6 Lessons I Learned from Training for A Marathon

As of Sunday, My marathon is less than two weeks away.  Running a marathon was something that I listed in my 2012 goals, and slowly but surely I’ve been working to make it happen.  Much like my savings goal, this started with small, consistent progress.  I started training at the end of January (that seems like forever ago!) with a 3 mile run, and last weekend, I completed my longest run of the program, which was 20 miles.  In between, I’d run anywhere from 20-40 miles (or more) per week, typically over 3 days.  I never really felt like anything was out of my reach or totally unattainable, but that’s because the program took me up in steps.

One of the best ways to fail at a goal is to not try, and another great way is to try and do too much, too fast.  There would have been no way I would have kept up my training if I started with a 8-10 mile run and tried to keep going from there with the program.  I would have hated the goal, hated myself for making the goal, and then just to make sure, I would have hated myself (again) for failing the goal.
Lesson Learned: Start small, you’ll thank yourself for it.

Training for this race required a huge time commitment (obviously), but it was something that I really had not anticipated as I started.  Once the first two weeks had passed though, I knew that I was going to need about 1.5 hours a day for 3 days during the week, and about 3 hours on the weekend.  Those times ended up increasing as the distance increased, but I quickly eased into a schedule of leaving work having a small snack such as an apple or granola bar and changing into my running shorts and shoes and hitting the pavement.  It quickly became routine and I started to enjoy the runs with H and the dog, exploring the city on foot in what was unseasonably nice weather.
Lesson Learned: If you want to succeed, you have to put the time in to reach your goal.

One of the other great parts about this was that I got to train with H – training is always more fun when you’ve got someone that is working with you trying to accomplish a similar goal (H is doing the  half marathon).  Even though my thoughts about the running itself would be all over the map, I really enjoyed this time spent with H and the sustainable house.
Lesson Learned: Get a training partner – it will keep you consistent and you’ll have a better time.

Unfortunately, not everything about this marathon training program has been sunshine and roses.  Since H and I closed on our house, my training has taken a drastic pullback.  I have been logging everything to mapmyrun, which a pretty sweet website and app for android and iphones.  I have made “house things” a higher priority than running for the last 4 weeks, and have been hardly doing any of my weekday runs, but have managed keep on track (for the most part) for my weekend runs.  It was surprising how easy it was to continue missing runs after I missed that first run, and this week it’s already thursday and I havent run at all.  Early in the program when I was ambitious about the marathon (and afraid of not finishing) I ran in gale force winds, and now when the clouds go just a bit grey, I use that as a handy excuse to not run at all, saying that I’ll make it up later.  Well, later eventually did come, and I had to run 20 miles with what was essentially 1.5 weeks off right before hand.  It hurt afterwords, a lot.
Lesson Learned: Don’t miss a run, but if you absolutely have to, dont keep digging yourself into a hole.

During this whole training period, even though I felt a bit tired after some of the long runs (and sore) and had to squeeze in some of the weekday runs, I never really felt like they were that big of a burden or too much work.  I knew that I wanted to run a marathon, so I just decided to make a plan and go for it.  Never once did it seem like I had to drag myself out of bed to run – when I knew I had the time and had already blocked it off, I was usually pretty amped to go, even though I knew it would be hard.  But, because I wanted to do this pretty bad, it never really got to be something that I ended up dreading doing.  Sure, I ended up sore and tired at the end of lots of my weekend runs, but it was a good tired – one where I felt like I accomplished something that took me 1 step closer to a big goal I have.
Lesson Learned: If you actually want the goal, the hard work you put in wont seem like work at all.

Though I didnt really pick a goal pace until later in my training (whenever I run races,  I always miss the mile markers and dont really know how far I’ve got to go in the race) it has been super helpful in training so far – ensuring that i’m keeping on pace and not going too fast at the beginning or too slow at the beginning and leaving too much in the tank at the end.  This will make sure that I dont get caught up in trying to keep pace with the more experienced marathoners at the race and end up having to cross the finish line in a wheelchair.
Lesson Learned: Don’t worry about what others are doing, focus on doing what you can.

