Breaking news! And don’t forget, you heard it here first:
Training for a marathon is hard.
I know right…crazy talk! I mean seriously, who knew? Alright, not so much new news, whatsoever…in fact this is probably the most simplistic, fact-of-the-matter truth about training for 26.2 miles of running. Even people who have never even thought about running a mile know that there is nothing easy about marathon training, and actually they probably know better than the rest of us. Once you do bridge the gap, though, between beginning to run and training for the big kahuna, you are humbled and forced to recognize the hard-truth about how difficult all those miles, hours, stretching, icing, repeat actually are.
Something I’ve realized toward the end of this training cycle, other than how truly hard it is, is that I think after competing in multiple races and getting better acquainted with the training process—I tend to forget about the grunt work involved.
Going into this training session, I certainly didn’t think it was going to be easy, but I definitely had bit more confidence than when I trained for my first marathon (rightfully so I suppose). I am so used to hard workouts, long runs, and putting in the leg work so-to-speak that I sort of assumed that training is just a way of life for me. Truthfully, I enjoy training. I love the satisfaction of a hard workout, and I love the thought that I’m working toward a very tangible goal. In other words, training really works for me, for the way I like to live each day, which is why I think I may have been a bit overzealous and overconfident when coming into this second marathon training cycle.
I still enjoy it, I know I’ll be back again fairly soon after I’m done with Tacoma, but I’m realizing in these last few weeks just how brutally and unforgiving-ly hard training for a marathon really is. And perhaps more so, I’m realizing that it’s actually not the running itself that’s so hard.
Sure, the running is the source of all the fatigue and daily number crunching, but I think for me the hardest part of marathon training is the life that surrounds all the running. Obviously, these thoughts have been present at this point in time because I’m nearly three weeks away from race day—however I do feel like have some new insight into the overarching toll that marathon training really takes.
With that said, I thought I’d present you with what I believe are the hardest parts of training, aside from speed work and tempo drills. I know today’s supposed to be Friday Favorites, but this topic just seems too relevant and current to look over. Also, Marathon Monday is next week in Boston, and racing season is in full swing all over the country, therefore marathon talk is inevitable. Favorites will have to wait…perhaps there will be a Weekend Wonders or a Monday Marvels instead?
Moving on, I give you the RunBirdieRun Trials of Marathon Training: Everything Except the Running.
One of the biggest challenges with having such a strict number of miles to reach weekly is there isn’t much room to have, well, any other plans besides running. Specifically with long runs, the planning both before and after essentially takes up a whole weekend. Although this isn’t entirely too inconvenient, it leaves very little room for spontaneous nights out, an extra beer, or going away for the weekend. Sure, sometimes time sacrifices need to be made—I would never give away my life for the sake of marathon training—but that doesn’t mean my social life isn’t hindered when long runs take up three hours every Sunday. And going away for a weekend? I always get stressed about getting in a long run, and although it normally works out somehow it’s annoying to be bugged out by a run when you’re supposed to be enjoying some vacation time.
I mention this in Tuesday’s post, but marathon training is incredibly taxing on general energy levels. Typically I’m someone who’s pretty upbeat and energized by nature, and I also don’t need much sleep to function at a high level. But with marathon training? It doesn’t feel like I can get enough sleep. I sleep really hard every night, which is a good thing, but I can’t ever really seem to feel really, totally rested. By 2 pm everyday I feel like I’m in a haze and need to take a nap (btw, thanks Nuun for helping alleviate this!). Don’t get me wrong, there’s no more satisfying sleepy feeling than the kind that comes after a long run, but it makes—once again—”real life” a bit more challenging.
Now, I think we all know that I would almost always choose running over every other activity. Read: the name of my blog. But, there are days when I would much rather go to a sweaty spin class, go swimming, or you know—just do nothing. While I normally do look forward to my running designated days, there’s less variation and options available during marathon training in terms of a workout routine. I definitely believe in cross training, but I also believe that the most effective way to become a better runner is to run. This goes along with marathon training as well; you run a marathon, therefore the way you are going to get better is to run more. With that said, this leaves little room for error in terms of following a workout/mileage routine.
One of the fun parts about marathon training is the increased food consumption, or at least—I think it is. There’s something really cool about feeling the need for fuel in your body and listening to different cravings. It’s pretty amazing what your body communicates to you when it’s running 50 miles a week. And while I love the extra cookies and pieces of bread, there’s a lot more strategy required to eating than I think most non-marathoners would assume. The basic understanding that you can eat whatever you want, and as much as you want, while training may be true for some people, especially ultra runners, but I have to practice a lot more forethought and planning when it comes to marathon training meals. This is partially due to the fact that I have UC, and digestive issues are a daily battle, but it’s also because I’ve learned that there are things that work and definitely do not work as pre-run or post-run fuel. With that said, meal planning doesn’t come as simply as it does when I’m not marathon training, specifically around long runs.
