What a beast. Marathon training was so much more than I ever imagined. I mean that in the best way possible. It took more, it gave more, it surprised me more. It’s taken me awhile to process it all, actually. My race was in late May and I am just now feeling like I am recovered and can dissect it. I’m not sure if it makes much sense, but it’s kind of like any other big life event that you plan for—there is a ton of build up and preparation and thought, and then all of a sudden, the day is here, it’s happening, and before you know it, it’s over. Just like that. Although it’s taken me some time to kind of remove myself from all of that and really see it for what it was, I wanted to share my thoughts on training for and running a full marathon. I’ve broken down my top takeaways into three categories—here is the first.
The obvious first, shall we? Everyone knows that training for and running a marathon isn’t easy. Even though I enjoy running (gasp!) and have run a handful of half marathons, I never really identified myself as a runner (just want to be clear that anyone can do this. I still do not really feel like a “real” runner, whatever that is). However, the desire to run a full marathon has always sort of lingered under the surface, and this year, before I turned 25, I decided to go for it. I was as prepared as I could have possibly been for the mental struggle—it’s hard enough to wrap your head around how far 20+ miles actually is, let alone run it. I knew that part was going to be difficult and took a couple of steps to alleviate/distract myself from the distance.
- I saved my headphones/music for my weekly long runs only.
- I constantly mixed up my routes to keep things fresh.
- I ran a 20 mile race with some friends a couple of weeks before the actual marathon, which really helped me solidify my race day plan and eating habits.
Honestly I expected much more physical anguish during training than there was. Sure, I was tired, like, my whole body was absolutely exhausted, but I wasn’t super sore, which was a huge relief. I think there may have been a few hilly long runs that did my legs in a bit, but for the most part, with post-run stretching and intermittent (not consistent at all) yoga sessions, my body was okay. Post-marathon, however, I was absolutely beat. My legs were like stiff dead weights for days. I’m not sure why or how those extra 6 miles destroyed me, but they totally did. I think next time (oh man, I think there’s going to be a next time!) I will spend some more time post-race with the foam roller.
But despite the mental and physical fatigue, my biggest challenge throughout my training was eating. Eating while running, eating enough food, eating the right foods that wouldn’t be rejected mid-run. I have a feeling that this is one of those areas where everyone is extremely different, but here is my basic eating strategy while training.
- Track calories to ensure I was getting enough (I used an app called “LoseIt”). At the beginning, I really struggled with this—I was super fatigued during all of my runs (even the short ones) and couldn’t figure out why. Turns out, even though I wasn’t particularly hungry, I wasn’t getting nearly enough calories for the amount I was burning. I bumped up my intake of calorie rich foods like avocados and drank a protein smoothie every morning for breakfast and a protein shake after each long run.
- Consistency. I ate a lot of the same things over and over again because I knew that they worked. Protein smoothies for breakfast (Stronger Faster Healthier Vanilla Protein, kale, banana, almond milk and a handful of frozen blueberries), sandwiches and cut raw veggies for lunch, simple dinners. On my long run day I always ate peanut butter banana pancakes and drank half a cup of coffee. It helped so much to know that my body was properly fueled and prevented any stomach issues from surprising me mid-run. Post-run I would mix up a protein shake (My favorite was Zico Chocolate Coconut Water mixed with Stronger Faster Healthier Chocolate Recovery protein).
- Mid-run fuel. This took me a looong time to figure out, but after experimenting with many things—peanut butter packets (too sticky), trail mix (too much chewing), Gu (gross.. I could never choke that goopy stuff down)—I finally figured out a strategy that worked. Every 2 miles I would drink a bit of water (not too much! Just a sip) and every 4 miles I would eat half a Clif Shot Blok. A whole block was too sticky/chewy for me to handle, but a half was manageable and plenty to keep me going. Towards the end of the race I think I may have eaten more often, but I’m not sure if I actually needed the energy or just the distraction of chewing/swallowing.
Lastly, marathon training takes up a lot of your free time. Knowing this going into it and being mentally prepared to spend most of my “me” time outside of work pounding pavement definitely helped me to be successful. It was something that had to be scheduled… I spent the better part of most Sundays preparing for a run, running, and recovering from a long run. Having a support group makes a huge difference—my husband would meet me halfway through my long runs with water, snacks and extra socks, some coworkers joined me on my shorter runs, and a group of friends cheered me on during the race.
In spite of all of this, finishing was totally worth it. More on the happy parts of training to come.
*Photo from the finish line at the Adamant 20 miler in April, taken by my husband, Casey.