All in all, I’m pretty happy that I decided to take on this goal – it was little more than a 15 months ago that I ran my first race ever (a 5k) and I will certainly be happy that I’ll be able to make this big of progress in my running.  I’m not sure how much running I’ll be doing after the marathon training is over, either.  This summer looks busy as it is, and if the last few weeks are any indication, the answer will be not too much for a while, but I’d like to at least get into the habit of running a few times per week.  One of my goals for next year may be to do the spartan race in vermont, but it costs $600 to enter (!!!) but I’m not sure, and I know I’ll need to be in top shape for that.

Readers: What lessons have you learned from training or working towards a goal for a few months before accomplishing it?  Did you find more value in the process of preparing for your goal, or more value in the goal itself?

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23 thoughts on “6 Lessons I Learned from Training for A Marathon”

  1. I think I always learn more from preparing to meet the goal, the steps along the way, than I ever do from acutally completing the goal.
    I think your 4th lesson is the one that is the most important for me. It is much easier to break a habit than start one, so you have to actively work at not digging yourself a hole.

    • I think I will too as well Shanendoah – the training has been interesting, but will probably be more worthwhile than the run itself in terms of lessons learned.

    • I think I agree with you here – there’s really nothing much to reaching the goal once you prep along the way – it doesnt seem near as big or hairy after the preperation

  2. That’s awesome! The kind of discipline you build training for something epic like this will serve you well in anything else you choose to tackle.

  3. 20 miles – wow, what a great accomplishment!

    I was never very athletic as a kid, but I decided to take up running in college. I started slowly, and after 6 months of consistency I was able to keep up with my soccer-player roommates. Even though I don’t run anymore, I’ll never forget the lessons I learned from the time I was a “real runner.”

  4. there is a huge connection to everyday living when it comes to a marathon. It’s the small goals that allow us to bridge towards the big ones. Congrats on you marathon to be. I hope you do really well.

  5. The Spartan Race is $140 (before 5/29)-$205 (9/19) according to their website.

    I have done several obstacle races (paying $100-$150), including the Tough Mudder which this Spartan Beast sounds like, and it was not worth it for that price. Sure, if you want to do the challenge do it, but the price is just not worth the experience.

    Unfortunately the Spartan Beast does not show you a course map (what a great gimmick) but there are only so many obstacles that can be used on a course. For the Mudder, many obstacles were duplicated (or tripled!) just to make the course last 12 miles. The obstacles weren’t all that challenging (like walking across cargo nets, sure it’s tricky but c’mon, that’s not a challenge), but the whole thing just made you tired.

    It felt like it was long just for the sake of being long. But it wasn’t nearly as physically or mentally taxing as any of the half marathons I’ve ran (I haven’t ran a marathon yet).

    • Interesting perspective – I’ll have to look at the price again, but I swear that’s what I saw. There are many spartan races, including a 5k and a 10k (or 10mi) and this one is different – it goes for up to 48 hours, and you do a bunch of crazy stuff. Most people fail (I probably will too) but it just sounds like a fun time. I did the warrior dash last year, and had a good time and thought it was worth the $50 I paid.

  6. A training partner is really essential. She will push you on days when you don’t want to run and vice versa. I think it’s a lot more difficult to train by yourself. Great lessons.

  7. I think the training partner is good too, but I also like the start small tip as well. Sometimes intimidating tasks can be all the more doable when they are broken down into manageable chunks.

  8. First, congrats on working hard to reach your goals.

    Second, I run, but haven’t tried to reach for 26.2. I just would not be able to commit the time to the training, and I know you have to train.

    I do miss some days of running (I usually only run 3 times a week, 3-5 miles), but don’t usually beat myself up about it (but then I am not training for a marathon). However, staying focused on reaching a goal is something I do understand, and know that it is simply easier to stay on-track than to get off and then try to get back on.

    Best of luck, and keep us updated!

  9. My marathon training actually taught me that I have more motivation and determination than I ever thought possible. In the past, I have let many goals slide either by losing the motivation or just slacking off. So when I put my mind toward running the marathon, it crossed my mind that I might peter out midway. But I surprised myself and finished the training and the marathon!! I think scheduling my runs helped a lot, but getting over some mental blocks helped a bit too.

    Good luck to you in your marathon and to H in her half– I can’t wait to hear how you guys do!

  10. Wow, good luck to you! I’ve often thought about training for a marathon (well, I’d probably start with a 10k, then a half-er, then a full marathon), but I totally lack the motivation. I’m great about getting to the gym, but running is just NOT my thing. Maybe I should train for an extended bike race instead?

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