What Marathon Training Taught Me

Hi Friends!

I have done it. I finished my first marathon…


…almost three months ago…

Since then, I’ve (ahem) already signed up for the second marathon (The Portland Marathon – yeah… the full), and am currently making contingency plans for possibly doing a third (most likely in March of 2015… maybe Tobacco Road?? Maybe Shamrock??). No… no 50 states goal for the fulls. No… no Ultras. No… no Marathon Maniac. But I as I have said in other posts, I actually *like* the training involved for a full distance and I would like to qualify for the Boston Marathon. So, in the short term, I’m chasing a BQ and working in my 50-states Half Marathon goal as training runs for the BQ training. For now, at least.

If anything, though, I am humble about my training. Running has taught me a lot – patience, gratitude for my health and ability, humility about my ability (especially when trying other sports), so I’ve learned how to pay attention to lessons I’m being taught with running. Needless to say, training your body to run for twenty-six (I spelled that out for effect…. ) friggin miles will teach you a lot physically and mentally. I am glad I decided to train for my first one for over a year, and I’m grateful I had the patience to pay attention to the process so I could learn something. I got more than I bargained for because I learned a lot more than I expected. Some things I expected, some I did not…

  • First thing I learned – and I was pleasantly surprised by it – is that I *liked* the training for the marathon. Loved it, in fact. Maybe because I was getting stronger and faster – or maybe because I was following a plan that was far more organized than I had followed in a couple of years. Regardless, I enjoyed most of the runs and I did the best I could not to skip them. There were runs I looked forward to (speed intervals – ironically, the 800s – which used to be my nemesis) and runs I dreaded (the slow 5 – what?). Runs that made me nervous (gah – the 22 miler) but I did well with, and runs that, for whatever reason *still* freak me out (looking at you, 18 miles). I hope this training session I can overcome the 18 miler issue.
  • My body changed, but not in the way one would expect. *I* expected this, partially because I’ve always said that running didn’t do to my body what I wish it would. My legs got bigger (especially my quads and my calves) but everything got tighter. The unexpected (and very graciously accepted) part were my arms and shoulders. I had stopped swimming during my marathon training because I didn’t want to over train, so I was thinking I’d lose that, but not only did I keep it, it somehow got better because I am still getting compliments about that. Must be the planks – haha.
  • I was not ready for a marathon before last year. You may recall me referring to “runner maturity” – this is what I mean. When I started a few years ago, I was like a caged dog set free for the first time – into everything in sight and rowdy as hell. I signed up for a 5k or 10k races *every month* and I ran almost every day, never taking a break until I got worn too thin and had to take a break… then I’d take too long of a break, undoing all my hard work, and scratching and clawing my way back to where I was, only to wear myself out again. It was a vicious cycle. Thankfully, more experienced runners intervened and I learned how to train properly (and, hopefully, I can impart some of the wisdom bestowed on me to other newer runners). Once I learned how to train correctly, though, I started to realize that I was not cut out for the marathon and ultra-marathon distances. At least, not yet. I got comfortable with the 13.1 distance first before making that leap, and I’m glad I did. Now, I feel a lot more disciplined about following my plans – and I understand the cost of “quitting” so I rarely do. I follow the plan (for the most part) as written, and I take rest days seriously, as I understand their purpose better now (by the way: they actually do work). I take the advice to make “hard days harder and easy days easier” and I stretch every morning when I get out of bed to make sure my legs are not in a position of injury. This is all new since July of 2013 and is now an established habit that I feel good about and hope to maintain.
  • There are a lot more people crazy enough to run 18+ miles with me than I thought. I think this one surprised me the most. Granted, I found a number of people training for the same race because most locals wanted to get in on the first year of this race in the same vein as me, but, even before that, I found people training for their first marathon that wasn’t the same as mine and willing (wanting) a running companion for 3 and a half hours. I was surprised at the number of people I was able to find to accompany me for those distances. I only had to do 1 long by myself, and I chose to do it (the last 22 miler before the marathon) because I wanted to make sure I could do it alone since, well, the result of the marathon would be mine alone, anyway.
  • I did not sleep better on long run days – this discovery was a rather disappointing one. It used to be – when training for half marathons – I would pass OUT the night of a long run and sleep deeply, so I thought. However… I discovered an app on my phone that tracks the quality of sleep and, to my surprise, the days I ran more than 13 miles, my sleep quality went DOWN. How can that be? According to that app, I didn’t usually have a good night of sleep until about 2 days later. So, that meant I was tired and grumpy for 2 days after my longer runs. By the time I got around to the second training plan, I was aware of this situation and could give fair warning about it. Little surprise to me, however, was that I slept like a champ the nights of my speed workouts. My sleep quality was usually very high on those nights (usually Wednesdays). It could be a combination of the leftover fatigue from the Saturday longs and the speed, or just that speed work just wore my ass out. Either way, I always looked forward to Wednesday nights and typically fell asleep pretty quickly (for me).
  • I hate, hate, hate treadmill running. Let me first qualify this by saying: I could not have been able to complete the training plan without access to a treadmill (I have one in my house, I have access to two in my office building and I attend a gym where they boast always having a free one so there is never an excuse for missing a run other than injury or illness). There were days when that was my only option and, because I had a hard time finding a track around here, the treadmill was my only option for adequate speed work. Having said that… when training for half marathons, I learned how to be OK with running on a treadmill for 5 or 6 or even 7 miles. I would always say “it is better than nothing!” I still believe that, but God, how I hate running on that thing. I procured an older iPad so I could stream movies while I was running – and that helped – but spending more than an hour on it flat out sucks. There were days I loathed it and stopped and started making what would have been a 1 hour run outside take more than 3 hours inside. I finished the runs, but I was grumpy about it and they were logged in my mind as “crappy runs”. Lately, any of those runs on the treadmill typically are much faster than they should be for this very reason. Ultimately, maybe, that means I’ll get faster outside too? haha. We’ll see…
