How to Train for a Marathon

I tell people that I am training for a marathon and the response is “I could never do that”. For the record, I have also uttered those words and here I am getting ready for my 6th marathon and my 3rd Boston. Never say never.

I am about 10 weeks out from race day and would like to share the wisdom I have gathered over the last few years.

How to Train for a Marathon (11 easy steps!):

1. Let yourself go a little bit insane.

Seriously, it’s easier if you don’t care about your sanity. 3 hours of running on a Sunday? Totally normal. Start saying “just” in front of every distance you run. “Just 20 this weekend”. “Just an easy 8 miles this morning”. “Just a half marathon”.

2. Obsessively check the weather.

Mostly so you can dress yourself. Also, in case you need a backup career.
If it is a rest day, it will probably be perfect running weather.
On a long run day, the wind will be blowing in your face whichever way you are facing, so checking the weather is pointless. Running in the wind is good for your character.

3. Eat all most of the food.

There is an overwhelming amount of information on what you should and shouldn’t eat, when to eat it, and so on. I’m not going to give you more.

Eat food that makes you feel good. Eat enough of it. Marathon training is a convenient excuse to indulge every now and then. Word to the wise – you can actually gain weight marathon training, so perhaps not every pizza needs to be a personal pizza.

4. Buy “fat shoes”.

Ideally in black, so they match everything. Your feet will thank me. Trust me, there will come a day when your feet don’t fit in normal shoes. You will have a new sense of sympathy for pregnant women. I like Sanuk shoes… they are made out of recycled yoga mats and stretch to fit nicely.Image result for stair chair

5. Move into a house with no stairs.

Those things are awful.

Or find yourself a chair lift.

 

 

6. Invest in body glide/aquaphor/your anti-chafing drug of choice.

Apply liberally and often. It’s like sunscreen… you think you have everything covered, and then you find out that your back muscles can get chafed by your sports bra. Surprise!

7. Be prepared to cry a lot.

Because breaking out of your comfort zone and doing something big does not only challenge you physically.Because you are hungry and tired and overwhelmed. Because your feet hurt and you need a nap. You will probably revert to a 3-year-old version of yourself. Your significant other will be thrilled.

9. Buy good shoes and socks. 

This is not negotiable. Unless you like your joints to hurt and you want a bunch of blisters. Go to a running store and get some quality gear. Trust me.

8. Wake up earlier than you want to most days of the week, work harder than you want to, and repeat for 12-20 weeks. 

I’m not going to pretend to be the most motivated person you know. I’m just dedicated. I’ve committed myself to doing this slightly ridiculous thing and I know how bad it hurts if you don’t train. I built a habit. I get up, I run, and that’s just what I do. It’s so much easier if you don’t have to think about it. You just accept it and go. Some days feel great, some days suck a lot, and some days are a little bit of both.

9. Break things into manageable chunks.

It’s not a 12 miler, it’s just two 10Ks. Or a warmup 5k, a 10k, and a cooldown 5k. My last 18 mile run was just three sets of 6 miles. An hour of running is really just 4 sets of 15 minutes. I’ve gotten myself through a lot of awful things this way. Runs, nasty Crossfit workouts, lectures that never seemed to end, long car trips, you name it. Break it down into smaller pieces and tackle the “mini-goal” at hand.

10. Find at least one person who doesn’t think you are insane.

Talk to them often. Let them remind you that you are actually doing a cool thing. Remind yourself that you are actually doing a cool thing.

11. Don’t quit.

Even if you really, really, really, really want to. The finish line is worth it. I have felt completely exhausted and completely invincible at the same time – it’s an amazing experience. And you can ride that glory train for the rest of your life.

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Things you learn when you start running

I have only been running for the last 5 years. Prior to that, I only ran if I absolutely had to. Sports practices, mainly. And I was definitely one of the slow ones. I still am one of the slow ones, but now I can run that slow for hours. My forte is a moderate pace for a long time. I’m sure I could get faster if I worked at it… but I don’t like it.

Anyway, I have spent a lot of time on the road in the last 5 years and I have learned a lot about exercise and myself and training and the cities I’ve lived in. I’ve learned important things and trivial things and everything in between.

And then there are things that you only learn when you are a runner:

1. Your own clothing can make you bleed. Seriously, chafing is a nightmare. If you have never heard of BodyGlide, I strongly suggest you look into it.

2. Toenails are overrated. But the people at my nail salon are awesome. I currently have an acrylic toenail to replace one that fell off. It looks real, my feet look slightly less horrible, and I think it is absolutely hilarious to have an acrylic toenail.

3. Some foods and exercise don’t mix. Some people can eat whatever they want before/while they run and it is totally fine. I am not one of those people. I’ll spare you the details.

