Saturday, August 11, 2012

Road vs.Trail Marathon: It's a Mental Thing

Leading Ladies Logo

I am smack in the middle of my taper for a road marathon I am doing a week from Sunday, August 19th.  It is called Leading Ladies and is an all women's  marathon in Spearfish, S.D. If you have been following the blog, you may be saying, "So what's the big deal? Isn't this like marathon number five or something for you this year?" The answer is yes it is, but there is a big difference here. This is a road marathon.

To say that a road marathon and a trail marathon are alike because they are both running 26.2 is like saying that an ostrich and a hummingbird are alike because they are both birds.  The mentality and approach is completely different.

A road run is all about time. It is about goal times and pace per mile and hitting splits. This 
is especially true because the purpose of running this marathon for me is to get a BQ time (a qualifying time for the Boston Marathon).  This type of run requires focus, concentration, and continuous internal monitoring.  I often run my road marathons on courses in beautiful locations, such as the canyon I will be running down in South Dakota next weekend, or the similar canyons I have run down in Utah or in the desert of Arizona. However, unless I drive the course the day before, I won't notice much of it.  My focus has to be on the race itself and my splits. If I start thinking "Oh look, that is really pretty," the next thing I know, I have slowed down and slipped off the pace that must be maintained for that BQ time.  In addition, road running carries with it the chance of  "failure."  To not get the BQ time will be a "failure," because there is a clearly defined goal that must be met.

A trail run is about responding to the experience and working with the course. When running a trail marathon, time and pace are incidental in some ways. The terrain determines the pace per mile more than any self-imposed idea of what the pace "should" be. Of course, most trail runners have an idea of their overall goal pace, but there is no pressure to maintain even splits as one is hiking steep slopes, slogging through mud, or picking one's way through toe-snagging roots. Focus is required in many cases in a trail run, especially if the footing is technical, but it is an external focus, and there is often time also just to appreciate the beauty of the experience itself.  I will often take time in a trail run to appreciate the view. That is not to say that I am not competitive in a trail race or that I don't care about my time.  It is just that trail races are more often framed in terms of a "good race" or a "bad race," rather than in terms of success or failure.

Thus, given those two paradigms, perhaps you can see why I am having a case of pre-race jitters. I mean tapering is always bad enough, but the added pressure of a road marathon is something that I have not experienced for a while. Plus, I have not had a successful road marathon since 2005.  I attempted one last year but had a DNF because of a knee problem at 19 miles.  Granted, when I quit, I was on pace for a solid BQ time, but the road to Boston Marathon Heaven is paved with the hopes of runners who say "I was on BQ pace until mile..." 

Thankfully, what I hope will save me for this marathon (and keep me from becoming a complete mental wreck) is the trip itself.  What I didn't mention before is that I am not in this venture alone! I am taking three of my favorite "leading ladies" on this adventure with me: Leslie (my trusty partner in ridiculousness), Janet  (you might remember her from the Martian Marathon post ), and a new friend, Linda, who has already endeared herself to me by making me this most awesome pillow case for our racing/camping adventure. Mine is covered with runners! 

The Leading Ladies: Leslie, Linda, Janet, and me
Besides the marathon itself, I am attending a writing workshop the day before the race (the race director, Elaine Doll-Nunn, is a writer), and we are planning a side trip to Mt. Rushmore on the way up. Plus this will be Janet's first time "camping," and even though we are "camping" in camping cabins, that is sure to be an adventure as well.  The trip is 1150 miles, each way,  so  there will be many opportunities for ridiculousness.  We leave on Thursday.  I hope you will follow along...


  1. I am looking forward to this adventure. I'm sure the race scenery will be beautiful and my camera will be with me!!! I won't be worried about my time for the 1/ may pass me!!!

    I'm not a camper, either.......not since childhood. I married a man who likes his Holiday Inns!!!

  2. What, no tents??!!!!?? Have fun, the four of you. Good luck Lori!

  3. I hope that you all have a wonderful time! Can't wait to hear about it!

  4. I am looking forward to this and all the ridiculousness we get into! We are going to have a great time :-D!

  5. I'm so looking forward to this adventure, camping cabins and all! I'll feel like I am in a Holiday Inn compared to my usual tenting! My biggest challenge might be climbing into a top bunk! Lori, you've got this in the bag! We'll drive the route before or after so you can enjoy the scenery. I'm with Linda.......a photography adventure No time goals for me. I want to enjoy the route and take pictures of waterfalls! The RD said to not worry about the time limit, so I won't!


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