  • My hatred of the treadmill and the anxiety about the 18 mile runs taught me mental toughness that I sorely needed. That is truer than probably anything else on this list. While there were plenty of runs where I wasn’t into it or I really didn’t want to go out into the cold (there were a couple of runs where it was in the single digits and windy…) so I had plenty of opportunities for mental toughness training, but… the treadmill and the 18 miler training runs were top of the list. If I can get a 10, 12, or 14 mile run done on a treadmill, I might actually be able to finish the marathon. I could usually over come it by talking myself into these runs, recognizing that my stall tactics were delaying the inevitable, and providing myself with the reward of a giant coffee at the end usually helped…  and reminding myself I usually felt better after the run was finished and never regretted finishing, even if it did suck. I still have work to do on this one, though.
  • OhMyGodSoFrigginHungry – I’ve never been so hungry in all my life as I was when I went through the training plan the first time. I guess by the time I got through it the second time, I was used to the extra caloric burn, so I didn’t feel as hungry, but wow – I was *not* prepared for how hungry I felt the first round. I ate everything – and a lot of it. I ate more than usual the second time around, too, but not as much as I did the first time I went through the plan – especially the first couple of weeks. Ironically, I didn’t gain weight the way I expected to by eating that much – it was mostly muscle. Also, I craved weird stuff like olives (well, I love olives, but wow), pineapple, veggies and orange sherbet (???) I magically didn’t want certain foods I used to eat frequently (but probably should not have) like cheese and had to force myself to occasionally eat yogurt (which I love).
  • I figured out how to deal with hills. Admittedly, I was bad at running hills, which is unfortunate, because they are all around me. I did it wrong to begin: I’d power up and rest going down – thus, all the folks I passed going up would kick my butt going down and, ironically, I didn’t have the energy once I we got on flat ground again to pass them. I had to treat hills like speed intervals: you power up AND down, and use the peaks, valleys and flats for your rest… and focus on making the rests shorter. Once I took that approach – and conditioned myself to that point – I was able to pass folks on the way up, stay ahead on the way down, and leave them behind on the flat. This approach really paid off in the Hatfield-McCoy Blackberry Mountain Course Half Marathon and I could really see how much progress I’ve made during my recent trail run for the Week 2 of Portland Marathon training. I still want to work on hills, though, and I’m hoping to incorporate more hill work this time around – either by selecting hillier routes (that’s right – looking at you, Umstead) or trading in a few speed work for hill repeats.
  • Socks really do matter – just like shoes – if you have the right socks, it can make a world of difference when you are pounding on your feet for four hours at a time. I finally gave in and invested in some good socks (the Thorlo Experia are my choice now) and it has made a difference – a lot fewer blisters. Though… and I’m not sure if it my gait or the shoes, but I get weird blisters on the tops of my toes now – even with the Thorolos – so I’ll have to start taping those for the longs.
  • Shoes don’t last me as long as they used to. I know this seems obvious, but… the cycle goes by a LOT faster than I expected – or maybe I pay closer attention now and don’t let them get too far because I’m worried about injury. I used to only have to rotate two or three pair. I’m now rotating six. Yes. SIX pair. In fact, just broke in #5 last week, and will be breaking in #6 this week. Why? because it is amazing how quickly those miles add up on a pair of shoes when you’re logging 8-11 miles during the middle of the week . It is the end of June and I broke in a pair of shoes during my taper week for Raleigh R&R and another two weeks after my marathon. I’ve been rotating both of those shoes and the older of the two is almost out of commission with a whopping 200 miles on them already. The other pair is pushing 100. I *do not* want to be in the position I was in during training for Raleigh R&R where I had to break in shoes during taper. I ended up with a toe sprain or something like that and I don’t want that again. I have already decided which shoe I want to be my marathon shoe (the 2nd pair of Brooks) and am planning to reserve those for my longest runs only, keeping the older Brooks and all the ASICS shoes for other runs. Crossing my fingers that this isn’t a dumb plan.
  • Music is no longer required for my training runs. I love music and play it constantly around the house and in my car, so this one surprised me. It was my crutch. I thought, at one point, that I could never, ever bear a run without it. However… I’ve become accustomed to running without music during races – in fact, all races I’ve done in the last eight months have been music-less! A couple because I couldn’t, most because I shouldn’t, and a couple because I was running with someone. But, it is becoming less of a requirement for the training runs, too. Don’t get me wrong, I still listen to music during some of them – and some type of entertainment is required for the treadmill still, but outside, I tend to tune the music out and, in a lot of cases, forget to turn it on at all lately. I never listen to music when I run with someone – even if we don’t talk – but I’m finding that I’m even phasing it out when I run alone, which surprises me as a person who constantly plays music in my house and car even when running isn’t a factor.
  • I don’t mind GU and/or Gatorade, but it doesn’t work for me as well as I had hoped. I can definitely feel it when it kicks in – and when I’ve used it all – and that cycle is shorter than I expected or would like. I’m looking into other nutrition and drink options for Portland to even this out a bit. A lot of runner friends from my gym run club swear by Generation UCan, so I’m going to give that a try. They boast a “super starch” that should minimize stomach and GI issues as well as provide a more constant energy level than the spikes of GU/Gatorade and similar products. Given my sensitive stomach, I’m willing to try something that says it’ll minimize the GI issues – stay tuned for how that works for me – I’ll be trying it for the first time on July 5th’s 11 mile run.

I’m sure there are more things I will learn this time around, so I’m likely to amend or create a new list after Portland!


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