You’d think the hardest part about running a marathon would be…well, running a marathon. Turns out the hardest part is just getting to race day.
When I signed up for the Chicago Marathon last winter, I wasn’t entirely convinced that I’d ever be able to run 26 miles, let alone by October. Wait, I realized, forget about the race. I had a whole lot of running to do before I even set foot in Chicago. I needed to get my body ready for 26 miles, but to do that, I first had to conquer 14, 15, 16, 19 and, this past weekend, 21 miles. That’s a lot of hard miles just to get to the point where I could run a lot of hard miles. There also were a lot of internal pep talks on days when motivation was lacking, and a lot of sacrifices made by my family to accommodate my training schedule.
But as I hit the homestretch with just over two weeks before the marathon, I’ve reached the calm before the storm. After increasing mileage consistently for the past several months, my training runs only get shorter from here as I taper my miles to keep me fresh for race day. Of course, I’m looking forward to a bit of a break but, more significantly, just getting to this point in my training has given me a nice confidence boost at a time when I can use all the help I can get.
It’s important to identify and then move past mental hurdles during your training so that, when you hit the course, you have faith that you can actually accomplish your goal…or at least finish. That doesn’t mean you have to put in a 13-mile training run if you want to run a half marathon, but you better get up to at least 10. After last weekend’s 21-mile run, I now know that I can handle another five on race day. With that mental hurdle cleared, it feels like the hardest part is over. In fact, the race is now more like a reward for all the work I’ve put in than the looming menace it first appeared to be when I started training. Yeah, some reward, right?
None of this is to say that I’m taking the race lightly. In fact, running those 26.2 miles on October 9 — and, ideally, running them well — will no doubt be the most challenging singular moment of this eight-month endeavor. But now that I’ve put in more nearly 800 training miles, I’m much better prepared for the race, both physically and mentally, than I ever thought I’d be when I was slogging through the February snow and melting under the July sun. Finishing the marathon will be a monumental personal achievement, something to finally cross off the ol’ bucket list years after convincing myself that I’d never be up to the task, but I’ve already seen the benefits from all the training. This isn’t about running the race; it’s about being able to run the race, and what it takes to get there.
Training for your first marathon is a memorable and rewarding experience filled with tiny, incremental victories along the way. Each time I completed a distance I’d never before run, my confidence grew a little more. I learned that this weekend’s good run can erase the memory of last weekend’s bad run, and that 10 miles actually qualifies as an easy run when you start putting in 15- and 20-milers. It’s all relative.
I also learned that marathon training is about the journey and not so much the destination. My journey is almost over, and the destination awaits!
Jamey will be updating his Runner’s Journal a couple times a month as he trains for the 2011 Chicago Marathon – his first full marathon – on October 9. Only 17 days to go…but who’s counting, right?! Email firstname.lastname@example.org with comments, questions or your own thoughts on running, and see why Jamey runs.