What’s Next

Long-term edition.

This past marathon season, as I mentioned once or twice or on a weekly basis from the beginning of September (or maybe even earlier?) through race day, was without a doubt the most trying marathon season I’ve had. A variety of factors played into this, and while maybe one or two of them would’ve been manageable on their own, dealing with all of them at once made the last six weeks of training so difficult that I began to ask myself some serious questions, the root of which, always, was, “Why am I doing this?” The fact that I couldn’t come up with an answer–not any sort of answer at all–was troubling, to say the least.

When I crossed the start line of the Chicago Marathon this past October, I did so not knowing whether or not I’d be back in 2018. I had had it with the entire experience of marathon training and really didn’t know if I could put myself through that again. Then, of course, I had the race of my life (when I was expecting to have a terrible race, no less), so that obviously changed my perspective a bit. While I suppose it would make sense to retire now–going out on a high note, as it were–now that I feel like I’ve at least figured out how to run a marathon (only took five years and six attempts!), I would like to apply that knowledge to a training cycle and race and see what happens.

HOWEVER. Having the race of my life doesn’t suddenly erase the fact that last marathon season was not even close to an enjoyable experience, nor does it change, what I think, was the main reason I hated last marathon season so much: my CARA group. I feel like the experiences I had with the group this year had a serious impact on the way I felt about marathon training in general (that is to say, not positively). Because the importance of this group to me and my training in the past was so high that it was consistently the reason I listed as the reason why I continued running the Chicago Marathon, having a problem with the group automatically becomes the biggest problem of all. There’s a lot that goes into this, so bear with me.

I’ve run with the same 10:30 pace group every year that I’ve done marathon training. I don’t know why I initially chose a 10:30 pace group–I guess it seemed reasonable enough in 2013?–but if I’m being honest with myself, it was a bit too fast for me. I rarely ran with the main group, and more often than not ran with a handful of people doing closer to a 10:45 pace. I barely ever spoke to anyone. I went to one post-run brunch, but felt like I was crashing a party I wasn’t actually invited to, and never went to any other “extracurriculars,” if you will. Somehow, despite not really being connected to the group, I felt inexplicably connected to the group (see?), and came back for more in 2014.

Two big things changed for me in 2014. I felt far more comfortable in the group than I did in 2013. It was no longer a new experience, and that made it easier for me to open up and be chatty–a key element to making friends in my running group, in my experience. Additionally, a fair number of people who I considered to be the “in crowd” of the 10:30s were not running with the group in 2014. This left a social vacuum, an opportunity for a new in crowd to form without having to compete with the existing in crowd. I took both of these changes and RAN WITH THEM (literally, I suppose, but I mean it in more of the metaphorical sense 😛 ). I initiated conversations with my running buddies. I went to every single extracurricular event. I struck up a good friendship with another girl in the group, Jill (all names changed to protect the innocent)–so good that she even invited me to her birthday party that November (the one and only time someone from the 10:30s invited me to a non-10:30s event). Things went really, really well from a social standpoint, and I was officially all in for the CARA 10:30s.

Things changed in 2015. Jill signed up for marathon training, but rarely showed up to marathon training, mostly because she was usually at CrossFit instead, and I definitely resented her for it. I still attended the extracurriculars like my life depended on it, but I didn’t feel like I had A Running Buddy anymore like I had had in Jill. It bothered me a lot. Something about group training in 2015 just didn’t click for me like it had the year before (see? [#9]). 2016 was more of the same, but I blamed that on the fact that I was training for two marathons at once and rarely ran the same mileage as the rest of the group.

I don’t remember what my feelings were headed into training this year. I knew Jill wouldn’t be there, since she moved to California. Pretty quickly, however, I realized that the in crowd situation from 2013 was back with a VENGEANCE. Though the cast of characters had changed, there was a distinct, undeniable in crowd in the group. They took up the front spots in the group every Saturday, would meet up with each other to run on weekdays, were all on each other’s kickball team. If I thought Jill not showing up in 2015 made me feel resentful, it was NOTHING compared to the way I felt about the 2017 10:30s in crowd. They were cliquey and exclusive and I hated it, not only because of the cliquey-ness and exclusivity, but because every single person in that clique joined the group AFTER I did and have run fewer marathons than I have, and that infuriated me. I felt like I had seniority, like I had earned my place in the in crowd, like this was my group and my thing and how DARE they take it away from me like that. Maybe that’s petty or stupid or whatever, but it’s the truth.

