Sunday, May 10, 2009

The third one's the charm

That's the old saying. If so, what about the second? Now, I don't know what you associate with that, I'm thinking of the most challenging event there is for a runner who's not in the ultra category: the king of the distance, the marathon - what else.

As a newbie who successfully completed his marathon debut in Dubai in late January, I was asking myself: What's next? When is the next one going to be? The marathon was a painful experience for sure, painful in the sense that I had to fight against myself to keep going during the last 10k. It was not some sort of strong physical pain that I was going through but my mind signaled quite convincingly that it was high time to stop by broadcasting the feeling of fatigue. While it was hard, I knew all along that Dubai certainly wasn't going to be my last one - no surprises there - I even registered for Berlin 2009 while I was still in the UAE. That's a different story though...

I wanted my next challenge to happen as rapidly as possible. I finally had the proof that a marathon was not out of reach for me. The Linz Marathon in May turned out to be a good opportunity for a follow-up, the next mission to complete. Soon enough to satisfy my desire to go again, yet plenty of weeks away to allow for improving my running shape. The gun will go off on May 17, in around one week. I've been in training for quite some time now, mileage already exceeded that of my debut - 567k vs. 416k. Things are looking good, but I still find myself asking what to expect from marathon #2. As you go beyond that, #3, #10, #20, things are most likely getting easier... Not the marathon in itself, but the journey. You know you can handle the distance, you have more "data" to optimize your preparation and your race day performance. You can learn from experience. What about #2, where you only have a single event to derive experience from?

The second certainly has the potential to get you back on earth, set your goals straight. After #1, I was full of confidence, ready to go for a PR in the next race. 3:45. No question. 3:30. Sure. 3:15. Hey, why the hell not! Could that confirm my hypothesis right there? My claim that the second might actually be considerably more difficult than the first one, even though you don't have to race through the same road of darkness again? You might think you know it all as you've done it once before and could therefore be tempted to set a very, ridiculously unrealistic goal. In most cases, training should take care of that by having you fail in test races or hard and long workouts, giving you a chance to adjust your goals for the actual race. I actually lowered my expectations from an unrealistic 3:15 to a sane 3:29 after having completed my 10k and 21k test races in a time that's in line with the new target. Looking back, that's an excellent improvement already that should translate to a high level of confidence for Sunday. Still, some degree of uncertainty remains that I find very discomforting...

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