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What Marathon Training Has Taught Me
I don’t know if I’ll like running a marathon. 26.2 miles might be too much for me. I plan to find out on Saturday.
But I do know that I have loved training for this marathon.
Many people may disagree. When I was debating whether or not I even wanted to attempt a marathon, lots of runner friends said, “training takes over your life.”
Sure, it can…but only if you let it.
Over the past 20 or so weeks, there have been times when I’ve completely given in and let training take over. I don’t remember the last time I got sufficiently drunk on a Friday night and I can’t recall the last Friday night dinner that didn’t include some hefty form of carbohydrates.
But on Saturday nights? Sure. Game on. One long run never meant the rest of my weekend was shot. After one long run, I got a little tipsy and took a trapeze class.
Throughout training, I’ve learned many lessons. Some I’ve learned the hard way. For example, just because someone tells you that Vanilla Bean Gu tastes like frosting, that doesn’t mean you should trust them, because when you eat it expecting a side of Funfetti, you will be sorely disappointed.
And then you will vomit Gu.
Without further ado, here is what marathon training has taught me:
Having a coach to guide you through your first marathon is the best way to go. I know I’m very lucky to have had Coach Cane as my mentor, guide and life coach throughout this process.
Yes, I have lots of marathoner buddies who could have helped me pick a training plan and answered some of my questions, but I felt so confident that Coach Cane, a badass and an expert, was there for me when I needed him. I trusted him with my training from the first day we met, and now, three days away from the race, I know that he prepared me as best he could so that I can crush this race.
Running coaches are expensive, and I am so grateful to JackRabbit for affording me this luxury.
Celebrities like Central Park, too. During my training, I saw a handful of famous faces getting their own sweat on in the park. My favorite sighting was Heidi Klum.
What you eat is just as important as what you don’t eat. There are foods I avoid thanks to the ol’ bitch Crohn’s disease. Goodbye, corn. Goodbye, fried stuff. Goodbye, pizza. For a while I was very concerned with what I wasn’t eating. But training has taught me that the most important thing to think about is what I am eating.
I’ve been so much more aware of what goes into my body lately. I no longer think of food as a summation of calories that will potentially make me gain weight. I now see food as fuel. The better I eat, the longer and faster I can run.
Runners get cool gear. Sneakers are nice. Watches are fancy. Outfits make me happy. And sweat bands sent from nice friends? Very, very bueno.
I sweat more than the average human. I’ve been told that healthy people sweat more. So I guess my constant forearm sweat is a good thing? Also sexy? Boob sweat. Just saying.
Not every race will be a PR. I had a really hard time with this lesson. For a while, I was banging out awesome races like it was no big deal, throwing down PR after PR. It was an amazing feeling, and since I’m still pretty new to running, I just assumed that was how it was supposed to go. You keep running, you keep improving, you keep getting super speedy.
False, Ali. So false.
The Brooklyn Half Marathon was my first tough race. I stopped twice to go to the bathroom and wasn’t too pumped with my performance. It was my first non-PR, but I knew that my stomach was the main factor, not my legs or my running efforts.
But then I ran two more races and continued to not break records. I didn’t understand and I got really down on myself.
Eventually a good, even sweatier friend helped me realize that it’s OK not to PR every time. In fact, even Ironman badasses and Olympic runners don’t always PR.
I hated learning this lesson, honestly. But it still makes the list.
It’s OK to run a race for fun every now and then. I will probably never win a race, but I still take it pretty seriously. I don’t show up on race day hoping for a “good time.” If I have fun and I smile when I cross the finish line, that’s great. But most days I’d rather go balls to the wall in an effort to beat whatever previous time I’ve set.
Last weekend, I ran a race with a coworker. It was her first race and it was fun. I wasn’t running it for me — I was running it with her.
So while I do take racing seriously, the FITNESS 4-miler showed me that racing can be intense, but it doesn’t always have to be stressful.
Training is better — and easier — when you have a strong support team. My family, my friends and total strangers have made this experience the best one of my life.
