Ever wondered what it’s like to train for a marathon? Our blogger, Rachel Glum, invites you along for the ride as she takes on her second marathon, this time with a shiny new time goal. Read on as she discusses the good and the bad of long runs, and why it’s all worth it in the end.
It’s easy to romanticize training – to remember the feelings of accomplishment, the runner’s highs, and the delicious post-run brunches. According to this NY Times Well blog article, Forgetting the Pain of Exercise, marathon runners may in fact have “selective amnesia,” which allows us to remember pain associated with a pleasant experience as much less intense in hindsight than it actually was. This probably explains why mid-way through training for my first marathon I vowed it would be my only one, yet a few days after I completed the race, I was ready to do it again the following year.
While much of training is enjoyable, a lot of it is also frustrating, draining, challenging, and just downright unpleasant. And all of the bad stuff came rushing back at me during week four’s 14 mile run.
What I did wrong
It was a hot day, and despite stepping out the door at 7:30am, the sun was already beating down strongly. But my biggest mistake was not bringing any food with me. For the past few months, I’ve been consistently running up to 12 miles without needing additional carbohydrates, but that distance should have been my cut-off. Feeling the combined effects of heat, dehydration (despite consistently drinking from the water fountains along my route), and carb depletion, my head felt quite foggy until I was able to get a real meal in. Plus, as much as I don’t like to admit it, my legs started to feel tired around mile 10.
Next time I’ll be sure to bring fuel with me, but I’m experienced enough to know that a few extra carbs won’t take away all of the unpleasantness that comes with a long run.
All of this is to say that the realities of training are easy to forget when you’re not in the throes of it, because you view it through the rosy lens of endorphins, mileage goals met, and (if it’s not your first race) medal-adorned, smiling post-race pictures. When I’m having a tough time on a run, I always repeat to myself, “It’s supposed to be hard.” Now that might sound harsh, but to me it’s motivating. Let me explain:
One of the reasons completing a marathon is so rewarding is because you have to push yourself to your physical and mental limits to achieve that goal. You have to grit your teeth through the challenge, summon all your willpower to make it one more mile than the previous week, ignore your exhaustion, and let go of that voice that keeps telling you to stop. It teaches you how much stronger you are than you thought, which is an unbelievably empowering experience. And that is why despite having a tough time on my run, there is no doubt in my mind that I’m 100% committed to this journey.
Topic of the week: Sleep & Nutrition
While marathon training is going to be difficult no matter what, paying attention to proper nutrition and adequate sleep can make a huge difference in how successful you are. When I sleep well and fuel myself with healthy food, I have more energy, recover from workouts faster, and feel more motivated to train. I also feel more mentally clear and just plain happier!
It’s probably not news to most of you that a healthy diet and sleep schedule can make you feel better, but you’ve also probably heard someone tell a long-distance runner, “You run so much, you can eat whatever you want!” This is so far from the truth – when you’re already putting your body through a grueling physical challenge, poor diet or sleep can have a profound negative effect your training.
The truth is that you may have to make some sacrifices – You might not be able to go out for drinks with your co-workers after work, eat out at restaurants frequently, or stay up late on the weekends if you want to feel your best. Of course, all of this is up to you – and depends on how serious you are about your goal. But my advice would be to pay attention to how sleep and diet affect your performance during this process, and to not discount it as unimportant.
Remember: It’s supposed to be hard. That’s what makes it worth it.