So at 57 years old, I am chasing the Unicorn. It was an innocent statement I made to my now coach, “I am tired of these old ladies beating me, but maybe I will be able to qualify for Boston by the time I am 60.” And it started from there. My coach saw a potential in me and offered to train me to qualify. I had already registered for the Anthem Richmond Marathon in Richmond Virginia, as my first marathon in November 2016. This conversation took place in July 2015, so there was time to train properly. The first training cycle, I was trying to be the perfect athlete and follow all instructions. I finished the race in just 15 minutes outside of my qualifying time of 4:10. From what I am told my first marathon was a success, 4:25:22. I thought it was a success simply because I finished. But I didn’t catch the unicorn, (insert sad face here.) So on to the next race…goal crusher. One race doesn’t stop the show; this is only the beginning of my journey. You know all the cliches one would use to boost the confidence. But the race has to be in Virginia I said, emotional ties there, let me do Yuengling Shamrock. Yes it’s in March, yes it’s not a lot of recovery time from Richmond, yes, I really want to do it. My coach gave in. (Note to self: Always listen to your coach. They really are wise). So here are a few thoughts from some of my long runs during this winter training. (BTW- I won’t ever pick a March “A” race again).
January 23rd – So the brain is really the boss behind our actions. If you start out with an uncomfortable experience the brain is the first to tell you “stop.” If you continue that action long enough, you can do the following. 1. Train the brain to shut up. 2. Delay the “stop”. (however, stop will eventually come). Have you ever experienced the feeling in the first mile or two of running, that you really don’t want to do this? As soon as I start to feel that way, I tell my brain to shut up. Once I say this (yes, sometimes out loud), I start to focus on my kinetic chain. Starting with my foot strike, ankle-hip alignment, elbows back, wrists forward, shoulders down away from my ears, looking to the horizon, not down. And I lose the “Stop” thought. All it clearly takes is distraction from the evil stop thought.
January 29th – That moment when you realize that “this is the training part.” The thought usually comes at an uncomfortable time in the run, when I am starting to feel crappy. I look down at my watch and notice that although my perceived effort is high, my pace is much slower than I expected. That is when I have to push myself. It truly is a mental effort. I have read that researches say it is 80%-90% of how we perform. When I think about the run ahead of me, I try to focus on the destination, not to think I am running 18 miles, but I am running to the George Washington Bridge. While I am on the road and I want to stop, I recognize the training part moment, I tell myself in about 7-10 days my body is going to reap the benefits of this effort. Run, Rest, Recover, Repeat.
January 30th – Knowing your limits. I have read in several sources that it’s ok to run through the pain. But only if the pain is not altering your gait. Well what if the pain just “threatens” to become serious? For example, you are out running and your calf muscle feels a pull. Do you stop running? (noooo I have to get back to my car 5 miles away). Well I took this as a signal to alter my gait, first I stop to stretch, then when I resume running I try longer strides. What comes to my mind is what I have read about eccentric-concentric muscle movements, every action has a reaction, lengthen and contract. It’s important to focus on this as part of your form, not focusing can lead to an injury that will alter your gait and stop you in your tracks. So know your limits, learn to listen to your body.
February 6th – Focus on your form. Does form ever become natural? I know there are a lot of variables, but today I noticed that all I had to do was remember the form. You learn a lot about form when watching other runners, the ones you admire. I realized that adopting someone else’s form can be beneficial. What I noticed was when I am fatigued and the brain wants me to stop, if I shift the controls in the brain to focus on my form from the foot strike up to the neck and head position, also controlling the breathing, the mental switch alone helps to improve the physical position. Then I can move better of course and the efficiency of the running improves. The ending thought always turns into, “When will I be able to do this without thinking about it?
February 8th – 11:00pm – Sometimes it takes a lifetime for something to click. I have always heard the expression, burning candles at both ends. I mean I got the gist of the expression, but not until just this evening did I fully get it. As I am cleaning up before going to bed, I am telling myself ok you have to go to bed, you were up early and you can’t burn the candle at both ends. So it’s either get up early and tend to my housekeeping tasks before a run or stay up late and do stuff. I actually have to tell myself, ok its 11:00, “quitting time.” Rest is so important to the training journey. It’s not only about the time you spend on the pavement, but it’s also about what do you do during the rest of the day. Are you preparing for the being out on the pavement? Meb is one of my icons, in one of his training videos he talks about how “John Wooden once said, ‘It’s not what you do in two hours of training, it’s what you do in the other 22 hours that count.’” Meb says, “There’s always something you can do; small details add up to be big.” But, I still recognize I cannot burn the candle at both ends. So I stretch, roll and go to bed at midnight. Ugh!
May 2nd – Did I catch the unicorn yet? Nope, still trying. The Shamrock marathon turned out to be not my dream race after all. Yes it was flat, but unfortunately there was a Nor’easter on the day of the race and we ran through rain and 50mph winds. The boardwalk which I looked forward to running, was one of the worst parts. My running partner and I actually stopped in our hotel for a bathroom/coffee break, took about 20 minutes deciding if we should go back on the course. This was about mile 12,5, we did go back out and had a fun run with a first time marathoner. Very rewarding experience, so it wasn’t about me that day, which is way cool. So since I had all this training stored up, I did one more marathon, the New Jersey Marathon in May. Nope didn’t catch the unicorn there either. Rained that day too and did catch some cramps but that’s a story for another day. Not to worry, there is more time for more races. One of my favorite Meb quotes is “I run to win, but winning doesn’t always mean getting first place. It means getting the best of yourself in each race.” And so far I have done just that, so all is good.
Alethia Mongerie (Aka Mekela)
Alethia Mongerie, 57, has been running all her life. She started racing in 2011. Her first race was a 5k for Cancer Care, where she won 1st place in her age group. It was a good start to her racing efforts, so she continued. She works as an application developer for a law firm, and relishes the times when she can get up and move. She is currently an Ambassador for Black Girls Run Central New Jersey, and a Bondi Band Ambassador, Mekela4Angels (code to use. I recently received my certification as a RRCA Coach and I am looking forward to helping others in the running journey.