What Would Another Mother Runner Do?: Megan the Marathoner

Megan, definitely not flat, enjoying the Pittsburgh Marathon in 2011.
Megan, definitely not flat, enjoying the Pittsburgh Marathon in 2011.

This email sailed into our inbox a few weeks ago, and Megan, a mother runner with five kids under the age of 11, agreed to let us throw it out to the masses of wise and helpful mother runners in the next installment of WWAMRD: What Would Another Mother Runner Do?

Here's her situation:

I started running later in life, mid-30's. I was single at the time and got hooked. I then ran six marathons, (Pittsburgh 4x, New York, Boston) between 1996 and 2000. I had my first baby in 2001 and my last in 2009. No marathons during that time, but I did do steady, short distance running along with instructing exercise classes.

In 2011, when my baby was two years old, I decided to try a marathon again. I was excited and pumped, just like the old days. I wrote up my training schedule and fixed my special meals and got to bed early and drank a ton of water. I ran the Pittsburgh Marathon for the 5th time, and it went well. Because I was so much older than when I started running, I actually qualified for Boston. Of course I had to run that, because it would most likely be my last chance.

The following year I did the training all over again and ran Boston 2012. Boston was very hot last year, and I finished, but it wasn't pretty. I threw up my GU right in front of a group of spectators, and the whole crowd groaned. But that isn't the point.

The point is that I have signed up for the 2013 Pittsburgh Marathon, which is on May 5. But I am mentally FLAT. I can't get excited, I don't want to drink a bunch of water, I don't want to go to bed early and get up at 6 a.m. to run. I didn't even start training really until 10 weeks out. I'm not sure I can even get enough miles in in time to run the thing.

What is wrong with me? This was my passion, my love. I could talk about running forever, and read running blogs and surf running websites for hours on end. I WANT to love it again, be excited again. But even when I'm out on a beautiful day running, I'm thinking about being done. What should I do?

Should she hang in there and do 26.2 on May 5 or chill out and forgo another 'thon?

Dimity says: I would definitely just let Pittsburgh pass me by. Marathon training, not to mention going 26.2 miles on race day, can be so draining, both mentally and physically, that I really feel you've got to want it--or at least 70% of your body and mind has to cooperate. Instead of trying to drink from a dry marathon well, I'd train to go fast in a 5K; sign up for a triathlon; or just chill and not be on a training plan for a few months. I'm confident you have plenty of marathons left in you if you want them, but that's the key: You've got to want them.

Sarah says: I don't believe it, but Dimity and I are in agreement on this one! (If you listen to our latest podcast, you know we're often yin and yang when it comes to matters of racing and training.) Marathon training is a different beast than shorter races--as is the race itself. It's not something you can phone in. If I were Megan, I'd find a new running buddy--or reconnect with a former one--and enjoy running with her. If that gal is training for a race, maybe join her for some long runs, but have her set the pace, route, length, the whole shebang. Megan will stay somewhat race-ready...and maybe some of the friend's enthusiasm will remind Megan of the zest she used to feel.

What would you do if you were Megan? Plow on through or call it quits?

If you've got a WWAMRD dilemma for us, email us at runmother [at] gmail [dot] com, and we'll do our best to solve it for you.

And if you need more WWAMRD, check out the collection. Great way to procrastinate.

47 responses to “What Would Another Mother Runner Do?: Megan the Marathoner

  1. I agree with Amber – switch to the half. And remember, it’s good that you have this dilemma. I wish I was able to train for a ‘thon, but it’s not happenin’.
    Good luck with your choice!
    Deb Dellapena

  2. I definitely think Dimity and SBS are right … and this sounds like a case of the “burn outs”. When you aren’t finding the joy of it anymore, then it is time to change things up. I think we all have a different threshold of the mental challenges of running and bottom line – we have to keep ourselves in the “enjoyment” category. For some that IS running many marathons over and over. For others it means doing one a year and then having fun races the rest of the time. For others it just means running for exercise and getting out of the racing crazies. I agree in that 26.2 is a “beast” to train for and if you aren’t mentally on board, it will not make you happy. There will be plenty more races to do!