4. The location of gas stations within a 10 mile radius. And parks with nice bathrooms.

5. Exactly one mile from your house in every direction.

6. Exact distances between arbitrary landmarks. “Hey, it’s only 2.7 miles from here to [insert random location here]!” “This intersection means I’m only 1.35 miles from home!” 

7. You also learn how many people actually have no idea how far a marathon is. I cringe every time someone asks me how long my marathon is. Well, you know, marathon distance. Or when people tell me their sister ran a 5K marathon. With her unicorn, because that exists too.

8.  You learn that you do, in fact, have a favorite flavor of gel. Montana Huckleberry for this girl.

9. How many muscles you use when you walk down the stairs. Because all of them hurt after a race. Especially when that race is a downhill marathon.

10. Weird things you do when you run – according to my latest race photos, my right thumb likes to stay in a “thumbs-up” position. I also like to think about food (imagine that!). For a long time, I only felt comfortable holding my water bottle in my left hand. My ipod always gets clipped to my left hip.

11. More than you ever wanted to know about your training partners – how happy or unhappy they are at 6:30 am, their bathroom habits, and their chafing problems, among others.
On the other hand, some of the best conversations I have had were on the run. I have rarely found better listeners than my running partners.

12. That you will have to learn to evade small (and large) animals. Cats, dogs, snakes, geese, prairie dogs, turkeys… normal things.

 

What totally random things have you learned on the road?

 

Joy

For the longest time, I thought that joy would be found in my “goal weight”. In a size 4 pair of jeans. In being “the hot friend”.

It never occurred to me that my joy would come with calloused hands and calloused feet, with missing toenails, bruises, scars, blood, sweat, and tears.

I never thought joy would be found on a rainy road in the middle of Boston.

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I never thought joy would look like pulling a lot of weight off the floor.

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I never thought joy would be the product of early mornings, two-a-days, long runs, and workouts that crushed my soul.

But these things continue to bring me joy. Maybe not in that exact moment, but they bring joy to my life as a whole. I have found that I am happiest out on the roads or in the gym. I continue to surprise myself with what I am capable of. I mentioned in my last post that I don’t always like doing these things, but I keep coming back because they help me feel like my best self.

I have fallen in love with my own strength. The more I train and the more I feel like an athlete, the less I care about what size my jeans are. Plus the fact that I lift means that they won’t fit right anyway. The more I learn who I am, the less power the scale has over my happiness.

I know my strength and that enables me to act confidently and to be bold, because I know what I can do. I know what I can endure. I am able to trust myself and take chances because I know that I can surprise myself.

I hope you find the same. I hope you find something that brings you joy. Something that makes you feel strong and powerful and bold. If not, keep looking. It might be in the most unexpected of places. But you’ll find it.

 

The Biggest Fitness Myths

I think there are 2 big myths when it comes to fitness.

1. Fitness is fun all of the time.

That is completely false. If you are having fun 100% of the time, you are probably not working hard enough to challenge yourself. Sometimes it really sucks. It hurts. It makes you want to throw up and cry at the same time.

If you try to avoid the hard work, your goals will always stay out of reach.

I love running. But I also hate it. It hurts and some days I don’t want to go do it and sometimes I sit on the side of the road and cry. But I always come back to it. Because there are moments where it makes me feel so alive and strong. Because it makes me feel limitless. Because I love being a runner and I love what running has done for my life. I don’t always like running, but I keep coming back to it because I love it.

2. Fitness is awful all of the time.

If you genuinely hate what you are doing, do something else!!! Seriously! There are so many ways to get in shape; I’m willing to bet that you can find one that makes you happy at least some of the time.

If you hate your gym time, it is so easy to make excuses to not make it happen. Suddenly you are really tired, and there’s this other thing that I’m sure you are supposed to do and I’m sure you’ll go tomorrow. Or you will come up with another excuse because you would rather do anything else.

So try something else! Try a couple group fitness classes. Get off the treadmill and run outside. Pick up some weights. Do Zumba. Experiment. You will probably find something that makes you feel alive and strong and you won’t always like it, but you will love it. And you will keep coming back to it. Because fitness is supposed to be fun.

At least most of the time.

Boston

I’m finally here! This trip is already off to a better start than last year. I made it to the expo to grab my bib before things got totally insane, the weather is nice, things are good.

My plane was full of people ecstatic to go run Boston. It was the coolest. I love the energy and the excitement that surrounds this event.

I’m still super nervous.

I’m staring at this year and last year in Training Peaks to reassure myself that I am, in fact, faster. My mileage was sufficient.

This is my 5th marathon and my 2nd Boston. I’m still in awe of how far 26.2 miles is… I am going to cover that on foot. 3 hours is a long time to run. A lot of things can happen. I felt so good last year though… really relaxed through the first 14 miles. And I am in better shape this year than I was last year, so I do have high hopes for a sub 3:25 finish.