My brother and parents may not think running for three hours at a time — at 5 am on a Saturday, no less — is a good time, but they respect that that’s my idea of fun. My mom texted me every Saturday morning asking how my run went and my brother has become my biggest blog fan. (Thanks for the comments on yesterday’s post by the way — big bro is feeling pretty loved.)
My non-runner friends always ask how training is going, and two of them are even coming out for the race this weekend.
And then there are my runner friends… The ones who are always willing to meet me at Engineer’s Gate at 6:15 am…
And, of course, the ones who never turn down an evening at 16 Handles.
The people I love have supported me, guided me, pushed me, encouraged me, motivated and inspired me and donated to my cause. It really doesn’t get much better than that. (Thank you all, by the way. You make my life better every day.)
Some people won’t be happy for you. That’s just the way it is. Some people will hear that you’re running a marathon and they’ll think that’s cool and ambitious. Other people won’t understand, won’t see the value in what you’re doing and may not support your efforts. If running a marathon is important to you, these people don’t matter.
Running isn’t supposed to be easy. Yeah, sometimes you do easy runs. This morning I ran 4 miles at the slow pace Coach Cane asked for. It didn’t feel particularly challenging. But Tuesdays were devoted to speedwork and Thursdays were some sort of hill or tempo challenge. The long runs came on Saturdays and none of those were exactly easy. I’ve never been big on mantras, but lately when it starts to hurt, I remind myself, “It’s not supposed to be easy.”
Marathon training is exhausting. Sometimes you will fall asleep in the middle of the day, in the middle of the floor.
You will claim that the taper isn’t making you crazy, but it is. As I walked through my neighborhood last night with my very, very nice and understanding boyfriend, he acknowledged that I’ve been “really good” throughout my marathon taper. “I know!” I replied. “I haven’t done anything beyond what Coach Cane wants and I’m keeping busy and staying sane!”
Fast forward 10 minutes: Ali and boyfriend arrive at Ali’s apartment. Ali checks emails. Ali freaks out. Ali tries to hold back tears. Ali refuses to look boyfriend in the eye because then the tears will become real. Ali takes long, sad shower while boyfriend sits alone on couch. Ali can’t fall asleep because she is having anxiety about things she can’t control. Boyfriend loses sleep because Ali won’t shut up. In the morning, Ali buys boyfriend some pineapple in an attempt to make up for her taper crazies. Ali blogs with fingers crossed, hoping she still has a boyfriend.
I am F-ing insane sometimes. Dang it.
Your training is your training. No one else’s. If you get caught up comparing your splits and distances to other runners, you will go crazy. Focus only on what you’re doing and how you can become a better runner. Who cares how fast your friend is? Who cares if your friend is running a different race that’s weeks before yours so she’s running 20 miles the same day you’re “only” doing 16. Don’t get caught up in the ugly comparison trap. It isn’t helpful and it’s a waste of your time.
Cross training is nice, but running is better. Yes, a spin class or a strength class every now and then was helpful and surely rounded out my training. But I definitely found that to become a better runner, I just needed to run. Novel concept.
Marathon training will push your limits in the very best way possible. Four years ago I couldn’t run a mile, and this weekend I will attempt to cover 26.2. It’s an incredible feeling.
Other brief lessons:
- It’s OK if you plan your long run routes around public bathrooms.
- Some days you will spend way too much time waiting for your Garmin to locate a dang satellite. Don’t throw your watch, no matter how angry you get. It doesn’t help. I promise.
- You may have to wake up really early in order to get your run in before work. Don’t complain. Just do it. Get it done so you don’t miss your run or have to squeeze it in late at night when the murderers lurk in Central Park (just a theory of mine). The sunrise and a morning sweat are way more effective than a cup of coffee. Promise, again.
- Stick to your training plan. If something comes up — an injury, for example — and you have to adapt, OK. But if you have a plan, do what it says. Don’t make excuses.
- Marathon training will either make you a total bitch or it won’t. That’s up to you.
I am really sad my training is ending. That is all.
NOW OBVIOUSLY I WANT TO KNOW: What has training for a race — not necessarily a marathon! — taught you?