The Reality of Marathon Training

I'll be the first to tell you that marathon training is not nearly as regimented and perfectly calculated as it seems. In fact, sometimes it can be messy, chaotic, and seem absolutely foolish, especially for us non-professional, non-elite athlete mortals.

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Many years ago, before I was a runner myself, I would hear of someone training for a marathon and assume they were the ultimate example of dedication and athleticism. I mean, running 26.2 miles, who does that? Only a true, badass runner at the top of their motivated, focused game, that’s who.

But now, 8 marathons later, I’ll be the first to tell you that marathon training is not nearly as regimented and perfectly calculated as it may seem. In fact, sometimes it can be messy, chaotic, and seem absolutely foolish, especially for us non-professional, non-elite athlete mortals.

Here’s a few realities I’ve learned while training for marathons:

Your social life will do a 180. Get ready to start turning down all Friday night happy hour invitations, because you’ve got to get up at 4:30 am on Saturday and put in a long run. And while you’re at it, go ahead and scratch out almost every other night of the week as well, because you’ll be far too tired to stay awake much past 8:00 pm. Your non running friends may go from supportive to distant, as they can’t understand why you’d subject yourself to this boring social calendar, simply for the sake of running. But have no fear: your new running partners will become your friends, and you will look forward to the early morning discussions about life, love, and the latest Saucony shoe release. I may be biased, but I think the conversations shared over miles trump any water cooler or happy hour gossip.

You will be hungry all of the time. There is something about a 16 mile training run that will make you absolutely ravenous. The “runchies”, as I like to call them, are relentless.  Some days, especially as your mileage increases, you’ll feel like you simply can’t keep up with fueling your body and therefore you want to eat absolutely everything in sight. Because of this, many people find they actually gain a few pounds during marathon training, rather than becoming some svelte runner, like the ones you see gracing the cover of magazines.

Your body protests non stop. Get ready for sore legs! If the delayed onset muscle soreness isn’t plaguing you, the random blister you got on your last run is. Or the chaffing from that unbelievably humid run paired with a new sports bra. Or the upset stomach from that new energy gel or post run recovery drink you tried. Isn’t all of this exercise supposed to be good for your body? And why do my shoulders hurt from RUNNING? You get the idea. The foam roller and ice baths will become your best friends, and you’ll become used to the “my legs are sore” limp that you’ve adapted.

Your laundry will be out of control. If you are a regular runner, then you are likely used to this phenomenon. But if the 5+ day a week training schedule is new to you, get ready to see your laundry pile spin out of control. This doubles for those of you training in finicky weather. Long sleeves for the start of the run, tank tops for the second half. Socks and sports bras galore, and don’t forget the sweaty shorts and tights and possibly jackets. I bet you never knew running required so much gear?

Whatever you do, don’t let the marathon training laundry pile gather in your car, or one day you’re trunk will resemble something that requires a hazmat suit.

Running starts to become your identity. You’ll have compression sleeves on under your work pants. You’ve replaced your regular Rolex with a sportier GPS enabled Garmin watch. Instead of carrying around a coffee cup, you’ve got a reusable water bottle, quite possibly one that came free with your last running sneaker purchase at the local running store. Instead of watching TV you spend your spare downtime researching different races and chiming in on online chat boards about the best way to prevent chafing nipples. People stop asking about your weekend and instead ask “how that marathon training” is coming along. Which leads me to the next point…

You begin to speak like a runner.“So did you hear that John just got a PR and a BQ last week, even though he almost bonked and thought he was going to DNF? It must have been that new GU he took before he hit the wall!” Your new running vernacular will utterly confuse the non runner crowd. What’s more, you become slightly frustrated over the fact that people can’t understand that a 10K and a marathon are NOT the same thing, not at all.

You will likely question your motives and doubt yourself a million times. Especially on those mornings when you struggle to get out of bed while your family sleeps soundly, or on the miserable long runs when it is raining and cold. You’ll have an absolutely smooth 10 miler one day, only to struggle to run a mere 3 miles a few days later, making you question if you are really cut out for this marathon business. You’ll miss an important training run (or two, or five…), you might even get sick. And more than likely you’ll finally show up to the starting line, fearful of the unknown, questioning why you ever signed up for this race in the first place.

But then you’ll cross the marathon finish line, 26.2 hard earned miles later.

And all of the weeks and months of soreness, runchies, blisters, early mornings, sacrifices, and self doubt will instantly seem worth it. Despite the fact that you can barely feel your legs, you’ll already be thinking about signing up for your next race.

Congratulations, you are a marathoner! You have joined a very small percentage of the earth’s population that has proven you are capable of running 26.2 miles. Now, go wash that laundry!

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