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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Learning to Run the Marathon

Learning to run 26.2 has been a true learning process.  I say this as a runner, coach, teacher, and student with a BA and MA.  I've done a lot of learning and teaching, and learning how to run a marathon has been the hardest thing I've done.

Part of the difficulty is always comparing present-and future-Megan with past-Megan.  I ran a half marathon in 1:34:30, so I "should" be able to run a full marathon in 3:18:53 (see my post from 9/2016 for more detail).  I'd get frustrated when, no matter how hard I worked, I just couldn't "live up to my potential."  I ran my first 26.2 in 3:34:54 and qualified for the Boston Marathon by 6 seconds, but it was ROUGH.  I walked a lot.  I was in a lot of pain.  I went out too fast and slowed down a lot in the later miles.  I ran my second marathon in 3:47:48, 12:54 slower than my first.  I ran my third marathon in 3:32:15 and finally qualified for Boston with, hopefully, enough additional time to actually register for the race.  To say the marathon is humbling and unpredictable is an understatement.

Anyone who's ever trained for and run both half and full marathons knows that training for and racing 13.1 miles is very, very different than training for and racing 26.2 miles.  Running 26.2 miles demands so much from your body.  Nutrition that fuels your muscles and your brain.  Cardiovascular fitness to pump blood to your muscles.  Respiratory fitness to get oxygen to your muscles.  Muscular and skeletal fitness to move your body over 26.2 miles.  Muscular strength.  Flexibility.  Mental and emotional toughness to keep going when it hurts and all you want to do is stop.  No race has ever broken my heart the way the marathon has.

But that's what's so great about running.  If you love to run, then you'll keep chasing that dream because you can't bear to let it go.  And if you commit, and put in the time, and analyze your successes and failures, and learn and adapt, you WILL get better.  You WILL see results.  You might feel stronger.  You might run faster.  You might get to mile 25.5, realize you need to haul ass to qualify for Boston, pull your mental shit together, and run like hell, even though you're exhausted.

But it takes time.  You can't fake a marathon.  Nothing has demanded as much of me as training for and running 26.2 miles has.  In retrospect, I ran five half marathons before I truly broke through in my sixth.  I'm not sure why I thought my first full marathon, or even my third, would be "the one."  I mean, math would dictate that, if I'm running twice the distance, it would take twice the number of races, and I should still be holding out for marathon number 12 for the real breakthrough.  Luckily, I ran a unicorn race at the Glass City Marathon in April.  And I can feel myself getting stronger, physically and mentally.  A 20-mile long run doesn't send me to the ice bath and bed for the rest of the day.  I'm getting faster.  I'm running smarter.  And I'm so excited to see what happens at the Chicago Marathon on October 8.  It might break my heart, but no race will ever take away my hard work, and no finishing time will ever negate how much I've learned about myself through this beautiful sport.