My resentfulness about the clique situation came to a head after Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicago. I used to live relatively close to two of my group leaders and would often get rides home from them. The week before Rock ‘n’ Roll, I told them I wouldn’t be at the group run the following week since I was doing the half instead.

“Emma’s doing Rock ‘n’ Roll, too,” one of them responded, referencing one of the girls in the clique. “She’s looking for someone to run with! You should let her know you’re running!”

Now, I’ve never been particularly close to Emma. We’ve chatted once or twice at group events, but that was it. Nevertheless, I’m Facebook friends with her, so I sent her a message later that day letting her know that I’d be running Rock ‘n’ Roll and was available as a running buddy but most certainly did not need to be her running buddy if her goals were different than mine for race day. She responded quickly letting me know that two other girls from our group (both clique members) were also running it (so why my group leaders were under the impression that she had no one to run with is beyond me) and that “we should definitely meet up before.” Fair enough. She gave me her number, and that was that.

Neither Emma nor I made any effort to coordinate with the other person before race day, so the morning of, I texted her to let her know which corral I was in, and that I was about 20 minutes away from Grant Park. She responded in kind, letting me know that she also would be there in about 20 minutes. I opted to carry a water bottle and my phone that day instead of checking gear like normal, so I had my phone on me the entire time leading up to the race, but I never heard anything from Emma. That was fine with me. I was just there to get my long run in and didn’t necessarily need a companion to make that happen.

That was all I really thought of it until after the race, when I sat down in Grant Park and began looking up the race results of everyone I knew participating, as one does (or is that just me?). To my enormous surprise, Emma (and the two other girls) had both run substantially faster than I had–like, up to 13 minutes faster than I had–and to my enormous dismay, I saw that all three of them crossed the start line at the exact same time.

I. Was. Furious.

My furious-ness only increased later in the day, when I made the critical mistake of Facebook stalking Emma and saw the two pictures she had posted from that day’s race: one of her and the other two girls all together in their corral, and one of the three of them together after the race, complete with the caption, “Lucky to be part of such a wonderful running community.”

RUNNING COMMUNITY MY BUTT. I made an effort to be your running buddy even though I didn’t want to because Jack and Jess (the group leaders) said you needed one, and then you completely ditched me to run with two other girls in the clique?!?! If that’s “community,” then I’m Jordan Hasay.

Maybe I’m being ridiculous. Maybe I am, once again, being petty. Maybe should have hounded Emma more to coordinate meeting up. But it pissed me off. It all felt so unnecessary. If you didn’t want to run with me, JUST SAY SO. I would not have been the LEAST bit offended. I would’ve been relieved, in fact! I SPECIFICALLY said in my initial Facebook message that it “doesn’t make a difference to me either way” if she ran with me or not. But when you act like you want to run with me and then go silent on me on race morning AND THEN run with other people from the training group AND THEN post all about it on Facebook, I’m going to be offended! (The fact that they all smoked me time-wise didn’t help either, I’ll admit.)

So I was already soured on the group, and that was definitely the straw that broke the camel’s back. That whole situation went down at the end of week six of training. I only went to four more long runs with the group for the entire year (out of 11 possible). Granted, there were extenuating circumstances more than once–my knee, my food poisoning, being out of town, a half marathon–but still. If you needed me to point out the The Moment where everything changed for me in terms of marathon training this past summer, that was most definitely it. That was the moment that all of my starry-eyed infatuation with the 10:30s from 2014 exploded into a million dead pieces, and, having had time to reflect on it, I think that’s really what killed this whole season for me. No, the food poisoning didn’t help, and the fact that September felt more like July in terms of temperature (when July had been fairly September-y) most certainly didn’t help the situation either. But it was Rock ‘n’ Roll that did me in. My love for my training group and the friends I had there had always been enough to overcome all the frustration and disappointment that inevitably comes along with an 18-week marathon training program. Once that love was gone, so was my interest in marathon training.

Since marathon training has, historically, been my primary interest in this whole thing–I really hated marathon running up until just about a month ago–having lost that interest–or at least having lost interest in doing that with the people I’ve always done it with–has put me in a bit of a running identity crisis, if you will. Who am I, if I am not a 10:30 Awesome?

