to enjoy your training and race more. And do not fall into the comparison trap you are awesome and I have no doubt in my mind that one day you will reach all of your goals. You are a go-getter!

  6. I’m sorry you’ve been feeling so down on yourself, Hanna. If it makes you feel better, my training really hasn’t been showing much improvement yet either. I’ve been hitting great times on the treadmill, but outdoors is another story altogether. I just want to remind you of something that I’ve had to keep in my mind myself: ‘Progress isn’t linear’. You just had an amazing training cycle that culminated in a huge marathon PR!! And now your body is still working to recharge itself. Especially with it being hotter, it will take some time before you really start seeing the progress again. But don’t feel discouraged!! I promise I’m in the same boat and you just have to keep faith and have patience in your running. Also after trying so hard this spring for a 1:45, I can totally relate that that is a hard goal to break and often seems unattainable. I like that you’re going to approach it in smaller steps now too 🙂 You’ll get there!!! You’re an amazing runner – so dedicated and focused and you WILL see big improvements again soon! Just take in the moment and keep the joy of running alive most of all xoxo

    1. Thank you so much Charissa! It’s so nice to know that you understand the struggle as well. Unfortunately, as we are learning, knowing that progress isn’t linear doesn’t always make it easy to get through those patches when the graph takes a downward turn. Last night just after I wrote this I read a post from Kara Goucher on FB where she said “just keeping the dream alive is half the battle,” and it’s so true. Believing you can break out of a slump is just as hard as actually breaking out of one! Here’s to an upswing in August for both of us!

  7. Life can get in the way of your goals sometimes, but it’s great that you are able to take a step back and gain some perspective. I’ve definitely had to re-evaluate and take a good look at my goals for my next race due to unexpected hitches in the road the past few weeks, but recognizing that instead of blindly charging ahead is key to doing well in the end (I hope!)

    1. It IS the key to doing well in the end! And also, as I too am learning, remembering that one race is not “the end”! 🙂

  8. I feel like you just read my mind. I have a minor freak out this past Tuesday about my training. I suddenly felt so overwhelmed as I had been making excuses of why I wasn’t running (ugh the humidity is so bad), why I wasn’t pushing myself on my runs (mehhh I want to take a nap…my race is so far away) and finally I realized I was truly being my own worst enemy. I was the only one feeding into my dissatisfaction of performance. And it is SO hard not to compare ourselves to other runners. Focusing on our own goals, and our own successes is the most important and in the social media world that is almost impossible. I really respect your honesty in this post. I wish you the best of luck this week and hope you have a FABULOUS week of training 🙂

    1. Thank you Jamie! I appreciate you saying so. It can be uncomfortable to put myself out there and be honest, because it doesn’t always paint a rosy picture, so I’m always glad when people say the appreciate it. My hunch is that more runners fall into the comparison/insecurity trap than are willing to admit it, and you’re right – as much as I love being part of the blog community and follow my friends’ training, it can sometimes get distracting and distort the big picture for me. I’m glad I’m not the only one going through the summer training crazies 🙂 Here’s to a better August for us!

  9. Great post! Sometimes it takes true soul searching to understand the right path but it’s often truly necessary. I am a go big or go home racer also so I’m sure I’ll be reading ba k over this in the future.

    1. Thank you! Yes, soul searching is necessary – and being honest with yourself!

  10. I think the thing I’ve been having the most trouble wrapping my head around is that I DID qualify for Boston, but I won’t get to run, so I have to do it all again. It’s made me feel a lot like you’re feeling right now. I’m so glad you got some clarity! You’re plan sounds great, and I’m looking forward to see you rock it! 🙂

    Don’t worry about changing your goal for your half! A PR is still in the cards, and who knows, you may even surprise yourself! 🙂

    1. Thank you Nona! I can’t imagine how frustrating your situation is. I know it would be incredibly hard for me to be motivated and stay positive about having to essentially re-do something I worked so hard for, for no real reason. But our struggles only make us stronger, right? If we didn’t have tests I suppose we could never grow 🙂

  11. So, my daughter made me an inspirational quote jar for my birthday. Inside a mason jar are small slips of paper with quotes, love notes etc. Today’s said, “Look in the mirror, that is your only competition.” Very true. So often we compare ourselves to others and forget why we are doing something, and about, “running our own race”…I do know, that you can do whatever you put your mind to as well…
    On another note…I think this heat wave is wearing on ALL of us, and I know I have also been freaking out about some commitments that I have coming up which will interfere with training. I keep telling myself, “Do the best you can today”….Life happens, and it is all part of the journey.
    Thanks for your candor, and honesty!

    1. Wow great advice – and what a great gift! You have quite the creative daughter!

  12. Your belching analogy is so spot on – that is *exactly* what a hard workout is like!

    Kristen at Glitter and Dust wrote a really interesting post after she got pregnant earlier this year about changing her training mindset away from speed and onto other things. She wrote, “It [the pregnancy] gives me time to work on other minor things – like form, technique, etc. – that often get overlooked when the focus is on speed, strength, endurance, etc.”


    It’s a really good post and the next time I have a race on the horizon that I don’t have speed goals for, I really want to take this approach and instead work on form, technique and the other elements of running that are just as important but often overlooked.

    I think we often feel like we NEED speed goals to stay motivated during training, but really it’s just seeing marked improvement that we crave. I’d be interested in focusing a training cycle on form – taking video of myself running at the beginning, in the middle and at the end of the cycle and seeing the changes. I feel like that could be just as rewarding – and just as important to a long running career.

    1. I think that’s a really good idea too, and would be a great fit for a cycle where i’m training for a shorter race like a half marathon or during a longer off season. I’m not sure I’d do it for a marathon though – that’s a lot of time to train and a lot of hard work and long running hours just to improve form, which could probably be done more easily during a lower-mileage, lower pressure cycle. But I’m also not a coach so maybe I shouldn’t talk, LOL.

      It’s really too bad none of us are elites and can just never fit everything in that we need and want to do. SIgh.

  13. I sometimes wonder if I will ever achieve my goals, particularly when people are posting their beast mode training weeks. How do people do that? Your training is awesome to me and what you have accomplished so far is amazing. That sub 1:45 may not happen this fall but it will happen because you are determined to accomplish it. Good luck!

Comments are closed.