I wanted to wait over two weeks before writing this post, so I could fully process the experience of training for and running a marathon. Over the last four months, friends, family, and readers have asked me dozens of questions about what it’s like to train for your first marathon. This post will cover my answers to some of those questions.
How did you know you were ready to train for a marathon? In November 2013, I didn’t consider myself a runner. In 2014, I ran two half marathons. If you had asked me even five months ago if I would ever run a marathon, I would have said “probably not.” Right before I ran my October half marathon in San Francisco, I told Seth that I knew I’d have post-race blues. He encouraged me to run a January 2015 full with him. I originally said no but realized I was already halfway trained. You could say that I tricked myself into training for the second half of the full. I would recommend running a few half marathons before taking on 26.2 miles. A full marathon is a drastically different experience.
How did you choose which race to run? I chose to run the Walt Disney World Marathon on January 11 because of timing. I had exactly 12 weeks after my half to train from 13.1 miles up to 22 miles. It ended up being the perfect amount of time to increase mileage without getting injured. Unless you’ll be running a winter race somewhere warm, I would suggest choosing either a spring or fall race. Find options here.
What plan did you use? What was it like training with a coach? When I first registered for the race, I started to look for 12-week training plans to follow. I almost used Hal Higdon. However, during Week 2 of 12, a friend emailed me and gave me one of the best gifts I’ve ever received. He was unfortunately injured in October and gave me a training coach package with Jess that he would be unable to use. I cannot recommend Jess enough. I used to think that training with a coach was for “fast people.” That’s absolutely false. Jess and I had 30-minute calls on Mondays to go over my custom training plan for the week. She told me what workouts to complete on what days, so I didn’t have to plan. These workouts were designed specifically for my skill level and could be adjusted if needed. While Jess helped physically prepare me for the race, I am even more grateful for her emotional support. Training for a marathon is a roller coaster of emotions. There are record-setting highs and frustrating lows. You simultaneously feel proud and beat up. It was absolutely worth having someone to call and email to explain how I was feeling and how to move forward. Jess also created my race day strategy. You can work with her no matter where you live!
How did you find the time to train for a marathon? I was asked this question almost every day. Look, no one has time to train for a marathon. It’s a big commitment. If you really want to run a marathon, you make the time to train for it. I ran 25-35 miles each week, plus cross training. My days often looked like this: Wake up. Run. Work. Event. Blog. Go to bed. It was not easy, especially during the holidays, but you can make the time if you want to do it.
What type of cross training did you do, and how often? With two short runs, one long run, and one day off during the week, I cross trained twice per week. One of those weekly workouts was yoga, used to stretch and recover my muscles. The other workout was a low-impact strength class (like barre) that would focus on glute and hip exercises.
Did you drastically change your diet while you were training? I didn’t change my diet as drastically as some runners probably do. I did make sure that my meals included good portions of protein, carbs, fruits, and vegetables. However, I ate sweets (especially ice cream) in moderation. I mean, it was still the holidays, and I was burning a lot of calories. I also made sure to constantly have a bottle of water in my hand. Staying hydrated made weekend long runs easier.
What surprised you most about training for a marathon? I have two answers to this question. First, I thought the long runs would be the hardest part of training. While they were difficult, I learned to enjoy them as alone time every Sunday morning. About three-quarters of the way through training, it was actually more difficult for me to continue running shorter distances during the week. That schedule started to feel endless. I was also surprised by how sore my body felt all the time. Marathon training is not just about time spent running. It’s also about time spent recovering. While I was never injured, specific muscles felt strained at different times. The soreness ultimately started to affect my stride at the end of training.
Would you change anything about the way that you trained? I mentioned above that my muscles were incredibly sore at the end of training, until I got a sports massage at Body Mechanics. I felt like I had a new pair of legs after the massage. From the next day, my stride drastically improved, and all of my nagging aches were gone. I would recommend getting a massage every 3-4 weeks during training. Your hard work is worth the splurge.
What does it actually feel like to run 26.2 miles? You can read my race recap here. While I completed nearly every one of my training workouts, running a marathon was still very difficult. I felt great until Mile 16, hit The Wall early due to humidity, and had to take it mile by mile from Mile 21 to the finish. Training teaches you how to compartmentalize the distance and mentally push through when you’re physically drained. I’ve heard others say it and will agree that running a marathon was one of the most difficult but most rewarding things I’ve ever done.
Do you think you’ll ever run another marathon? What’s next? I do plan to run at least one more marathon. Right now, I’m in the New York City Marathon lottery for this fall. While my participation is TBD, I am registered to run the Pittsburgh Half Marathon in May and the Lululemon Seawheeze Half Marathon in Vancouver in August. I won’t start officially training for Pittsburgh until the beginning of March.