  3. Hi Megan!!!
    Be gentle on yourself on this one. Let it go and be peaceful about it. Why risk losing the love or worse injury?!
    Take care!
    Lisa Stoeckle

  4. What do you do when you feel this way at mile 18? You reset and finish. Reset your goals and finish. Run with slower friend; try a run/walk or decide to run your smartest race ever. Unless you are injured don’t quit because it can become habitual. There is something exciting about finishing what you started when you cannot do it the way you did it before.

  5. This post is timely, thank you for sharing. I too am signed up for a marathon on May 5, but have been struggling with training motivation. Mine is mostly because my husband is supposed to run it with me, but he’s spent the last six weeks injured with an Achilles issue. A couple weeks ago I mapped out a last ditch effort training plan, switched up my routes and am going to make a judgment call at the end of the month. Having also done a few marathons (and super hot Chicago), I’ve been looking forward to the beach course at this one in Newport, CA and its on my birthday! But, I’ve also had moments like you describe in the past and I eventually realized I missed running. But it took not having it to understand that, and sometimes that took a few months and volunteering at races instead of running them. Hang in there, trust your heart and your instinct.

  6. I think you’ve proven just about everything someone needs to prove “on paper.” Boston twice?? Nothing to prove to anyone… Except one thing: prove to yourself now that you don’t HAVE to do it. Sometimes we A-types need that one reminder, or it starts to feel like a trap you can’t get out of. There are lots of sports out there you can discover, just like you did running… Try something new! I bet you’ll miss your old sport eventually, too.

  7. If you can switch to the half or a 10k, do it. There is no point making yourself feel terrible if your heart’s not in it. Running is a choice to have fun. If it’s not fun, why do it? 🙂

  8. Can you move to the half? Is there a half! it is such a fun race, maybe the shorter distance with all the excitement of race day will inspire you and remind you why you love it!

  9. I would stick with it! Run while out of shape, uninterested and then get injured. Then comes the best part: beat yourself up for doing something stupid. Yep. That’s what I’d do. Please don’t do what I would do…

  10. I’m training for the Pittsburgh Marathon right now! It really does take a lot of enthusiasm to train for a marathon. I say skip it. I’ve gone through times when I’ve gotten burnt out with running or lifting. The best thing to do is to take some time off, which is SCARY! You wonder what if I never want to go back?! It sounds like you are a true athlete. So you are going to want to go back! It might not be the marathon. You may find a new passion in the process. Good luck!

  11. I agree with the ladies. If your heart and head aren’t in it, then your body won’t either. It sounds like you need a break. I would skip this one too.

  12. Dump it, Megan. It’s not worth all the time and effort if you’re not feeling the love. And I speak from experience. After six marathons I felt I needed to pull back and run a neighborhood 15k. Didn’t feel like it; didn’t get excited; and I hated the training even for that distance. End result – a terrible time, felt awful at the finish, and it took me over six months to get my mojo back. There will be other races. Don’t sacrifice your love of running for this one.

  13. i really appreciate the advice to sit back – so often i dig myself a hole when i really need to take a break and instead force myself to keep training – not the good kind of ‘you can do it!’ force but the ‘you suck if you don’t do this’ force. and then i just get crankier.

  14. If a regular “run around the block” with a buddy is fine with you then don’t train for a race specifically, just run naked (without a Garmin, plan or goals) and just “train for life” (being able to get up in the morning to play legos, color, answer endless questions from kids and pack lunch boxes. Maybe even find time to try a new hobby that has nothing to do with exercising your body. Go exercise your mind for a while with another type of class or challenge. THEN come back to running later and try again.

