The Five Things I’ve Learned from Marathon Training

These next three posts are about my first marathon – the Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon. Yes I’m totally justified in turning a race into three posts… I have a lot to say! If you want to just read about the race itself click here.

When I first went into marathon training in late January, I figured it would just be a whole lot of running. I wasn’t expecting anything life-changing other than being constantly starving and tired. As it turns out, a lot more can come out of marathon training than just a marathon, and I learned a whole lot more about myself than the fact that I can stick to a training plan. While this list could have been much longer, I decided to keep it down to the 5 things that stuck out for me the most. So, here are the five things I learned from marathon training.

1. I learned something about life, and how I like to live it. In 2009, I decided to be crazy and apply to the National Outdoor Leadership School for their course in Alaskan Mountaineering. If you can’t tell by the fact that I slap bright yellow NOLS stickers on most of the things I own, I got accepted, and at the age of 17 flew by myself to Alaska to go have fun in the wilderness for 32 days with people I had never met. How I convinced my mother to let me do this is still a mystery.

While on this trip, I began to understand the importance of habits, and how much procrastinating sucks. Just finished dinner? Better clean the pan out in that river over there before the food cakes to it. Decided as a group we’ll get up at 3:30 am to go climb that peak nearby? Better get up on the first sound of your alarm so we’re not walking back in frozen slush at midday. Being in the habit of doing things on time and with a schedule works well for me, and while I find it to be annoying at first, it turns out I really enjoy being on a schedule. Of course when I got back from my trip I reverted to my old habits, but training for a marathon got me back into one. Between being on a schedule again and being a gluten free Celiac, I had the best semester academically of my life, and felt better than ever both mentally and physically. It was beautiful. Also I was sleepy enough to go to bed bed early, which puts me in a good mood, makes me infinitely more productive, and gets me made fun of by my friends because I start falling asleep at 9:30 like I’m 50 or something.

You yungins are just jealous of my incredible sleeping habits! Now get off of my lawn!

2. So running puts me on a schedule which makes me happy during the day, but while I’m actually running I am really really happy.

Long runs give me time to think, joke around with myself, or even just make up short stories in my head. I get to listen to music for hours at a time which is awesome, and sometimes I even sing along and scare off all the nearby pedestrians.

Plus running makes me feel awesome. Especially when it’s snowing and I’m running uphill to the Olympic fanfare or the theme from Rocky.

Best. Feeling. Ever.

3. I hate stationary bikes. Also my butt says I cannot be a cyclist. I moved from Southern California to Ohio in the beginning of January (yay co-op programs!) which was a huge change running-wise not just due to the climate, but due to the difference in hilli-ness. Let’s take a look at the Mayo-Clinic’s article on Achilles Tendinitis:

“Running in worn-out shoes can increase your risk of Achilles tendinitis. Tendon pain occurs more frequently in cold weather than in warm weather, and running on hilly terrain also can predispose you to Achilles injury.”

So let’s see…. I was starting on shoes with at least 700 miles on them, moving to Ohio in the winter, and it’s Ohio. It’s hilly. Much more so than the Rose Bowl or along the beach in Oceanside where I had been running for the past seven months. Aside from my balaclava freezing to the point where I had to bring it in the shower with me to thaw it off of my face after our first training run (wind chill was -3), bet you can’t guess what happened??

That’s right, after training run #2 I couldn’t walk because my left Achilles tendon decided to swell, stiffen to the point that I couldn’t bend my ankle, become painful to walk on and basically throw in the towel. I had gone through minor tendinitis in that ankle before, however this was a whole other level. It seemed that, not even a week into training, my first marathon was going to have to wait.

Yeah. Right. I’m waaaaaaaaaaaaay too stubborn for that. Instead of taking a pretty clear no for an answer, I decided the marathon was far enough away that I could still make it happen. I was going to wrap that sucker up in an ACE bandage and train in any way I could.

As if an Achilles injury is a big deal. Bring it.

This is how I met my new enemy, the stationary bike.

This is a terrible invention. Whomever thought of this should feel bad.

Imagine that you are a hamster. Hamsters are pretty much constantly on crack (seriously, where does that amount of energy come from?!) and therefore you LOVE moving around. Imagine how happy you would not be to realize that your only way of releasing energy is by frustratingly running in place on a little wheel. Now imagine you don’t even get the satisfaction of seeing the wheel move. Instead you get to stare at the bright green wall of the recreation center because someone thought it was a cool idea to not put these torture devices in front of a window. You are now on a stationary bike.

Not only are these devices one of the most boring modes of exercise known to man, whomever designed the seat must not understand basic human comfort or anatomy. Really, does the seat need to be that wide? And made of stone? Also what’s going on with this freaky backwards seat angle? Did you not realize my groin was going to need blood flow? And those elbow pads that left my elbows callused? What?

Who designed this contraption?!?

On the flip side, stationary bikes do have a convenient little spot that is perfect for setting an iPad. So while I biked the equivalent of what I should have been running (running miles x 3.25ish = biking miles for my pace) I did learn a lot from watching the entire crash course series on both American and world histories as well as literature. When I was able to move from the stationary bike after a month or so onto the less torturous elliptical machine (which I mixed with cross training and weights), I also got addicted to podcasts and listening to NPR which I still really enjoy during long runs. I highly recommend: The Moth, WNYC’s Radiolab, StarTalk, Ten Minute Podcast, Stuff You Missed in History Class and Science Friday.

Finally in mid-March, I ran my first mile again. It felt amazing. My lungs and heart were clearly in better shape than my legs, but it was a triumphant start. This marathon was going to happen. 

4. I probably won’t be a triathlete because I’m an extremely slow swimmer. At one point I thought, ‘hey between biking and running, all I have to do is add swimming and I can do triathlons! Easy!’ Then I decided to go for a swim.

It would be a close match between this orangutan and I considering the extreme similarity between our swimming styles.

Ok, I was a diver for 13 years, so if you throw me into a pool or the ocean I’m not going to drown. It’s just that I can only do breast stroke and doggie-style; neither of which are very fast. And I’m not the best at swimming in a straight line. So let’s just say that if I ever do decide to compete in a triathlon, I’m going to have to go extremely fast in the running and biking portions of the race, because there’s no way I can beat anyone while swimming like an orangutan.

5. Running enables me to pursue my over-indulgent relationship with food. I love food. Half of my blog is about food. I love cooking food, I love playing with recipes, I love talking about food and I love eating food. So, being a marathon runner with an insatiable hunger who has to work to be above 120 lbs is perfectly ok with me. Being a Celiac actually makes it even better because I’m too cheap to buy replacement foods most of the time, so if I’m sick of rice, looks like I’ll be having 4 servings of meat, nuts and veggies for dinner. Win.

Ever wonder who orders 25 traditional wings at buffalo wild wings to eat all by themselves? IT IS ME. I DO THAT.

Plus with races as long as a marathon, you actually have to eat during the race. While this was something I had to get used to, once I did it was great. Since I wasn’t sure if GU was gluten free (you’ll hear more about this in later posts…) Nick and I decided to train with paydays, thinking the sugary, nutty goodness would sustain us for the four-ish hours we expected to be running. Let me just say, after 15 miles a payday tastes like the sweet food of the gods.

One final note: ending your 17 mile run at the door of the nearby froyo place is one of the best ideas I have yet to come up with. I highly recommend it to everyone.

So, after an insane journey of 3.5 months and 487 miles, it was finally go time. Marathon weekend had arrived.

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