Monday, September 30, 2013

Top-5 Personal Lessons of Marathon Training

Training for a 5K race and training for a marathon are vastly different. Forget the obvious distance differential, that's the least of the differences.

Lessons Learned

For an elite athlete, or one that has realistic expecations of winning any race, the training for a short or long race is not so different. Either way, it requires a great deal of time.

For the recreational runner like me, a guy who wants to check a few things off his bucket list and then evaluate the future, half-marathon and marathon training have taught me a few things. Some of the things I considered at the beginning, but, in my typical fashion, I overestimated my ability to overcome. 

Here are the top-five things I've learned these past few months.

5. It's harder than 5K training. When I ran my first 11-mile training run, I finished and thought, "That isn't even half-way," when compared to a marathon. I ran my first 13-mile distance in 90-degree heat a few weeks ago and it took me several days to recover. Again, I thought "That was barely half-way there." My first honest-to-goodness half-marathon race is in less than two weeks. I know I can finish the distance, maybe even ahead of some people, but make no mistake, it has been a physical and mental struggle to get to this point.

4. It's harder than 5K training, mentally.  I remain motivated to finish both the half and full, and I'm certain I'll be able to do it.  I must say, however, that it gets harder with every maintenance run and every long run to summon the same verve I had a few weeks ago. The 13-miler took as much out of me mentally as physically. Since that time, I've missed some runs and had to dig deep not to lose ground. 

3. Encouragement matters. As word gets around, people congratulate you on the undertaking. It feels good and provides some much needed motivation. A certain percentage of the people most assuredly think I'm stupid for doing it, but they're easy to spot. The sincere remarks have an impact.

2. My body doesn't respond as quickly as it used to. In past years, when I demanded something of myself physically, my body returned with a hearty "Let's roll!" Now, past 40, it says, "I'll get back to you on that one, maybe." I estimated that I'd be much further along in my per-mile pace at this point, but at least I'm able to get out there and do it. 

1. It requires a commitment from the whole family. Real runners, great runners can put in a 13-mile training run in well under 1.5 hours. My only training run at that distance took me 3 hours. Yes, conditions were unbearable, but under the best of conditions it would have taken 2.5.  With three maintenance runs and one long run, running can take a big bite out of the free time you have in a week. My family time has suffered, which has been the worst part of this little journey.  I'm fortunate that everyone is on-board with this. I've found that running requires as much mental well-being as any other sport. Being worried about something, or having loads on the mind, has an impact on performance and motivation.

I'm fortunate for the family I have, the relative good health I've been given, and the ability to continue. It's been harder than I expected, but I'm glad to be able to put one foot in front of the other as many times as it requires.

I'd like to hear from those of you who have been down this road. Let us all hear in the comments!


  1. Hello, Alan, and congratulations on training for your first marathon! I'd say you have the right attitude, and you've learned a lot already. But since you asked, I'll be happy to pass along a few thoughts.

    Don't feel limited by your age. I ran my first half at 48 and my first full (Chicago, 2011) the following year. I am now 51 and running ultras. You have many quality years of running ahead. Train sensibly, eat right, and get enough rest, and your body will give you far more than you thought possible.

    Yeah, long runs are tough, but stick with them. They are more for training the brain than the body. There's a reason that 99% of Americans will never complete a marathon, and it isn't physical - it's the mental fortitude to stick it out. And if you're like me, once you complete that first half marathon, double-digit runs become much easier.

    Best of luck with your goals! I'll be following your progress.


    1. Hi, Jeff!

      That's some great advice. I've learned not to push too hard, because injuries seem to come easier at this stage than they used to. Getting much better with eating right, though bad habits are hard to break, especially with my love of food. If I hadn't always been somewhat active, I'd weigh 700 lbs!

      You're exactly right. As tough as the physical can be, it's the mental fortitude that is the real obstacle. After my 13-mile run, with the heat and exhaustion, it took longer to get back in the game mentally than physically. Previous long runs hadn't been too bad. I think the combination of the horrible conditions, my exhaustion when it was over and the thought of "Wow, that's only half my goal" made it tough to recover.

      I have the Iron Horse Half here locally on 10/12. I'm looking forward to it and hope to use it as a springboard to the WDW Marathon in January.

      Thanks for your comment. It was a big help to me, and hopefully others.