  15. I’m a PGH runner too! Ran North Park so many times last year for a fall full, that I haven’t been back to the park since, I OD’d on it! The gloomy, cold, dark weather does NOT help right now either. Take the pressure off and switch to the half. Once the weather clears up you’ll get back into it! Also try joining a running group. I just joined Steel City Road Runners, their group runs are awesome, and track nights are even fun motivators! Fleet Feet and Mojo also have groups. Trail running is a fun change for a break too! Good luck!

  16. First, thanks for representing Pittsburgh! I am so proud of all our awesome Mother Runners!!! I agree with alot if he thoughts already posted; I wouldn’t push for the full. I think the training involved would just make you resent the event even more. I love the pacing group idea for the half, and I love taking some time off to find the “love” of running again. I am struggling with my training right now for the Pgh half, but I’m hoping once (hopefully!) soon his cranky weather changes, And the energy ramps up in the city surrounding the marathon it will help rekindle that love of running! Have you thought about running for a charity, maybe as a mentor or a coach? Team in Training or Team Challenge both have great programs in the ‘burgh? Good luck !!!

  17. I’m such a cheapskate, if I paid for the race, I’d run it. However I totally get being flat, been there. Why don’t you run it at a comfortable pace and really enjoy the day, other runners, and crowd. I know there is more to your passion for running than your time. Then take a break, open the door to new ideas and possibilities, see what fills the space.

  18. Sometimes we runners get the idea that “pushing through when it does not feel good” is one of our strengths. We learn, especially with exercise, that we NEED to get out there and push through the resistance. But as much as pushing-through will work sometimes, if we push-through on something that CLEARLY started with a gut-feeling of “no, not this, not now” then we are likely in for disaster. The hard part is allowing that gut feeling of “no” to actually register with us when our outer-mind is committed to pushing-through on something that has been previously successful for us. The decision to train for and run a marathon is a long-term lifestyle decision. And in all long-term lifestyle decisions, allowing inner wisdom to have a voice in the choice is always the smart answer. I say to Megan: Don’t push the river on this one. Trust your gut and you will likely look back on this time and see the reason why.

  19. I’d take a week off. Completely. And if you still want to take a more relaxed approach to running, do it and drop down or DNS. However, I think these lulls are completely normal especially in long training cycles. I nearly dropped out of my first 26.2 a dozen times but never could because, deep down, I knew I wanted it. And because I wanted it, I was willing to slug through the hottest summer in recent history.

  20. I would switch to the half if it is an option.

    Also, your life has CHANGED since you were so into running before. Kids will suck the life right out of you (mostly in a good way) so you should stick with doing things you enjoy. If you think of it as work it won’t be fun and it won’t recharge your batteries. Find another hobby for awhile and come back to running in a few months. Or stick with the mid-distance events until you get your mojo back.

  21. I ran Pittsburgh last year, too. I am a back of the pack sort of marathoner so it was really hot when I finally finished. UGH! Would have been perfect Boston training, I think. I keep looking at Megan’s picture trying to picture where on the route it was taken.

    Anyway, I would drop down to the half for Pittsburgh. There are limited switches available and I do know that the race just announced this (I’m registered for the half this year). Maybe you have a bad taste (bad pun) – figuratively – in your mouth from Boston. Try a mid-distance.

    Also, do you live near PGH – having run it so many times? And for those who think she may be burned out on the race, realize it is different now than it was pre-2009. The race actually didn’t run for four or five years. Since starting back up, it has changed each year due to finishing line being in the baseball field and a game being there or other things.

    1. Nicki,
      this picture was taken on 5th Ave, about 50 yards down the street past Central Catholic Highschool. It is exactly the 1/2 way mark of the marathon, 13.1 miles. Up ahead, we would make a left onto South Aiken and then a quick right onto Walnut Street for that great section of the marathon through Shadyside. In this picture I had just passed my family, who were standing on the corner. I would not see them again until mile 22 in Bloomfield. I do live in Pittsburgh, 20 minutes north of the city. I believe Pittsburgh is one of the best marathons out there.

