You signed up for what? A common reaction when you share with people that you’ve signed up to run your first marathon. You’re excited, a little nervous, but most likely the event is so many months away that it hasn’t fully sunk in yet. That’s how I was when I signed up to run my first marathon, the Pittsburgh Marathon, in 2011. Just clicking “register” made me feel like such a bad ass. I was going to be one of “those” people, the few crazy enough to run that distance.
I didn’t know very many people that ran marathons and had no one to turn to for a training plan, hydration or fueling plans, or even anyone to tell me what to expect. I was flying blind on the simple desire to complete one. I downloaded the Runner’s World smart coach app, picked how many days a week I wanted to run, how many miles I wanted to max out at and hit “create plan”. It spit something out and I followed it. There was no speed work, no hill work, no easy days, I just ran. A lot.
6 marathons later, and training for my 7th, I’ve seen runners come and go. In other words many start the training, but not everyone finishes. I’m not going to say that running the marathon is the easy part, but it kind of is. The weeks leading up the marathon is where the true work lies. Here are some of my thoughts on what it takes mentally and physically to train for a marathon and the many, many road blocks along the way.
MARATHON TRAINING IS TIME CONSUMING:
The biggest reason people typically back out of training for a marathon is that it’s so damn time consuming. If you’ve trained for a half before, you know it takes time. Training for a full marathon is a totally different beast all together. Here is a typical mid training cycle week:
- Actual running: Let’s say I have a 45 mile week and I run those miles at around my average pace for the week – 9:15. The running alone will take 7 hours.
- Stretching and rolling: 10 – 15 minutes a day for 5 days – 1 hour 15 minutes
- Packing and unpacking my running bag 5 times a week – 1 hour a week
- Driving to and from running twice a week – about 4 hours.
Total time: 13 – to 14 hours a week TRAINING!
To manage my training time, I typically look at my running plan for the week and block the time I plan to set aside for running on my calendar. Then, I guard that time. Early mornings typically work best for me, but some days I’m running in between meetings at work, after work or in the evenings to get fit in what needs done. Some quick time tips that work for me:
- Always have your gym bag ready to go. I keep basics for running in there all the time and if I will be showering elsewhere, it’s just two additional toiletry bags to add.
- I gave up cooking every night. I am bad at preparing meals ahead of time on the weekends (cause I’m always running) but I will bring dinner home. Most grocery stores today carry pre-made, healthy options that are worlds better then ordering a pizza or stopping for any other fast food.
- Eliminate unnecessary tasks (like cleaning my house) LOL, just kidding, but not really. I’ve cut my expectations down on how clean things really NEED to be around my house and live with the new standards. I try to bulk errands together and/or do them on my way home from work to avoid having to go out again in the evenings.
- Share your schedule with your family so they know when to avoid social outings. Its not that big of a deal to go out the night before I have to run 10 miles but if I have a 20 mile run on the calendar, I typically alert my husband to the fact that I would rather NOT go out the evening before.
DISCIPLINE IS REQUIRED
I like to say that I love every run and can’t wait to get out there every day and kick butt, but the truth is, none of these runs are very glamorous. For winter training, it’s 4:30 alarms during the coldest, darkest months of the year. It sucks getting out of bed, it’s the last thing I want to do most days. Then the weekends come and sleeping in is a distant memory. It’s up to run some ridiculous amount of miles that takes hours to complete. They say getting out the door is the hardest part, for me it’s just getting out of bed. If this is something you really want to accomplish, give yourself some time to get into a routine. The first few weeks may shock the system, no matter when you’re running, but after a while, running and training will just be something you DO
I’ve been training almost year round for 2.5 years now and honestly, it really has become habit.
IT TAKES TIME TO SEE PROGRESS.
The training cycle is called a cycle for a reason. If you’ve picked a good plan, and hopefully you did, you have a variety of runs that each serve a purpose. My most important runs are my speed sessions, marathon pace runs and long runs. The other two days are filler miles. Experts say it takes 7 days to see the benefit of a good workout. I can’t say if that’s true or not but what I can say is that one day things just start to click. This may happen several times during the 16 week cycle, but it does happen. If you’re struggling (and I know way too much about that), give it time. Stay the course and you’ll start to feel better, stronger and more confident.
YOU WILL EAT LIKE A LOT OF FOOD!
Honestly, I remember feeling this way when I first started training for marathons, but I don’t notice it so much anymore. Either my appetite has just balanced out or eating a ton of food is just normal now. One critical thing to remember is just because you’re burning a lot of calories, doesn’t mean you can start putting a bunch of junk in your mouth. Make the calories quality calories. The better you eat, the better your body will process the food and perform. Stick to whole foods, lean proteins and keep your overall sugar intake to a minimum.
YOU WILL GET CRANKY
Yes, it’s true, I get cranky. For no other reason than I’m just really tired. All these miles start to wear you down. Packing and unpacking, piles of dirty running clothes, eating, stretching, rolling, ahhhhhh! Over and over every day. It gets to be one wild ride let me tell you. So, try to be patient with others – they don’t understand your journey.
I’m making it sound brutal. It’s not all roses and rainbows that’s for sure. So why do I keep doing it over and over? I do it because there are so many rewards that outweigh the difficulties:
- An overwhelming sense of accomplishment and satisfaction
- Working towards a goal makes me feel ambitious
- I’ve built a fitness habit that should last a lifetime
- This practiced self discipline has been applied to other areas in my life
- The running friends and network I’ve created is priceless
- A time and a medal that says I accomplished something that many people won’t even attempt is mine forever.
So, congratulations on becoming one of the few who take the plunge and work towards a marathon finish. The journey is long and tough, but so worth it in the end.
Good luck, marathons are addictive!