Lessons from Marathons

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Hey Guys! The sun is finally shining here and there isn’t rain in the forecast for days! It’s been so rainy here lately that I’m really looking forward to enjoying the sunshine and some warmer weather.  I plan to get out and hit the pavement tonight, I’m thinking I might do another 5 miler.   Tuesday’s run left me feeling so motivated to run.  I think it was exactly what I needed to get me out of my more laid back approach to working out.   It’s funny how my motivation came back almost one month to the day from the Boston Marathon.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the Boston Marathon, it’s hard to believe it was a month ago.   Having ran three marathons it’s funny to me how different each of them were and at the same time how similar they were too.  No matter how you spin it 26.2 miles is HARD and a LONG.  That never seems to change no matter how many marathons I have to my name!

New York City Marathon was my first.  I ran it in 2009 which feels like an eternity ago, crazy how much our lives can change!  I was rather ambitious when it came to a training plan.  I was hoping to get 4o or more miles in each week with my highest week being about 55 miles.  I still had the mentality of a college athlete and felt that I had to train hard to accomplish this goal.  I had just moved to Boston and didn’t have a ton of friends so I spent a lot of my time running.  In late September I started having horrible knee pain.  I went to the doctor a few days later and was diagnosed with ITBS.  I received shots of Synvisc to reduce the swelling and provide pain relief.  I started PT and ran with a knee brace as much as I could.  My longest training run was only 16 miles so I was rather nervous for race day.  I was up at 4am on race day to head to the start which involved taking a cab, a ferry, a bus and some walking.  I was all alone for the race and will never forget standing at the Verrazano Bridge waiting to start.  The first half marathon was easy.  I saw my family at mile 8 and took in the sights.  At Mile 15 my knee started to hurt and I had to stop and stretch.   Around mile 20 I gave myself a talk about how I needed to have more fun, go out for drinks more and give these crazy athletic achievements a break for a while.  I started to come in to Central Park at mile 23 and could barely run, my feet were cramping and everything hurt.  Somehow I managed to keep running.  I saw a woman at mile 25 who grabbed my hand and told me I could do it!  Crossing the finish line was amazing.  I finished in 4:03.51 and felt immense pride in myself.  Celebrating with my family was so fun and being sore for days after seemed like a small price to pay.  I won’t ever forget how challenging it was to finish that marathon but I think part of me expected that.   I knew it would be hard but I knew I’d finish as well.  I really learned about the limits of my body with this marathon.  I knew going forward to be a good runner I’d have to make smarter choices.   More so I learned that a missed training run is a missed training run.  You only wear yourself out when you try to play catch up.

Mile 8

2009 New York City Marathon

They say you have to forget your first marathon before you attempt your next one.  I’d say that’s true.  It took about 2 years before I was ready for another marathon.  Michael’s desire to want to run one also motivated me to tackle it again.  My approach to training for the Chicago Marathon was different, I had learned from my mistakes and was not about to repeat them.  I used the Smart Coach training plan so that if I was sick or injured it would adjust my schedule for missed days.  I knew that if I ran 3 days a week I’d be healthy and I knew that yoga had to fit into the plan.  Speed workouts were also something that I knew were crucial to my success so I was dedicated to doing them this time.  I was also excited to run and train with Michael.  We did our long runs on Sunday mornings and were up by 6am most of those days to get our long runs done before the summer heat became unbearable.  We watched movies on Saturday nights and reminded each other to hydrate.  For me the running went completely according to plan. I never missed a long run and was always on pace, I got in all my speedwork and rarely fought heavy legs.   As marathon day arrived I was confident going in and knew that the race was mine.  In fact Nike’s slogan was Own Chicago.  It seemed fitting for my attitude on race day.  Race day itself was perfect even though it didn’t go exactly according to plan.  Michael and I walked to the start, started together and ran the first 14 miles together.  Once I left Michael I cruised until I hit mile 20 and then counted down the miles.  The reality is, when you run a marathon miles 23-26 hurt.  But I toughed it out and just focused on getting to the finish.  I finished with a 3:51.27.  It was amazing to share the experience with Michael.  The full recap is here.  I think more than anything I learned that a good training plan is the key to success.  I learned that it is more about quality miles and less about the quantity.  Fully committing to the training plan was key and always being flexible to listen to my body and shift runs around a bit helped to make me successful.  Thinking back on it, Chicago seemed easy and fun.

Mike and I at the Finish!

Chicago had given me the marathon bug so I was ready for another one right away.  The Boston Marathon was a little different having ran for charity.  Fundraising and running was very time-consuming and challenging but it was fun at the same time.  My training plan was similar to Chicago since that had worked so well.  I ran my long runs on Saturdays with the team and loved having a running partner and making new friends.  About half way through the marathon bug had worn off and I was getting tired of getting up for long runs, losing half of a day on Saturdays and my legs constantly felt tired.  There was no pushing through it, I ended up taking a week off from running and focusing on cross training and when I came back to running I cut back on my miles.  It was tough for about 3 weeks but then it slowly got better, the miles seemed easier and I felt like I was in good shape.  Team in Training had lots of events along the way that made the high mileage weeks seem more fun.  Towards the end though I was just ready to race.  Michael was ready for it too, he wanted our weekends back and a girlfriend who wasn’t exhausted all the time.   By the time race day came I was excited and nervous about the 90 degree temperatures predicted.  The heat was challenging and I hit a wall at mile 6, again at mile 17 and once more somewhere along Heartbreak Hill.  Boston was unlike any other marathon.  It took more determination, will and grit to finish than I had ever expected.  I thought more than once, this is what hell must be like.  Boston perhaps taught me the most valuable lessons about marathons.  The most obvious was that you can’t predict the weather and you certainly can’t control it.  What you can do  is reset your expectations and adjust your race plans and enjoy the day.   I also learned that marathon training affects everyone around you whether you like it or not.  Luckily I have Michael who understands my passion and supports me no matter what but I know it was hard and that it affected our life as a couple.  Moving forward I realize that a marathon has to fit not only into my life but also into Michael’s and into our lives as a couple.  It’s a commitment, there is no way around that.  Perhaps the most important lesson I learned is that with dedication and grit you can accomplish your goals.  I learned that lesson even before race day, just getting through the training taught me that.  I learned it on race day again, when I was just determined to finish the race.  Knowing I did that is a valuable lesson I’ll take with me every where.

So Proud!

Marathons are never easy and they are never the same.  I’ve learned a lot from each of mine and each one of them was different and unique in their own way.  New York taught me about running and my body, Chicago taught me that a good training plan and confidence can go a long way and Boston taught me that with grit and determination you can accomplish your goals even if it is a marathon in 90 degree heat.

How has the training for each of your marathons or half-marathons differed?  What lessons have you learned?  How do they compare to each other?  What lessons has running taught you about your life?

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4 responses

  1. I knew you’d like this post, I kind of wrote it just for you! You had mentioned something about hearing my lessons from all 3 marathons in a comment! I’m glad you liked it! You’ll do great with Chicago!

  2. Oh I just loved reading about your marathon journey to where you are today. I am SO inspired by this — makes me REALLY REALLY excited to experience this thang for myself (as scary as hell as it sounds to me right now! haha)

  3. I love hearing about the lessons that you’ve learned through these experiences. I’ve also run three and each has been different and unique. I think more than anything, those experiences taught me to believe and have faith in my abilities. I mean, I would have never imagined that I would run that distance, let alone three times! Thanks for sharing this!