  22. Honestly, I would probably do the marathon then live to regret it. My biggest fear is a DNF, so I know it’s coming, but my older wiser self would say, let it go. It’s just a run. It will always be there. Wait until the fire returns.

  23. I think the triathlon is a good idea, or maybe try a different sport for a little while. It’s ok to back off running if it’s not giving you a boost anymore. Good luck!

  24. Am thinking you may be burn out on PA and not necessarily the marathon, you’ve been there done that and am sure you are thinking you need to beat your best time or BQ again.
    Since you are not fully train, you can run it for fun since you’ve paid for it, go out with the 5hr pace group and encourage the runners, drop to the half or just go for broke and see how far before you hit the wall and have fun trying to break it down.
    Life is too short to worry about being flat, you need to re-evaluate why you run, since I know it can’t be easy with 5kids and do realize the kids will at some point use this against you, at least I know mine will. Good luck

  25. I would let it pass. I’m training for my first marathon and the training (I feel) is probably going to be tougher than the race itself. I’m tired! I’m ready to race! Well, run because I don’t race. LOL

  26. Megan, you are the WOMAN! Multiple marathons and multiple BQs with 5 kids. As a masters runner myself, last year I decided my fastest times may be behind me and I signed up to pay it forward to others as an official marathon pacer. I took the training seriously and practiced my designated pace as diligently as I had trained for prior pr’s (out practicing with a chrono and garmin side by side). It gave me a whole new motivation. I paced in October and realized the reward of helping others achieve their goal. That finish was the most incredible feeling when I hugged a 21 yr old college senior (feeling like her mother) who ran right next to me the entire race and told her how proud I was. Then she cried and made me feel like I had such a huge impact on getting her to the finish – hands down the most rewarding volunteer experience of my life. I say scratch this one and find your new motivation.

    Another suggestion is triathlon – definitely gives you some variation in your workouts. And it might just make you fall in love with running all over again since you won’t be doing it as often. I also met a new fabulous group of BRFs at a duathlon 2 years ago and here I am busting my butt for a new marathon pr/BQ with them.

  27. I don’t think bailing straight away is the right thing to do. First off, you’ll be out bucks (I think you can still switch to the half). Second, you have to figure out the “why” in this one. If it’s just a lack of motivation and it’s temporary, keep going. If it’s bigger, then by all means skip it if you can do so with no regrets. Maybe you’re burned out from all the sucky weather here in western PA? I know that can seriously affect my attitude towards running.

    Sometimes the best way to rekindle your passion for something is to teach it to someone else. I’m in that area if you’re looking for someone to encourage…The Pittsburgh Half will be my first. And (aside from the fact that I read Train Like A Mother) I’m pretty clueless.

  28. I ran my 4th (and probably last) half-marathon in the fall. I felt just the way Megan is feeling now during the training. Only one of my long runs felt good; I had trouble getting the training in because of kid and work stuff. I got to the race dreading it and really felt no joy (very different from my previous half marathons; even when I was 6 monts pregnant I felt the joy!). I was counting down the miles until it was over!

    So I am definitely in agreement with Dimity and Sarah. If you don’t feel it, you will be miserable from start to finish!

  29. I just went through this problem this weekend! I always thought it was weakness to not run a race just because “you really don’t feel like it”; but I now see it as the opposite. The strength to stand up and say you need a break is much harder than trekking on. I was supposed to run a marathon this past weekend. A race I had run 6 years in a row, but I was dreading it this year. Everything felt hard and no fun. It didn’t help that my husband and son have been sick all week long; so I decided that my life clearly was telling me to forgo and it is amazing how my body felt after I made that decision! It was like a mental and physical weight left me and on Sunday I went out for a easy fun run in homage to the race that was but I wasn’t part of and ENJOYED it. And I realize that is what will get me to my next race; but down time with enjoying running is what is in my books for now.

  30. I agree with Dimity and Sarah – give this race a pass and just chill for a while. Maybe find another shorter race that piques your interest (a mud run, or a color run to do with the kids?) Maybe even a different sporting activity – there are usually many bike rides for charitable causes in the spring and if it’s not actually a race, the pressure to perform is gone. If you miss the element of competition, maybe challenge yourself to see how much money you can raise!

