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What It Feels Like to Train For a Marathon

10 Unexpected Truths About Marathons

It's been a few weeks since I finished my Boston Marathon re-do, and while the whole event was memorable from start to finish (most especially the cheers from the crowds that helped motivate all us runners), it wasn't exactly an easy process. Now that my four months of training are over, I can say with certainty that I'm glad I did it — but I won't be clamoring to sign up for another marathon anytime soon. Here are 10 reasons why.

  1. Your free time becomes all about the race: Friends want to go out of town for the weekend? Have a birthday dinner you can't miss that just happens to be the same day as your midweek run? Scheduling your time becomes a balancing act between can't-miss social and work events with better-not-miss 15-milers. Try as you might, you will have to say no to a fun event or two during your marathon months. Be sure you add your marathon training plan to your calendar so you know when you can move things around, and follow these tips on balancing your social life with your training plan.
  2. You'll gain weight: It may not seem possible — you're constantly in the gym and you just spent two hours running through thousand of calories over the weekend — but it's true for many. Athlete-like training equals an athlete-like appetite, and while those bulging leg muscles are good news for your race time, they may not exactly make fitting into your skinny jeans any easier. The good news is that you'll probably be healthier than you were when you started training, so don't let vanity discourage you from accomplishing an important goal.
  3. You may have a midtraining breakdown: It's happened to me and many of my friends — at some point midway through your training plan, you're going to feel like giving up. Mine came halfway through a 20-mile long run the first time I trained for a marathon; I couldn't understand why running felt so hard, and I couldn't imagine being able to run a full 26.2 race. When it happens, recognize it, then move on. Some runs are bad, many are hard, but every one will help you get closer to your goal of finishing your race.
  4. You'll hate running: Feeling like your former favorite hobby is now more like a drag is normal, especially since you're spending quite a lot of your time on the road. After my first marathon, I took a few weeks off from running, saving my sneakers until I actually found myself missing my running routine. Don't worry if you're not as excited about running as you were four months ago; once you're back into it, you'll have the added confidence of knowing that pretty much any-mile run not only seems doable, but a breeze.
  5. You'll feel anxious while you taper: Tapering week, or the week or two before your marathon where you reduce your mileage, is always my favorite part of the whole plan, but it also makes me anxious as well. Going from running 24 miles one Sunday to calling up your friends for brunch the next can make you feel like you're slacking, that you should be doing more or you'll lose all the hard work you've put in up until this point. After all, race day is so close! But as much as you feel like going out for a long run just to prove to yourself that you can, don't. Tapering is all about conserving your energy, which you'll definitely need on race day!
  6. You shouldn't skip your shake-out run: I've skipped them and I've run them, and my verdict is: do them. The shake-out run, or that short run you do the day before your race, can be a big confidence booster. After not running very much for the last week or two, running a quick three-miler in your race-day shoes just 24 hours before start time will help calm nerves and prove to yourself that you, in fact, do know how to run.
  7. You'll think way too much about your bathroom habits: Marathons are all about planning — your training plan, for one, but also what to eat, what to wear, and, also importantly, when to use the bathroom. Nerves, hydration habits, and hours on the road make thinking about your bathroom plan beforehand a smart thing to do. Plan your bathroom breaks with these tips, and be sure to always make a last-minute stop at the starting line Porta-Potties before your corral is called — you'll be glad you did!
  8. You'll experience new pains: My longest run before a marathon is usually around 22 miles — enough for me to know how my body will react to race day, without feeling like I've burnt out. Even so, I'm always amazed at the painful surprises that are in store for me when I'm pushing myself a little harder than those training runs. Anything from lower back issues to foot pain or chafing can creep up on you during a long race, so be aware of any nagging issues you have before and try to prevent them with strengthening, stretching, or antichafe measures. Luckily, my pains have been minor enough to run through to the end, but if you ever feel like you need to stop during a race, be sure and find a medical tent ASAP.
  9. You should definitely cross train: After only running when I trained for my first attempt at a marathon, I vowed to do it right this time around. And what a difference it made; after dealing with knee pain after last year's training, I was amazed at the fact that this year, I only experienced a little IT band issue at the beginning of my training that dissipated as I continued to strength train. Most marathon training plans include cross-training options like circuit workouts and yoga sessions. Try to do them all.
  10. You'll want to quit but be so glad that you didn't: I complained about just about everything both before, during, and after my marathon, but I'm still proud that I stuck it out, hit all my long runs, and finished the race. It was one of the hardest things I've done, and like all difficult journeys, completely worth it. So if you're thinking of signing up for your first long race, I say: do it! Then get ready for an emotional roller coaster ride.
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