The Running Accessories (Icing, Stretching, Foam Rolling, Hydrating, etc.)
It is no secret that running is one of the toughest activities on your body. As a runner, your body requires a lot of extra TLC in order to prevent injury and keep your progression smooth and steady. Now, differing opinions aside, we can assume that in order to be safe, stretching, foam rolling, icing, and excessive hydrating/refueling is necessary. It’s not a magic formula, but for the most part you can rest assured that your running will appreciate all of these “accessories.” But the fact of the matter is that all these things take a lot of time, and frankly—sometimes you just don’t want to do them. I can’t tell you how many times I have a checklist going through my head of all the things I need to do both pre- and post run, and it gets exhausting. I’m definitely thankful for my efforts to get them all done, but it’s a lot to keep track of and there are many times when I just rather wouldn’t put a piece of ice on my bare skin three times a day.
The Mental Toughness
Or perhaps I should say, lack thereof. Anyone who has trained for a race, no matter the distance, has experienced a wane and surge in their self confidence regarding their physical shape. There are some days where I can run seemingly forever and feel great about my condition and my prep for race day. Then there are other days when completing just a few miles at a very slow pace feels like hell, and I question how I ever could finish a marathon. Our brain and the effect it has on us is perhaps the biggest hurdle we face when training for a race, specifically a marathon. As runners, we know that running is almost equal parts physical and mental. A run can go two very different ways, all depending on how we approach it mentally. Our brain plays a very active role in our running life even when we’re not running as well, and this is why even weeks before taper begins and race nerves set in—we can through countless emotions and tribulations over the loftiness of our goals.
One of my absolute favorite mantras that was told to my basketball team while running suicides by our coach is, “The body is a lot more powerful than the mind gives it credit for.” I repeat this to myself whenever I’m feeling completely defeated, both while I’m running and when I’m not, as I think it is one of the most absolute truths about athletics, specifically running. Fighting our mental battles, in my opinion, is the absolute hardest part about marathon training—and as the races draw closer and the pesky voices of uncertainty starts to drown out our confidence, our 20 mile runs start to seem like the easiest part of the process.
So, aside from making marathon training sound like an excruciatingly tolling endeavor, what is my point to all this? Well, I have a few points, the first being that it’s important to remember the all-encompassing nature of marathon training. I will be the first person to encourage anyone who wants to take on a marathon. In fact, I’ll be standing at the finish line with your name painted on my stomach and a pom pom shaking in your sweaty face. But, I do think it’s important to remember that marathon training is so much more than just running X amount of miles per week.
I believe that running starts to become the easy part—it’s simple, you know how to do it, and when it’s done, it’s done. It’s all these extra, “bonus!” factors that come from the running that we deal with all the time—and they are what ultimately I think marathon runners should be most prepared for.
I admittedly forgot about these aspects of marathon training. I remembered the weekly big pasta dinners and the epically long weekend runs, and that’s about it. And this makes perfect sense, because I love both of these things. Our brains do this very helpful survival tactic of blocking out troubling or tough memories in favor of the things we would choose to remember instead. However, in the case of marathon training, it can slap you right in the face when you realize the tough stuff that comes along with all the endorphins and baguettes.
Despite it all, though, I think the most important point I would like to make is this:
At the end of it all—weeks, months, and hours of questioning your sanity—it’s all worth it.
If you’ve raced before, specifically a half or a full marathon, you know that there’s no better feeling than crossing a finish line. It leaves you with the most deliciously satisfied feeling in the world; a feeling of pure self-confidence with the goal you just achieved. There’s a reason why runners tear up when they read stories of others’ finish line victories; it’s because we know what it’s like, and there’s nothing else that compares.
And you know what? It feels so damn good because of how hard it is. All those things I listed about how hard marathon training is and how taxing it can be are a big part of why crossing a finish line and being given a medal is such a sense of accomplishment. It’s the best place on Earth, and I can guarantee that no matter how much pain, discouragement, and frustration you may have faced along the way, what you will remember more than anything is the simple fact that you did it.
So, if you’re considering signing up for a marathon (which is AWESOME!), consider all the factors that are going to go into it. It will be a humbling experience, and it’s anything but easy, but if you put in the work it will absolutely pay off in the end.
Happy Friday! Have a lovely weekend.
What do you think is the hardest part about marathon training? What advice would you give about training from your own experience?