To be fair, the Saturday 6:30 a.m. group at Montrose is far from the only option for marathon training. I could train with the 6 a.m. group (*weeps*), or the 6:30 a.m. Lakeshore East group, or I could defect and become a Chicago Endurance Sports runner and train with them next year. Or I could train solo, though that idea doesn’t really appeal to me when I know the path will be full of groups I could’ve joined if I had decided to do so. As much as I hate to admit it, I think my 10:30 Awesome days are over. And it just sucks, you guys. That group was so fundamental in developing me into the runner I am today. I really, really like Jack and Jess, and I hate the idea of abandoning them. I felt like I got along with the two of them really well. They’re friendly and helpful and impeccably nice. Jess TEXTED me on my birthday, for goodness sake! The only other people to text me on my birthday were my best friend from childhood and my good friend from dance! I’m sure there are other wonderful group leaders in CARA (and in CES, for that matter), but Jack and Jess are my group leaders, and it really upsets me that the vibe of the group changed so much that I don’t even feel like I belong anymore and won’t be running with Jack and Jess as a result.

The other issue I have at the moment? I just…don’t want to do the marathon next year. I’m not sure that I want to do any marathon next year, never mind the Chicago Marathon. I had such a miserable experience this past training cycle that it’s really turned me off from the whole idea.

Now, that alone should seal the deal, right? If I don’t want to run the marathon next year–if I don’t even have to do soul-searching to know that, if my stomach turns every time I get an email from the race encouraging me to sign up for next year–that should be it right there. Don’t want to run the race? Then don’t run the race. A few years back, there was a girl in my dance class who would constantly text me an hour or so before class saying that she didn’t want to be there, and it was all I could do to keep from shaking her by the shoulders and screaming in her face, “THEN DON’T COME TO CLASS ANYMORE!!!!!!!!!!!” (Instead, I’d text her that, just with less caps lock and fewer exclamation points, haha.) It BOGGLED my mind that she could have so little interest in dance and continue to show up week after week after week, and even more than that, continue to register for future sessions! WHY?! Why would any adult do that to themselves? Why would any grown woman force herself to have a hobby she didn’t want to have?! I could NOT comprehend it.

And yet, here I am, with next to no interest in running the Chicago Marathon next year, still contemplating running the Chicago Marathon next year.

I guess what it really comes down to for me is this: I don’t want to run the Chicago Marathon next year right now. I am not at all confident that I won’t want to run the Chicago Marathon next year when training season rolls around. Unfortunately, because the race insists doing registration obscenely and unnecessarily early, I don’t have the luxury of waiting until next summer or next year or even next month to decide if I want to run Chicago or not. Since every summer marathon training program in the city targets the Chicago Marathon, if I intend to train with a group–which I do, even if that group is a different group–Chicago is far and away the most logical race to do, especially if I join a new group. Joining a brand new group and then running different mileage then them every week is certainly not going to do me any favors in the running-buddy-making department.

That’s one of the other pieces that’s keeping me from throwing in the towel entirely: while training was not a particularly pleasant experience this year, I do really like marathon training. Really truly. I love have 18 weeks of scheduled workouts (even if they inevitably don’t go according to plan). I like the structure and the order, and even though it can be burdensome at times, I very much appreciate the predictability and rhythm of marathon training. It feels stable, and I like that feeling a lot.

I still haven’t submitted my application for my guaranteed entry, but I expect that I probably will. At the end of the day, even with all the angst it caused me in 2017, I think I’d like to give the Chicago Marathon specifically at least one more shot. I’d like to try training with a different group, and I’d like to try training at a more appropriate pace (which, based on how the race went this year, is probably going to be either 11:00 or 11:30–most likely 11:30–much to my ego’s chagrin). If things still go terribly, if I hate my new group and I hate training, then I guess I have my answer as to what I should do with all of this moving forward. I still feel like I have unfinished business with the Chicago Marathon (like finally running a time I want to run, for example), and I don’t think I’m ready to walk away from it with that hanging over my head. We’ll see what happens, I guess, but that’s the plan for the moment.

