Chunk It

I know this isn’t a newsflash, but really, a marathon is just a very long way to go. Even traveling 26.2 miles in a car is commitment, not just a scoot around the corner.   Motoring the distance on your own two feet is an exceptional challenge.

I once heard a colleague who was facing an enormous, nearly impossible programming task, mumble to himself “How to eat an elephant? Just one bite at a time.”  In other words, chunk up the obstacle into pieces you already know how to deal with.

I live in Freeport, ME and have friends who work the holiday season at the LL Bean store – where the register lines are exceptionally long and never, ever ending.  I asked a friend how she keeps from being discouraged trying to manage a line that never gets smaller, and she said, “I just never look at the line. I always look at the customer in front of me.”   She chunks it up into one-person-at-a-time.

When I’m facing hundreds of applications that need to be read, I chunk them to groups of 5 apps in between breaks.

This is relevant because the marathon training plan now calls for consistently heavy mileage on the weekend runs. Not just heavier compared to the week before, but full-on heavy.  Saturday runs range from 14-20 miles from now until race day.  The marathon is a long distance, but all of the training runs combined are especially long!  (I’m still hungry from the 16 miler that Janet and I did 9 days ago, never mind the miles in between then and yesterday’s hilly 13.)

I looked at the training schedule this morning to compare it to my travel schedule, trying to figure out how everything could fit. I noticed that there are no more “soft” 10 milers in the plan. It’s all out distance now.

In a way, the training plan has already chunked it up – it started out the training in small pieces, incrementally adding mileage to mid week runs and the long runs until I find myself, in mid-September, casually referring to 10 milers as “soft” runs. Sheesh.  So, chunking must work.  But looking ahead, the training chunks are bigger – it’s hard not to be overwhelmed by the thought of weekend mileage that gobbles up several hours of actual running time, never mind the time dedicated to icing, eating, and napping afterward.  And then the rest of my life – the things that I care about that also require my energy and attention.

Time to chunk the chunks.

In the last two weeks, Janet and I have had water stashed in 2 places along our long routes.  Two water stops chunks the run into 3 sections automatically.  Looking for landmarks that are meaningful – like a water view at mile 8, a pretty farm at mile 11-  two more chunks.  A stretch of flat terrain, another chunk. Getting through two sets of humbling hills. Two more chunks.  Those chunks might be uneven and disorderly, but they do break things up a bit.  (Also, if Janet takes a couple pit stops into the woods – there’s a couple more chunks of the run.)

There are  obvious, less clunky ways to chunk it up – like thinking of the overall mileage in sets of 3 or 4 miles (or whatever feels comfortable.)  Janet mentally chunks  30 minutes, which is good, because that amount of time seems doable, even when we’re whipped.  When I feel like stopping, I think in chunks of 1 mile, because I can endure anything for just 10 more minutes.

So, I know that I’m not the only one who thinks about breaking up the training tasks, and the actual race, into pieces.  There are some good articles out there about race prep that also talk about mentally preparing yourself for smaller distances as a method to string them together into a long, long distance. And people talk about the method out loud.  In the running store this afternoon (*returning* something rather than purchasing – a first!) – the sales guy asked how I’m doing facing the final 8 weeks of training and I said, “Ok, I think!  Finished a 16 miler – feels good to know I’ve run more than half the distance in one chunk.”  He replied, “Yeah. You gotta break it up.  A mile at a time.”  This is coming from a guy who can run a marathon in about 2.5 hrs, so he’s obviously figured out how to get it done. 🙂  And, there are some good articles out there about race prep that also talk about mentally dividing the challenge into pieces you can wrap your head and heart around.

This week, I’m traveling a bit and have to modify some of the runs suggested by my training schedule. (I’ll be in Toronto, Canada, by the way, if anyone has good 6-7 mile routes to recommend!)  But, I’m in a for a long run this weekend on Sunday, and I’ll have to do this one by myself (Janet has a conflict and will run her mileage before I get back from travel.)  I will be chunking all over town until I’ve met the required distance.  I’ll let you know how it goes!

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