Back in 2008 when I ran my first marathon, I had no idea what to expect. I thought it would be a fun challenge so I signed up for the 26.2 journey around Walt Disney World. That first marathon was less than stellar – I was undertrained and really didn’t enjoy the journey like I should have, Over the past 10 years, running 10 marathons, I’ve learned an incredible amount about the distance. Here are the top 10 lessons I’ve learned.
The pain doesn’t last forever
Sure, at the time you are at mile 22, you want to throw in the towel. Its hard to pull yourself out of that exact moment and realize the heaviness you feel in your legs is going to subside. You are almost done – really and truly (just don’t let a spectator tell you that!). Know that what you are feeling is going to go away. Listen to a different song or repeat your feel good mantra in your head. If marathons were easy, a lot more people would be doing them.
Get out of your head
I realized how powerful it is to think positive thoughts this last marathon at Disney. I could have chose to just get through the race, thinking I used up my energy before the race as I navigated to the start. But I didn’t. I put in the training and effort and I wanted the reward. I really believe telling myself I could do it was half the battle.
Break up the race into chunks
I choose to break up marathons into 5 mile chunks. I choose this cadence because I take in solid fuel every 5 miles, so it just works for me. I’m always conservative from miles 1-5, get in my groove from 6-10, focus on goal pace from 11-15, dig a little deep from 16-20, and then from 21-25, its all about knowing you can do what your body is telling you otherwise. Of course, that last mile is where I just take it all in, reflecting on the last 25 miles I’ve already tackled and looking forward to crossing that finish line.
Crossing the finish line never gets old
The first time crossing the finish line at the Disney marathon was just as amazing as crossing it 10 years later. Every training cycle poses different challenges. For me, its been navigating college course work, to planning a wedding, to raising a family. Fitting in training isn’t easy, but you have to really want it and truly work for it. Finishing this distance is always such an accomplishment.
Recovery is just as important as the runs themselves
Learning to recover is so so important. About 7-8 years ago, I was all about running.all.the.miles. I would wake up on a Wednesday morning and get in 10 miles before work, only to run a 7 mile tempo the following day. Rinse & Repeat. In that training cycle, I ended up hurt and burnt out. My back went out 9 days before the race and I could hardly walk, let alone run. Luckily, I learned from that experience. My body is not one that functions at its best at high mileage. I hardly run 2 days in a row now. While that works for plenty of others it just doesn’t work for me
Long runs are incredibly important
Really and truly, if you don’t get in your long run each week, you can kiss hopes of a successful race goodbye. You have to build that endurance to be on your feet, running for 3, 4 & 5+ hours. You just can’t simulate that fatigue any other way. Of course, there may be a week or 2 where you have to skip due to illness, but these are those times where the recovery outweighs the run itself.
To race fast you have to run at race pace (or faster)
You can’t just hope to run fast on race day without putting in the training during your other runs. With that said, every run doesn’t have to be one that includes speed. Learn to read your body and see what works for you. Include race pace training into your weekly running, especially long runs. Knowing what race pace feels like at the end of a long run will only help you on race day.
The whole race isn’t going to be fun
Let’s be real – there are times during a marathon where you might want to quit, especially the first handful that you run when you don’t know what to expect. For me, that was 3 marathons. It took me three marathons to really figure out the distance – how to effectively train for them, how I’d be feeling during certain spot s in the race, etc.
Reaching big goals is insanely fun
There is nothing like training your butt off for 16+ weeks and reaching a big goal at the end of the race. There is so much sacrificed in a training cycle, whether it is time out with friends, early morning cartoons with kids, or early nights because, hey “I’ve got a long run on the morning”. Conquering a big goal makes each one of those early mornings worth it.
What lessons have you learned as you’ve run more and more long distance races?