- A lot of running eventually started to feel like not enough
I think I looked at my training plan about 5 times before I let my brain process how much running I had to do. I’m not going to lie; I fully intended NOT to do it all even if it involved fibs and deception. Terry, my coach had said something along the lines of “if you miss a session don’t try and catch up,” (OK!). The plan involved running 5 days a week, on occasion for 2 – 3 hours – Whaaaa?
As I started getting into it however, I realized that of the 5 sessions, some were short – the speed and track sessions were about half an hour and the 2 – 3 hour sessions were not every week. Most were under 1 hour. In a strange twist of fate, towards the end, I think it all felt like not enough running. The hardest weeks for me were not the peak 55-mile weeks but the down weeks. I’m sure this was psychological; peak weeks forced me to raise my game and the satisfaction that came from finishing those was immense. That became a bit addictive. And as addictions go – well.
- Finding time was more doable than I thought
Whilst I personally didn’t have a job when training for my marathon, I did have 2 children on 2.5-month school holidays without any babysitting resource. I therefore had to do most of training around my husband’s full-time job. By week 3, I’d found a groove whereby I’d get up early for my medium long run (these were actually pretty long, that alarm clock often started with a 5 and sometimes 4); do the actual long one on Saturday, having created a new thing “Super Dad Saturdays” – that involved pancakes and soft plays and whatever paybacks were requested. I did sundowners, occasional treadies with crèche and created family outings to …errrr the track. I became evangelical about my plan. Nothing was going to stop me doing it. I don’t know if this just makes me mental. Nothing however did stop it. Nothing! I completed every darn workout in full.
- Getting faster crept up on me and said BOO!
I hope it’s not too arrogant to say that my running was in a different league at the end than at the start. In week 15 I ran a 10K tune up race in 46:16, 10 minutes off my previous time. I placed in that race and won my age group with an actual prize. That was a pinch myself moment. I ran in a relay a few weeks earlier and completed all my 3 legs with average minutes per mile that started with 7s. On week 12 I got caught up in a group on a long run by accident and ended up running 1 minute per mile quicker for every mile without any trouble that I could sense. Marathon training, especially purposeful marathon training changes your running.
- Weight loss didn’t happen till the end, but it happened.
When I started training, I’d already accrued about half a stone of waist bonus from going carte blanche on eating American food. Ah, S’OK, thought I, 50 miles a week will sort that shizzle. About 6 weeks in, I found that it hadn’t. I felt leaner but the scales denied me a win. I was heartened a few weeks later whilst running with a very beautiful personal trainer who told me the weight would come off in the tapering weeks when your body starts to forgive you for beasting it to smithereens. Lo and behold, by the marathon I’d dropped 10lbs and found some abs! The marathon is a long game in many ways, but it’s worth playing.
- You control your training, you can’t control the marathon
Because my training plan was so comprehensive and at a much higher mileage to other training plans I’d seen, I think at times I started to think a strong performance in the race should almost be a given. That is a naïve thought. This year, most Ohio “Fall” marathons were hot and humid. Few people were hitting their goals. In my actual marathon, I felt dizzy at mile 7 – it passed, but it very well may not have done. From 13 miles I felt cramp twinges that never manifested themselves – unlike several of my friends who were rendered incapacitated for minutes in double figures. Funny things happen between 20 and 26.2 miles and until the day, you just don’t know what they’ll be. I trained textbook perfectly for my marathon. I hit my goal with 1 minute and 48 seconds to spare. That’s tight. It might well be witchcraft. That could have been 2 seemingly inconsequential minutes at the side of a road rubbing a calf. (OMG!).
- Between 20 and 26.2 miles was my own personal twilight zone
Before running my marathon I had heard the saying 20 miles is halfway. Most marathon horror stories seem to happen here, walls get hit, cramps get worse, mind games end in defeat. I became a bit obsessed with it. I asked a sub 3-marathon pacer if he’d ever had a good last 6 miles – he laughed in my face as he said “like… NO!” Funnily enough though, my last 6 miles were not the worst. (13 – 19 were). Oh yes, those last miles hurt. My legs were like lead and my minutes per mile had fallen way off a cliff, but in my mind the end was in sight. I could anticipate euphoria. My mind over-rode my legs for those 6 miles. This may well just be me, but I think its important to know this is possible.
- After part 1: It’s heavenly
The aforementioned euphoria started kicking in for me in my final mile. My family were there waving and I could see the gantry and I knew my sub-4 was in the bag. I managed a sprint. I passed under the gantry and got given my medal. If anyone was filming this bit I think I’d be embarrassed to watch. My face was simultaneously switching between ugly crying face and what must have been an enormous stupid grin. I was in love with everyone in that finishers corral. As I walked back to the hotel, not being able to find my family I smiled at everyone I saw as if I was Kate Middleton at a fete. I glowed for 2 whole days. I really can’t imagine there’s a drug on earth capable of doing what running a marathon did to me.
- After part 2: It’s hell
Training 18 weeks, 5 days a week put a big dent in my life. Once you’ve run a marathon, you rest. Blissful right? To some extent yes, it most certainly is, for me however it was like losing a lovely friend. I had just moved to America, my marathon plan had been my project, my diversion and focus. And then it was done. There was no plan. After a few fidgety days, I committed to my next marathon and in between got myself a plan for running a fast 5k. And breathe! We’re fine! This is who I am now.
- It changed my attitude to food
Whilst I don’t really have any major issues with food, I am probably on the emotional scale when it comes to eating. I have been known to eat Nutella from the jar (all of it) and I have regular cravings for chips. My weight fluctuates around a stone above what it probably should be but it’s no great drama. Anyway, running the marathon changed all this. I started to see food pretty much 100% as fuel. All I really wanted from my food was for it to help my running. I craved protein as much as carbs. I wanted the right amount of calories to fuel what I was running. For some, I guess running is a way of getting a guilt free pass to eating lovely food like donuts and cake. Weirdly, this had the opposite effect on me. They started to seem a bit pointless. My friend Kelly made me a batch of superhero muffins from a runner’s cookbook. They hit the spot. Even now over 6 weeks later, food is still fuel to me.
- Accountability was a gift
I trained for my marathon with coach support (Terry) and a running buddy (Piers). Both were across the Atlantic and only accessible to me via Facebook, Messenger and Strava. I may well have still run my marathon without these 2, but it certainly wouldn’t have been as much fun and I am doubtful I would have got my goal. At the start of every week Terry would call in with detail and encouragement about the week ahead, reviewing the week past and answering questions. There was no way on earth I was letting that man down. Piers was running one week in advance but we were in it together. As it turns out we were not the kind of running buddies that needed to push each other to go, moreover the type that needed to force each other to stop. I think there must be lots of dynamics that work with running buddies, but this one was both hilarious and motivating for me.
In conclusion, marathon training made me a better, faster and leaner runner. It changed my attitude to food. It changed my attitude to goal setting. It gave me some abs. It made me proud. It made me want to run more marathons and probably never stop.
My marathon made me better.