I went for a short shakeout run today. It kind of felt like crap. It felt like crap last year and I ran a great race. It usually feels like crap and I am just fine the next day. I forget that.

I met up with an old friend of mine today. He reminded me that the mind always wants to find a reason to quit. He has run a number of marathons and said that before every race, everything hurts and he is dying. I’m paraphrasing slightly. But the mind always tries to find a reason to quit. There is a tiny voice in our head – the voice of doubt, the voice of worry, the voice that wants to avoid discomfort – and we have to shut that voice up.

Last year, I felt honored just to be here. Getting to Boston, running this marathon, being a part of something so big, was reward in itself. It symbolized how far I have come. I don’t know why this year is any different.

Tomorrow will be a celebration of how far I have come. I will run to show myself not how good of a runner I am, but what I am capable of.

Here’s to my best Boston.

 

 

Eating an elephant. And other delicious things.

Last year at this time I was “only taking research credits/working on my thesis” and I had a grand notion that I would, in fact, have time to actually work on my thesis. In hind sight, I’m sure I did, but the deadline was far enough away to make it feel like I “had plenty of time”.

I defended in December of last year – later than I wanted to, but probably the best I could have hoped for given the circumstances. The idea of writing a thesis seems simple – you do some research and you write about it. Kind of like running a marathon. You go out and you train and then you run for a really long time. But as you get into those things, you realize that they are a lot more involved than they appear on the surface.

No one told me I would read 400+ journal articles or actually cry into my laptop. No one told me I would have to buy “fat shoes” that I could wear when my feet get super swollen or that I would cry on the side of the road or that you can get chafing so bad that you bleed. There are a lot of things that no one told me before I started either of these endeavors… but perhaps it’s best that we don’t fully understand what we are getting ourselves into.

The process can be so overwhelming. Terrifying even.

I have to run a marathon.

I have to write a thesis.

Those are big. They seem bigger than I can handle. I don’t know how I am going to pull these off. I lose perspective.

Perspective says, “I don’t have to run a marathon tomorrow. I just have to do my training run for that day. I don’t have to run 26 miles… just 6 or 8 or 10 or whatever my plan calls for.”

Perspective says, “I don’t have to have my thesis done by next week. I just need to write the next paragraph. Read the next article.”

Perspective says do the next right thing. Not even a big thing. The next thing. What is the next thing you can do to get closer to where you want to be? It can be simple. I’m going to wake up tomorrow and go for a run. Maybe your goal is weight loss – the next thing you can do is wake up tomorrow and eat a healthy breakfast. Go walk for 10 minutes.

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Just take the next bite.

And if elephants do not sound delicious, here are the recipes that I am making over and over because I’m too tired to be more creative! Enjoy!

Balsamic Rosemary Steak Kabobs

Ginger Marinated Bulgogi Style Chicken

 

 

The Training Hangover

I have decided that tapering after a nasty month of training is like waking up from a long night of drinking. I feel more tired and beat up than I did in training. I’m incredibly emotional, I’m hungry, and I think my body is realizing what I just did to it for the last weeks. I forget that tapering is not actually this magical, restorative time – more like an awful hangover combined with nerves and a lot of extra energy from not running as much.

I hate love the marathon because it asks for a full commitment. You cannot half-assedly train for a marathon and expect good results. The marathon asks for all of you. It is so incredibly uncomfortable and it sucks a lot but at the end of the day, you stand in awe of what you are capable of, how far you have come, your perseverance. Quite frankly, you feel like a badass – like you got into a fight with a grizzly bear and won. Your body also feels like you got into a fight with a grizzly bear. That goes away eventually. The glory lasts forever.

Every time I train for a marathon, I go to what I think is my limit. Physically, mentally, emotionally. I think I have gone as far as I can. And then I still have about 4 weeks of training left. And I have to tap into the reserves I didn’t know I had. The little bits of strength I can scrape together. I learn a lot about grit and heart and perseverance. When you are 7 miles from home, you don’t have many options but to keep pressing on. One more step. One more mile.

The marathon asks for your mornings, your Saturday nights so you can rest for your long run, your Sunday mornings, your Sunday afternoons spent recovering. It asks for your time, your energy. I think my legs have been constantly sore since January and I have shoes that won’t fit again until May.

I had a fleeting moment where I felt strong this morning. Standing at a stoplight, waiting for the light to change – the sun was rising, I could see the steam rising off me, the air was cool and I felt strong. For a brief moment. It was glorious. Alas, the light changed and I was back to trying to move my concrete legs through air that felt thick as molasses.

But it was in that moment that I caught a glimpse of who I have become. What this process has shaped me into. And that was enough to keep my moving. Sometimes that’s all you need – just a little glimpse. Just a little bit of faith in who you are, a little belief in the strong legs that have carried you so many miles. A little trust that you will rise to the challenge at hand.

Press on.

“You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”
Maya Angelou