Train better and smarter with self reflection

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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!).

 

My Strengths

  • 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

My Weaknesses

  • 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.

My Opportunities

  • 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.

My Threats

  • 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!

 

What are your strengths and weaknesses as a runner?

What obstacles stand in the way of your goal, and how are you tackling them?

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29 thoughts on “Train better and smarter with self reflection

  1. The data nerd in me absolutely LOVES this analysis and I kinda want to do one myself when I approach official marathon training in a few more months. It’s a really great tool to use to improve upon the things you can change and remind yourself of the amazing things you already CAN do. I think my strengths/weaknesses are extremely similar to yours: high motivation/endurance/good schedule for training, and I hate getting into those uncomfortable runs (ugh tempos!!). I often do tempos on my treadmill because I know I have more control over them, but I will need to start doing tempos outside if I really want to improve at running. My excuse right now is that it’s dark outside in the evenings…but once it’s light again, I’ve got to challenge myself more with this one for sure.

    1. Thanks Charissa! I know what you mean about wanting more control over workouts. I do a lot of speed work on the ‘mill for the same reason. My thing is that I think I use marathon training as an excuse not to challenge myself more and push the pace in hard workouts – short bursts of speed are SO outside my comfort zone. That’s why I’m looking forward to training for shorter races after this – I really need to get out of my bubble and do things that scare me!

    1. Most of our ice melted and then yesterday we got snow that ended up being really slippery! Ugh! It was actually okay on my run this AM because I chose a different route with more shoulder/bike lanes so I could run on the drier roads, but the struggle is real. We’re getting a couple days of thaw and then it’s right back to freezing. Just can’t win!

      1. It’s going to get above freezing today and tomorrow, but then more snow this weekend and back to the negative digit temps. Blaaaah. But at least it didn’t start until January this year.. I figure 8 more weeks before it starts to change!

  2. Oh I am so doing this when I start my next training plan! I feel like it will be easy for me to identify my weaknesses, but I might struggle with acknowledging my strengths.

    I would try not to worry too much about your Guatemala trip. It sounds like it will be more like a week of hard cross training than a week of rest.

    1. That’s pretty much how I’ve been thinking about the trip, honestly! I’ve actually really not been worried about it, but then sometimes the fact that I’m not worried makes me worry…yeah, I’m one of those people.

      It is oddly difficult to come up with strengths. I think we just have a tendency to take for granted the things that go well, because they don’t need our attention. I would say I learned more about myself from listing strengths than anything, because I had to think harder. I’m already well aware of the weaknesses, haha.

  3. Great post, good idea. My weakness as a runner is my love of running, I hate to cross train or strength train, and as I get older it is catching up to me. Another threat or weakness is the move…I have only hilly terrain, with highly cambered roads unless I drive somewhere to run or use the treadmill, so I have to plan out long runs differently, and planning is not a strong suit of mine. However, mental toughness is, so here we go… 🙂

    1. You are definitely mentally tough! Maybe your hilly terrain is a strength in disguise? I know it’s difficult when suddenly that’s your only option, but Boston will feel like a piece of cake after that 🙂

  4. Great post! You have a lot of great pieces of advice and ideas, especially for us first time marathoners. My biggest weakness is that I am injury prone… and that injuries tend to depress and derail me a lot. I have a hypermobility disorder (I know, I don’t talk about it much) that makes my soft tissue much easier to tear or overstretch. Most people who deal with this can’t run at all, so I am lucky in that regard, but it limits me a lot especially when I try to up my mileage. As for strengths, I am pretty well rounded and I think yoga really helps me with mindfulness that I cultivate a lot when I run.

    1. I’d say well rounded is definitely one of your strengths – you are a cross training machine!! That stuff can really help your running too, I really wish I had the discipline to do it more often. I always say I’ll do it when I’m done marathon training but then it still never happens. I did not know about the hypermobility disorder! You’re already such a good runner, that just makes your accomplishments so amazing!!

  5. One of my weaknesses as a runner is that I do not stretch or cross train as much as I should. I also generally just run.. but I am trying to change that! I’m starting to focus on speedwork, & it’s really been helping my overall pace.. This will be my first time running Pittsburgh Half & I’m super excited.. Obstacles standing in my way… Those temperatures. We train ALL winter long but come race day.. It can be HOT. I do not do well in the heat! but fingers crossed the weather cooperates. Good luck & looking forward to reading more of your posts 🙂

    1. I don’t think ANYONE does well in the heat! I’m really nervous about it too so hopefully doing some running indoors and doing other stuff like wearing an extra layer when it’s not so cold might help with heat acclimation. Speedwork is SO helpful for getting faster! I remember when I was training for my first half and started doing speedwork – it felt like my paces got better overnight.

  6. This is such an awesome and inspiring post! You are so tough, lady and this is going to be your race. Your head is in the right place. You really listened to your body this fall and let yourself recover from Grandma’s the RIGHT way. I can’t wait to see what you accomplish!

    I think my biggest strength as a runner is that I refuse to give up, but my weakness is that I am quite injury prone 🙂 Ah, such is life!!!

    1. Thank you!! I think my head is in the right place – now, let’s hope my fitness gets there too! Your refusal to give up is a huge strength. You’ve been trying for your big goal for so long and endured so many setbacks and yet you’re still raring to go every time. It’s awesome!!

    1. I wish I could run in Guatemala – how cool would that be??? It’s unlikely though, due to safety concerns and our busy schedule. I’ll be strength training my butt off all week though – literally!

  7. I’ve never heard of this acronym before – thanks for sharing. What a great way to focus on what you can work on and what things are out of your control. Unfortunately, I am pretty injury-prone – but never the same one twice but I think I am usually able to push myself hard and feel uncomfortable. I hope you have an awesome training period – you are doing all of the right things!

    1. Thanks so much! It sounds like we are the opposite, I really try to avoid being uncomfortable in training. It’s not something I even realized I did until recently. I’ll do hard speed work, but I’m always pretty conservative about how I push myself. I’m hoping that after this marathon, when I focus on shorter distances for a while, it will help me get better at those things I’ve been neglecting

  8. I ever though about applying SWOT analysis to training. Great idea! I’m definitely going to do that for my big fall race! I wanted to mention that there is a marathon course preview training run a few weeks out from the race. It usually coincides with the last long run before taper on most plans. I know you can’t come here to train all the time, but if you could make one pre-race visit, that would be the weekend to do it!

  9. We use SWOT at work to talk about how our school year went, but honestly it seems to make SO MUCH MORE SENSE when you apply it to training for a race!! Suddenly I’m like, oooh, so this is why people use SWOT. It looks like you have a solid vision of your threats, and that’s the first step to figuring out how to deal with them!

  10. So awesome that your an official blogger. They made a great choice, I know you will do a greAt job covering the training and race.

  11. I have never, ever even considered doing a SWOT analysis for running. What a smart idea, you are brilliant!

    I can only imagine what running and training in icy conditions is like. I know when the ground is wet from just a little bit of rain I get overly cautious. I find that the paint strips on the road get so slippery after rain, if I was dealing with ice I’d probably hide indoors and run only on the treadmill!

  12. Responding way late to this string, since I just recently found (and love!) your blog! I love the idea of doing a SWOT analysis for running — thanks for the great tip!

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