This is my first post as an official blogger for the 2016 Pittsburgh Marathon! I’m so excited to be part of this program to represent what will be the event of a lifetime and connect with other runners chasing their own Pittsburgh dreams. This is the first of several posts I’ll be writing over the coming months, which will range in subject from training and run chat to why I chose the Pittsburgh Marathon and what the motto #GameOnPGH means to me. And remember, just by virtue of reading this post, you can get $10 off any of the Pittsburgh Marathon weekend events! Make sure to use GICHARD2016 at checkout. Register today!
With race day 15 weeks away, it’s already #GAMEONPGH for many of us as we take those first steps into the long training cycles ahead of us. Fresh off our New Year’s Resolutions and buoyed by the spirit of motivation and and self-improvement that linger in the air this first month of the year, we’ve set our goals, brazenly hit those “Register!” buttons, laced up our trainers and pinned up our training plans, and we are raring to go!
But setting the goals is the easy part. You may have a training plan to get you from Point A to Point B, but what is the journey in between those two points really going to look like? How is the pursuit of your big goal going to fit in with the rest of your life? What strengths can you call on, what might stand in your way, and then the million dollar questions: what do you do about it, and what does it mean for your training?
Today’s post is about answering these questions with smart, forward-thinking analysis that can help you identify and navigate a clear and realistic path to your race goals, whatever they may be. We do a lot of this analysis internally, but I’ve found that there’s something about simply putting it in writing that helps me see things in new ways, solve problems, and feel more confident about the journey to my goals. It’s a simple thing and yet, it can be profound. If it’s helped me, I’m sure it might help you too!
I like to steal a technique from the business world and analyze an upcoming training cycle or running goal with the “SWOT” analysis. For those of you who have never heard of this, “SWOT” is an acronym that stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. It is most commonly used in business and organizational settings as a brainstorming tool for new products or ideas, but it can also be used for personal and individual goals – like the ones we are setting for the Pittsburgh Marathon!
I like to use SWOT analysis because I like its concise, uncomplicated way of laying out facts and helping me make connections and draw conclusions. But if you are all SWOT-ed out or have another preferred method of brainstorming and planning for goals, use it!
In this post, I’m sharing my own SWOT analysis of my journey to the 2016 Pittsburgh Marathon. Hopefully my own example will give you an idea of how you can use an honest assessment of yourself and your circumstances to solve problems, highlight strengths, and have your best training cycle yet (or just rock your first one!).
- I’m not injury prone
- Mental toughness
- Endurance – I perform better at longer distances
- Good work ethic and motivation for goals I’m passionate about
- Pretty set work/home schedule that allows for training consistency
- I’m not a well-rounded athlete: I pretty much just run. I neglect a lot of other exercise that could make me stronger and fitter, and one day it will catch up with me.
- I struggle to push myself outside my comfort zone
- I have a tendency to get too invested in my times and paces causing me to often lose sight of the bigger picture and suck the fun out of everything.
- I’m at a transitional stage of my running career where I’m suddenly no longer a newbie, so improvement isn’t coming as easily or naturally as it used to. I’m adjusting to my new reality that I have to work twice as hard to get better and PRs won’t show up as frequently.
- Access to gym facilities including an indoor track, treadmills and cross training.
- The blogging community where I can make connections, get tips and training advice, and lots of support!
- A running club where I can get all that stuff in person, and have company and motivation for some of these long cold winter miles.
- Winter training weather Ice, ice baby…
- Race day weather has the potential to be unseasonably warm, as history has shown!
- Lack of access to the marathon course – familiarity with the course can provide a huge advantage on race day.
- Guatemala trip – I will miss an entire week of running when I travel to Guatemala for a week in February
Now, for the good stuff: what does all of this mean for me?
Put together, all of my weaknesses tell me that if I want to make breakthroughs in my running, I need to push outside my comfort zone and embrace the unfamiliar. I need to get stronger and I need some fresh workouts to unlock my fitness potential, so I am incorporating these things into my training plan alongside the running. It’s a change for me, and it’s not easy to prioritize these things when I’m so deep in the habit of only counting the running miles, but I’m sure trying. It’s also not easy to break free from my habit of getting too focused on race times and outcomes, so I need to keep reminding myself of the values I set forth for this training cycle: that I’m going to be open to the process, appreciate the journey for its own sake instead of treating it as a means to an end, and focus on the fact that I’m getting fitter, stronger and wiser and not just “faster”.
All of the things I listed as threats are either largely or entirely out of my control, but having them written out like this transforms them from negativity bouncing around in my head to obstacles that I can mitigate through planning, preparation, and creativity. The facilities at my gym give me a safe place to get my miles in when the roads are icy, and running indoors allows me to incorporate some heat acclimation into my training to prepare for a possibly warm race day. I still can’t control the weather, but I can be better prepared for it.
Since I live halfway across the country and can’t train on the Pittsburgh course, I have to accept not having the huge mental and physical advantages that course familiarity provides. But there is a LOT that I can do to prepare my body to tackle Pittsburgh’s challenging terrain. I’m incorporating hilly long runs, hill repeats, strength training and basically any hill practice I can get into my training. The hills I find may not be exactly like Pittsburgh’s, but they will still make me stronger, and better at running hills, and much more prepared for the Pittsburgh course!
As for my Guatemala trip, I honestly can’t imagine I’m going to lose my running fitness from one week off, especially if I have a good base of fitness built up. Nonetheless, the trip is happening, and going 8-9 days without running isn’t exactly ideal. But this experience is important to me just like the marathon is, so if there are any negative impacts that come from my time off, I will just have to accept that. That said, there are several things I have already done to mitigate those possible negative impacts. I started my 18-week training cycle 19 weeks out from marathon day, so that I’d still have 18 weeks of actual training. The trip is 9 weeks into my training plan, so I will have a solid base built up by then AND plenty of time to keep building that base afterward. And finally, as a Habitat for Humanity volunteer, I will be WORKING that week – mixing up cement from scratch, carrying it in buckets, and lifting and setting heavy bricks with my own two hands. It’s exhausting and it will be a strength training workout like no other!
Finally, because I believe it’s always better to end on a high note:
My strengths and opportunities lists remind me what I can be optimistic about and what I can capitalize on during each week in my training. I’m blessed with a body that can handle high mileage and hard workouts like a champ (as long as I am doing them safely and listening to my body!!), both of which lead me to better race performances. I have the time and mental space in my life to stick to a consistent and demanding training schedule. And the mental toughness that has gotten me through two marathons, nine half marathons and countless workouts will be there for me every step of the way. Finally, thank goodness for my resources in the blogging and local running communities, who are there to offer tips, help and support throughout the whole journey!
By doing assessments like this, I feel like I get to know myself better as an athlete and feel more connected to my mission and my goals. I understand the road ahead of me a little better, and I am even more ready to say #GAMEONPGH!