  31. Skip Pittsburgh and just chill out for a while. Run short or not at all until you feel like it again. I ran NYC for 3 years in a row (which was big for me), but this year I’m sitting it out. Training last year was draining mentally and I just knew I needed time off.

    I’m running short races, have found some new running buddies and have run several times with my 8 year old daughter. Changing it up has made me feel like running again and I love that feeling.

    Try not to pressure yourself. You have nothing to prove!

  32. For me personally, this is a situation that makes MOTHER runners different from a runner with no family obligations. If she were a single gal with no one relying on her and few time constraints, I’d say go for it, but carving time out for training for a marathon is HARD with my 2 kids – I’m sure it’s hard as heck with five. Because of the time and energey required to train for a marathon, I’d say do it when you are feeling your mojo is back.

  33. I would skip the Marathon. Without enough proper training & rest, and not being mentally ready…you are setting yourself up for an injury. So, do the 1/2 Marathon that day. It would be better than bagging the entire race. I have done the Pittsburgh Marathon 2x & the half numerous times. It is fun & may mentally recharge you to plan better for the next successful FUll Marathon in your near future! I would love to do the Full again, but right now with 2 kids under 6 & a full time job, I am not mentally ready yet either. Dont try to do it all, just do what you do well ;).

  34. I am a firm believer if you signed up, suck it up and run. It’s not always pretty, but it is a testament to your mental strength. Envision it as your last hurrah with the only expectation to finish. Almost as a farewell to the Pittsburgh Marathon that has served you well so many times. Then take a break from running, or do shorter distances to remind you what you loved about it. Reading other women’s stories of how they cannot run from injury can help inspire you to be grateful that you can run. Good luck whatever you decide. Please send a follow up to AMR?

  35. I’ve never done a marathon and don’t plan to, but I have “skipped” a 1/2 because I just “didn’t feel it”. The day of that race I was miserable, wishing I was there… however in hind-site it was the best decision under the circumstances I was in. If you are already signed up (i.e. $$), I’m sure that makes the decision even more difficult, but for me that sign up is my encouragement for the commitment. But listen to your body. If it needs a break, take it.

  36. I agree with Dimity and Sarah. Find something that changes your training and gives you a slightly different challenge. I live in Pittsburgh and there are a few sprint tris locally, and I’ve recently found a network of trail runners and ultra marathoners and since I’ve started exploring our region’s trails with them, my attitude about running has changed a lot. I’ve found a new challenge and each long run has me out there meeting new people, exploring new places, and finding out more about what I can do. I’ve also recently tried crossfit and can’t say enough about how much I love that challenge. I think it’s that excitement to find a new angle that keeps my training from feeling like a grind!

    Good luck!!!

  37. Megan, I was in your shoes about a month ago. I was training for my 2nd marathon, R&R New Orleans. The whole training, I felt like my mind wasn’t there. (I had spent sooo much time & enegy preparing my mind last marathon.) They only reason I didn’t back down to the half was that I had so much time in training invested in the race. I not only finished the race, but cut 24 minutes off of my time from last marathon, and had a much better recovery than my first!!!
    I always dedicate a race to someone, I ran one for each of my four children. This one was for my 87 year old mother. She always says, “I didn’t feel like doing (this or that), but I did it.” I know now this was the perfect race for her, because that’s exactly how I felt!
    If you made it through most of the training, show up on race day and you may surprise yourself at what you can accomplish!

  38. Take a break,definitely! I had a similar situation with the Marine Corps…my heart just wasn’t in it..I deferred that year and ran it the next when I was psyched and set a PR. You’ll get you marathon LOVE back

  39. If you run it and it doesn’t go well and you’re heart is not in it, the race will be awful and you’ll be in the.worst.mood.ever. For days!! Let it go and wait until you are pumped up for it.

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