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4 thoughts on “What’s Next

  1. Haha, I have a friend who ran Chicago and 2002; she told me that back then, you could still register for the race in August! I know things have changed, but it’s a huge turn off for me that Chicago and other races make you register so early. I am going to run a marathon next fall, but I’m choosing a local one for a myriad of reasons, one being that I can wait until late spring to register when I’m actually sure I have the fitness base and the desire to commit to a marathon build-up.

    I have run a few really good marathons, and what helped me have that success was to emphasize marathon-specific work in my training instead of just a “get the miles in” approach. In addition to tempo runs at goal MP, I did fast-finish/progression long runs, and stacked my training runs so that my body got used to running on tired legs and pushing through cumulative fatigue (example: every week I did an easy-paced medium long run the day before my Sunday big long run). Incorporating this kind of work into your training will increase your odds of having a well-executed race. I’d argue that distance running is less about getting faster, and more about not slowing down.

    But my best advice for your next marathon is to maybe not put so much pressure on yourself to have an amazing race day. You said you enjoy marathon training, so just do it for that reason – enjoy the process of getting fit, and don’t worry so much about the outcome. A race is just one day, it doesn’t define you as a runner.

    • When I first became really aware of the Chicago Marathon in 2011, you still had way more time to register even then than you do today! The place where I interned at the time had connections to the race, and I remember it being A Big Deal that it sold out in under a month. Under a month! Then in 2012 it sold out in a week, and in 2013 under a day (kind of…the registration system crashed that year, and like 15,000 or so people had to get in via lottery rather than regular registration), and it’s just been lottery/guaranteed entries ever since then. I just think it’s so stupid that they do the lottery this early now. In 2015 and 2016, the lottery didn’t open until MARCH. Now it happens in October of the previous year 😡 New York waits until January to open its lottery. Obviously Chicago doesn’t have trouble filling its field, so I don’t see why on earth they have to open registration so freaking early, ESPECIALLY since they can’t even APPLY for their permit with the city until next year anyway, so it’s not like they need to have the field established before the end of the year so they can get in their application for a permit for next year or anything like that. I would love to know their rationale for forcing everyone to decide no later than like 10 months ahead of time whether or not they want to run next year.

      Anyway. I really appreciate your advice at the end of your comment and think that’s something I’m going to have to really make an effort to keep in mind next year. I spent the past five years so fixated on having a good race that I lost the forest for the trees, if you will. Training is definitely my favorite part of the process, so I think focusing on making enjoying training my goal rather than having a stellar race day as my goal could set me up for a lot more success, at least from a emotional satisfaction standpoint 🙂

  2. The issues with your running group sound like classic running group issues – feeling left out, not clicking with the new people, cliques coming and going, etc. It’s classic (and a lot of the reason I am not in a group anymore – I found “my” people, and didn’t want to deal with the drama of the other people) and mourning losing what the group used to be is totally normal. It sounds like so much of the training experience is tied in to the social part of it for you. I hope if you do decide to do Chicago, that you find a group you like!

    And to me, it sounds totally random that the group leaders told you to run with Emma and that she may have already had plans to run a certain pace with those other people that she is close with and had chatted with more than once or twice. It does show how disconnected the group is. It’s hard to have a huge tight knit group.

    • Yeah, there was definitely a ton of segmentation within the group. There was the in crowd clique I mentioned, but there were plenty of other cliques, too. I don’t think people set out to be intentionally malicious about it, but you know, you make your friends, you want to run with your friends, and soon enough you and your friends are a clique. There was the in crowd clique, the middle-of-the-pack clique, the back-of-the-pack clique… I think there’s an element of blissful ignorance to the whole situation from a leadership standpoint, too. Everyone loves our group leaders and is friendly to them, and they’re not taking the “social temperature,” if you will, of the group at all times – and why would they? They’re not there to force 30 adults to be friends with each other. They’re there to keep us on pace. So you kind of get this perfect storm where it seems like everyone’s super friendly–and like I said, it’s not like people are intentionally mean or malicious about it. No one’s going to gossip about you or punch you if you take their spot in line or whatever–but it’s just that they’re super friendly with THEIR friends, and inevitably people fall through the cracks. And I’m sure that happens in every large group, so who knows if it’ll be better if I go somewhere else next year or not. But I’m hoping that I’ll feel less “ownership” of a group that’s new to me and at the very least won’t be so offended by whatever cliquey-ness may arise.

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