Let me preface this blog post with an important caveat – I am not an expert on marathon training. I am 15 weeks into training for my first marathon which simply qualifies me to talk about my experiences. If I finish this thing and ever decide to do another, it’ll be interesting to reread this and see if the experience remains similar for my next marathon. But I’m getting very ahead of myself there so let’s pause and get back to the job at hand.
The downs of marathon training
I like to start with bad news – it’s just how I do things. Prepare for the worst, hope for the best. So let’s start with the stuff I’m not enjoying. Some it I expected, some has been an unpleasant revelation but it’s all part of the experience…
- There is no down time for things to heal. Specifically at the moment, this refers to my blisters. They are just becoming blisters underneath blisters. None of them are life threatening or run stopping. They’re just annoying. I had one that took up the entire bottom of a toe after last weekend’s long run. Then I had to deal with it and run on it again a couple of days later. Same with chafing – there are bits that I think are probably permanently scarred now, despite the copious amounts of BodyGlide I use. Whatever.
- Post run highs are great but I also get a bizarre mix of high and exhaustion that isn’t quite so pleasant. This has only happened to me after the really long runs and manifests later that night as I’m trying to sleep. I am so tired I am sure I should fall asleep immediately but, instead, I lie in bed completely hyped. Body weary but brain and heart buzzing. It’s not until the following night that I can actually get the much craved sleep.
- Anxiety goes up. With less than 80 days to go until take off, I’m becoming paranoid about everything. Avoiding children with viruses (not easy when I’m a teacher). Worrying about tree roots on my favourite trails in case I trip. Religiously reading blogs about others completing the Dopey challenge to try to reassure myself that I can do it. Bleurgh. Just get me to the start line already!
- It takes over your life. I knew this in theory but, now that the kms are really ramping up, it’s really kicking in. And I’m aware that our marathon plan is much more limited than some. However all weekend activities need to be carefully measured against what mileage long run I’m completing and where I want to run that. Social invitations aren’t always compatible with pre-long run early nights.
- Everyone has an opinion about what you’re doing. And you’re doing it wrong. I’m possibly being unfair with this one as it hasn’t been ‘everyone’ but there have been some comments that have been delivered, wrapped up as ‘advice’. For example, your plan is too long/too short/not enough kilometres/too long a long run, etc. Why do a marathon? You should stick to half marathons. You should be eating better than that. Actually that last one is particularly annoying – the assumption that, just because I run, that I also embrace all other forms of healthy living. I eat a fairly balanced diet and, due to the whole ‘balanced’ thing, it also includes chocolate and cake. Unless you are a dietician and I have made an appointment, I don’t need your advice on what I eat. It currently works for me, hence why I eat it. If it stops working for me, I’ll deal with that then. The fact that you think marathon runners should be eating lettuce leaves, blueberries and <insert latest fad superfood here> is just peachy but I’ll stick to what works for my body, ok?
The ups of marathon training
So why do I do this? Oh yes, there are certainly some ‘up’ bits and I’m pleased to say, so far, they definitely more than make up for the list above…
- I feel strong. As my distances have grown, my speed has decreased but I have never felt stronger. Physically and mentally. I feel like I can do anything. Pushing aside the doubts that come at the start of the long run, by the time I’ve finished, I could take on the world! I ran 24km! Seriously!
- Running and post-run highs. This is the flip side of one of the points above. Somewhere about 4km into a run, the endorphins start flowing and everything in the world is beautiful. Passing people on the trail who smile and say hello makes me happy. Someone passing and saying ‘go you’ may even induce happy tears. Trees, flowers, cows, ocean, birds – all of it makes me grin maniacally. And the huge smile when I’m done is all encompassing – not just on my face but like my whole being is smiling. I might be walking funny and make a face at stairs but I am blissfully, smugly, ridiculously happy. Euphoric even.
- Anxiety goes down. Yes – this is completely against what I said up the top but, while I’m paranoid about individual incidents, my general mood has never been more zen. My training plan is set so I’m not dependent on my mood to run – I just have to do it anyway. And regularly. So, in many ways, it’s keeping my mental health in check. It clearly is exactly the right dose of ‘medication’ for my needs and I’m very, very thankful for that.
- You find fabulous places to run. I can’t do long runs on the same old paths – I need variety to keep me interested on those long, lonely kms. So I spend quite a bit of time mapping out potential routes as the distances stretch out. I spend long enough doing neighbourhood runs during the week – weekends are for exploring.
- You learn a lot about yourself. As most of my training runs are done solo, that’s a lot of hours of alone, thinking time. Once I’ve overcome the first few kilometres which always consist of ‘How do I run again?’ and ‘How do I breathe?’, that still leaves ample time to ponder. And lots of ‘digging deep’ is required. But I now know I can. I know that I can push through painful parts, talk myself out of self doubt and complete things I start. Even when they’re hard.
As I said, I’m only part way through this journey but, at this point, am feeling very lucky to be on it and wouldn’t change it for anything.