What Non-Runners Should Know about Marathon Training

3 Feb

It sucks.

Less so in the spring and the fall. But definitely in the winter and the summer.

Running a marathon to lose weight is a silly idea – it doesn’t work that way. You need more nutrients for the long runs and after the long runs. Most runners I know stay about the same weight doing marathon training although sometimes it distributes differently (skinny jeans are not made for runner’s legs). And some beginner marathoners actually gain weight because the line between eating enough and eating too much is a fine one.

Marathon training is not just running.  It’s following a running plan and eating the right foods at the right time and carrying about your sodium and electrolyte levels and watching the weather religiously and planning your weekend around a long run and foam rolling and stretching and building strength. It’s making sure that marathon training always remains a side interest and doesn’t get in the way of family and friends and work and church and birthdays and errands and paying the bills.

Marathon training is much more mental than physical. Sure, you have to work to build up to running 26.2 miles. But its the mental toughness that is the hardest to gain. Your mind will tell you to stop, to walk “for a bit”, to stress about that little twinge or tweak you feel. Sometimes you get bored, sometimes you feel pain, always you feel like you’ve reached your limits before the run is done.

And no one is forcing you to do this. I mean, that’s good.  Because a forced marathon sounds awful. But it’s also bad because no one is forcing you to do this which means no one is checking your training schedule or knows if you skimp on your miles or don’t run that day it is snowing. People may think that the marathon is the hardest because you run faster and further and you have one chance to hit your goal. But a marathon has accountability and timing mats and water stations and porta potties and cheering crowds and medals. Long runs have none of that.

Sometimes you jump into a run and nail it – perfect weather, perfect stride, perfect mental toughness, perfect fueling.  Most of the times, you don’t.  You wake up exhausted or the weather is too hot or too cold or you feel like you’ve run 10 miles and it has only been 3 (ahh!) or your music and podcasts or route just aren’t interesting you that much. But you persevere.  Then you foam roll (these 5 minutes are much worse than the previous hours of running time) and you shower and you eat and you feel pretty proud of yourself.  And then you move on with your day.  In most cases, the rest of your day is indistinguishable from any other person’s day (except for 20 mile days when you may find yourself sloth-like on the couch with movies and salty snacks and ice packs and the occasional good friend).

Just like you hit a wall in a marathon, you hit a wall in marathon training.  If you time it correctly, your last weeks of peak training (50 mile weeks, in my case) before you start tapering, are where you finally reach your limit.  Just as you think, “I can’t stand any more long runs,” you reach your last run.  Ironically, when you start tapering, you itch to run again.  Suddenly, your long run is 8 or 12 miles and you think “But I just want to do 20!”


In fact, all of marathon training is a “grass is greener” conundrum.

Someone asked me recently “What sucks worse than marathon training?”  My immediate response: “Not training for a marathon.”  You just can’t win.


One Response to “What Non-Runners Should Know about Marathon Training”

  1. Meg February 5, 2013 at 9:53 am #

    Thank you so much for this valuable insight! I feel better having a purpose as a non-runner. If you didn’t have non-runners in your life, for whom would you write blog posts?! As always, I am in awe of the Whole Running Thing and think you are the bee’s knees.

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