One: Self-discipline is hard
I signed up to run the LA Marathon on July 20, 2018. The race didn’t take place until March 24, 2019. Those dates are 8 months apart. A lot can happen in 8 months, and it certainly did.
I went to Mexico for a week and didn’t run at all. I went home for the holidays and only ran twice. Then I went to Hawaii for a week and again, didn’t run at all. In those 8 months, I ran a 10K race and two half marathons, none of which I was adequately prepared for because self-discipline is HARD.
Maintaining a proper training schedule with running, cross training and recovery is difficult enough. Then throw in managing proper nutrition as your needs constantly change and the inevitability of life happening, and you’ve got a long, hard 8 months of training. I failed miserably many times during those 8 months and it showed during each of my races.
Two: Your body is capable of crazy things, if you treat it right
Most people tell me “I could never do that” when talking about running a marathon. But truthfully, everyone can — if they train. It’s not like you go from running a couple miles a week to running a marathon just because you decided to. Even if you’ve never run a day in your life, you CAN run a marathon. You might not WANT to, but you can. It will take a lot of self-discipline (see above) but you are capable, just like I am capable.
Three: You CAN do hard things
Even as someone who has run a marathon before (my most recent was my second), 26 miles seems impossible. At mile 8, I question how I can make it to the half. Then I think about how I have to basically start over from the half point and my brain can’t even comprehend it. But just as you lose one pound at a time, and take it one day at a time, you run one mile at a time until you hit 26. You CAN do hard things. You just have to start!
Four: You never really run alone
I call myself a solo runner but I never really run alone. Even in training, I have awesome people who check in with me and listen to me drone on about knee pain and speed training. During a race, you’re always near another runner and there’s plenty of spectators. Sometimes there’s even live music, cheerleaders and marching bands. You never have to truly run alone and that can be comforting, especially during a marathon.
Five: Your mindset is more important than your physical abilities
I don’t think you really understand “it’s mental” until you challenge yourself with something like a marathon or triathlon. My last one, I had to get out of my Lyft on the freeway and power walk a mile to the start line in order to not miss gear check (which I made it to as they were closing). I forgot to eat something in my rush to get my bag checked (my breakfast was in my bag). I was partially sick and didn’t have any friends running with me. Then, I set out to run the race and had to fight off arch pain, inner arm chafing, right IT band pain, heat, and my own inner voice telling me there was no way I was going to finish and that everyone would laugh at my slow time. I kept going. I finished. No one laughed.
You get to know yourself when training for and completing a marathon. You learn to motivate yourself, fight with yourself, encourage yourself, be hard on yourself, cheer for yourself, be present, daydream, settle in for the long haul, and accept your accomplishment for what it really is: awesome.
Lots of people also tell me they could never run a marathon because it’s so boring. But it’s not boring…it’s mental. And your mindset throughout your training and your race will get your farther than your legs ever would on their own.
Six: Food is FUEL
I didn’t even attempt to figure out how I should eat during training in order to perform my best, maintain my muscle, or prepare for the race. I ate how I usually eat and added carbs. It works, but it’s not the best. When you put your body through something as taxing as 26 miles, you learn food’s true purpose: fuel.
Without my breakfast, I made it to mile 9 before I felt like quitting. Then I remembered I hadn’t eaten so I grabbed my energy chews from my belt and dug in. Didn’t feel like I needed fuel again until around mile 18. When you train, you should eat to train. I got so sick during my 15 mile long training run I had to quit at 13 miles. I realized it was because I wasn’t taking in any electrolytes. My 20 mile run, I brought coconut water and energy chews (instead of a Cliff bar) and I finished and felt great.
Your body can only give you what you first give it!
Seven: You can’t just check boxes
I mentioned I failed miserably at points in my training and it showed. The other thing about doing hard things and your body being capable of crazy stuff is that you have to still put in the work. If you half ass training, there’s no hiding it on race day. I always train pretty poorly (see number one) and think that somehow I’ll beast on race day.
This has never happened.
The two times I did really well in a race and was happy with my time, I trained hard and consistently. You cannot just hit the long runs in your training and expect to run a perfect marathon. I am living proof.
Eight: There are some things you just can’t control
Randomly getting arch pain two weeks out and having to switch my shoes to a pair I hadn’t worn in over a year? Roll with it. Getting sick a week out with chest congestion and a gnarly cough? Deal with it. Chafing, arch pain, and a tight IT band even though my 20 mile run was pain free? Run through it. Having to get out of the car on the freeway and walk to the start line? Shit happens. Forgetting to eat breakfast? Oh well.
Life and running are full of things you can’t control. As a slight control freak, all of these things could have ruined my experience or convinced me not to race. But, see number five. (It’s mental!)
Nine: Strength looks different on everyone
You see all different kinds of people on a marathon course. Overweight, super fit, average, disabled, injured, young, old, tall, short — it doesn’t matter. Everyone trained, and everyone’s running, and (almost) everyone’s finishing. Strength looks different on everyone. You don’t have to be “fit” or “in shape” to run a marathon. See number two.
Ten: People will always surprise you
Race camaraderie is pretty unique. From the woman I power walked with to the start line, to the man who fist bumped me in the corral and said good luck, to the thousands of spectators passing out orange slices and bananas, to the thousands of volunteers filling water cups, to the incredible people in the medical tents, and to the friends who showed up at the finish line or tracked me via text (and to the one who ran the last 3 miles with me!) — people will surprise you with their generosity and kindness.
It’s the weirdest thing, to sign up for a crazy race for no particular reason, and then see complete strangers cheer you on and help you out. But it’s also one of the greatest.