Does the thought of running a virtual marathon, or any race, solo fill you with excitement or dread, or perhaps a bit of both? If you do, that’s understandable, but I do think it is worth trying, at least once! Below are some lessons and tips from my solo virtual marathon race, plus benefits and recommendations for when you decide to take one on (I think you should!).
My 14th marathon – Grandma’s Marathon, was to take place on June 20th, but was understandably cancelled due to COVID-19. Fortunately, the folks at Grandma’s now have a virtual race, and I ran the 26.2 miles solo yesterday, on Mother’s Day morning. I had both excitement and some apprehension about running it solo, but was keen on putting my physical and mental strength to the test.
First off, I did underestimate the mental toll of running a marathon completely alone. I’ve run many marathons without friends, but running it alone with no crowd support was a different matter altogether! In retrospect, I don’t regret it, I’m glad I ran it, and here’s why:
- It’s yet another cog in the wheel to build mental strength. If we don’t put ourselves in challenging situations, we don’t grow, nor realize our full potential.
- When I am able to run a marathon again (with other runners), I can draw from this experience.
- Complete self-reliance for fueling, aid, support, and race strategy. No cheering crowds, no other runners to compete against, just myself.
- The skill of knowing WHEN to salt, drink, take a gel, etc. to prevent bonking and/or intestinal discomfort is a BIG component of running a race, especially the marathon. When there are no aid stations or friends to remind you, you more fully develop that skill.
- Pacing. Many of us often start our races too fast. There’s excitement, runners all around us, we feel the competition, and our race strategy suddenly flies out the window. I didn’t think that would be an issue yesterday, but surprisingly, it was.
My intent was to ease into my pace, and finish with a negative race split. Three miles in, and I was about 10 seconds faster than my goal pace. I knew I had to pull it back to sustain a manageable pace for the next 23 miles, and I did, eventually. Both halves’ times were essentially identical. Goes to show you that we still compete with ourselves and the clock even when no one is watching.
- Fight! Without distractions, it’s a bit easier to get in your own head. Be aware of it, and focus on the positives, your pacing, and strategy. For me (and I believe others), the last 10K is the toughest; it takes more effort to maintain the same pace given low glycogen stores, muscle fatigue, etc. Just knowing it takes more effort to maintain the same pace makes it easier to maintain your pace.
> Related Topic: Lessons Learned from a Challenging Marathon <
I’ve done a LOT of reading about running as I gear up for my 1:1 online coaching business. There’s understandably a lot of focus on the physical training: techniques, strategy, and methods. But, there’s also a fairly significant focus on the mental aspect, and rightly so, given its integral impact on running performance.
I drew on what I learned during my solo marathon. Depending on the mile, the mental focus varied, but some of the key thoughts/learnings helped me to keep moving forward, and (mostly) positive are below.
From Deena Kastor’s book, Let Your Mind Run, I thought of her ability to stay optimistic and positive when she was exhausted. She is an amazing competitor, and pushes herself physically in every race. Yet, this is a skill she learned, and she became a better runner, person, and competitor because of it.
From Matt Fitzgerald’s How Bad Do You Want It, Mastering the Psychology of Mind over Muscle, I drew on the lesson that our mind fatigues, and limits our physical ability. When we falter with our mental/internal thoughts, our running deteriorates. Meaning, we often “tap out” physically because of the thoughts racing through our head, and are capable of much more than we give ourselves credit.
From Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall, I thought of the Tamahumara tribe, who are among the best runners in the world. Coach Vigil (who also coached Deena Kastor) was intent on knowing what was different about this tribe. Why were they so fast with no special training, no equipment (sandals only), no coaches, no pre-hab/rehab, or any of the tools that other runners can access?
McDougall wrote about Vigil’s thoughts on the matter “the real secret of the Tarahumara: they’d never forgotten what it felt like to love running.” He (Vigil) felt that there’s a connection between the ability to love and the capacity to love running. “Both depended on loosening your grip on your own desires, putting aside what you wanted, and appreciating what you got, being patient and forgiving and undemanding.” As I ran yesterday, I would smile at times, and remind myself to appreciate my ability to run, to push myself, and that I was lucky to be healthy enough to run this distance.
Essentially, attitude trumps all. Of course, training for an event is a given. Putting in the time and effort is huge. But the right mindset must be part of the equation.
Outside of building your mental game, there’s lots of benefits to a virtual solo race, especially the marathon.
- Complete freedom on your course selection.
- You’re automatically in the fastest corral.
- No weaving through runners and crowds, thus adding to the distance you cover.
- Start the race when it’s convenient to you; and you pick the day, too.
- Parking is a breeze.
- Wear your earbuds without breaking race policy.
- Less expensive when considering race travel (airfare, car rental, hotel accommodations, etc.)!
- Whether a marathon or another distance, it gives your training purpose and motivation, and may even get you out of a “running rut.”
- Provides a virtual community with other runners, where you give and receive support.
- If your schedule doesn’t allow for race travel or you have a date conflict, the virtual option still gives an opportunity to participate.
- Rewards you for hard work and training with tangible proof – a bib, a medal, etc.
A few tips to make the most of your virtual solo race day:
- Bring everything you need to be self sufficient. Think it through carefully, and double check those items before you leave home (if not running from home).
- Plan a route where you can access a bathroom (or a secluded spot).
- Attempt to avoid routes that include stop lights, intersections, etc. if you have a time goal.
- Check out the weather. There’s no “charity drop” for throwaways on a virtual run.
- Think about post-race. Bring a cooler with a few items such as chocolate milk, a banana, extra water and even a sports drink.
- Wear a hydration vest. My vest had ample water storage, plus loads of pockets for nutrition, my phone, sunscreen, and BodyGlide.
- Friends at the finish – two dear friends were at the finish for me. That gave me something to look forward to as the miles got tough!