The ups and downs of marathon training

Let me preface this blog post with an important caveat – I am not an expert on marathon training. I am 15 weeks into training for my first marathon which simply qualifies me to talk about my experiences. If I finish this thing and ever decide to do another, it’ll be interesting to reread this and see if the experience remains similar for my next marathon. But I’m getting very ahead of myself there so let’s pause and get back to the job at hand.

The downs of marathon training

I like to start with bad news – it’s just how I do things. Prepare for the worst, hope for the best. So let’s start with the stuff I’m not enjoying. Some it I expected, some has been an unpleasant revelation but it’s all part of the experience…

  • There is no down time for things to heal. Specifically at the moment, this refers to my blisters. They are just becoming blisters underneath blisters. None of them are life threatening or run stopping. They’re just annoying. I had one that took up the entire bottom of a toe after last weekend’s long run. Then I had to deal with it and run on it again a couple of days later. Same with chafing – there are bits that I think are probably permanently scarred now, despite the copious amounts of BodyGlide I use. Whatever.
  • Post run highs are great but I also get a bizarre mix of high and exhaustion that isn’t quite so pleasant. This has only happened to me after the really long runs and manifests later that night as I’m trying to sleep. I am so tired I am sure I should fall asleep immediately but, instead, I lie in bed completely hyped. Body weary but brain and heart buzzing. It’s not until the following night that I can actually get the much craved sleep.
  • Anxiety goes up. With less than 80 days to go until take off, I’m becoming paranoid about everything. Avoiding children with viruses (not easy when I’m a teacher). Worrying about tree roots on my favourite trails in case I trip. Religiously reading blogs about others completing the Dopey challenge to try to reassure myself that I can do it. Bleurgh. Just get me to the start line already!
  • It takes over your life. I knew this in theory but, now that the kms are really ramping up, it’s really kicking in. And I’m aware that our marathon plan is much more limited than some. However all weekend activities need to be carefully measured against what mileage long run I’m completing and where I want to run that. Social invitations aren’t always compatible with pre-long run early nights.
  • Everyone has an opinion about what you’re doing. And you’re doing it wrong. I’m possibly being unfair with this one as it hasn’t been ‘everyone’ but there have been some comments that have been delivered, wrapped up as ‘advice’. For example, your plan is too long/too short/not enough kilometres/too long a long run, etc. Why do a marathon? You should stick to half marathons. You should be eating better than that. Actually that last one is particularly annoying – the assumption that, just because I run, that I also embrace all other forms of healthy living. I eat a fairly balanced diet and, due to the whole ‘balanced’ thing, it also includes chocolate and cake. Unless you are a dietician and I have made an appointment, I don’t need your advice on what I eat. It currently works for me, hence why I eat it. If it stops working for me, I’ll deal with that then. The fact that you think marathon runners should be eating lettuce leaves, blueberries and <insert latest fad superfood here> is just peachy but I’ll stick to what works for my body, ok?

The ups of marathon training

So why do I do this? Oh yes, there are certainly some ‘up’ bits and I’m pleased to say, so far, they definitely more than make up for the list above…

  • I feel strong. As my distances have grown, my speed has decreased but I have never felt stronger. Physically and mentally. I feel like I can do anything. Pushing aside the doubts that come at the start of the long run, by the time I’ve finished, I could take on the world! I ran 24km! Seriously!
  • Running and post-run highs. This is the flip side of one of the points above. Somewhere about 4km into a run, the endorphins start flowing and everything in the world is beautiful. Passing people on the trail who smile and say hello makes me happy. Someone passing and saying ‘go you’ may even induce happy tears. Trees, flowers, cows, ocean, birds – all of it makes me grin maniacally. And the huge smile when I’m done is all encompassing – not just on my face but like my whole being is smiling. I might be walking funny and make a face at stairs but I am blissfully, smugly, ridiculously happy. Euphoric even.
  • Anxiety goes down. Yes – this is completely against what I said up the top but, while I’m paranoid about individual incidents, my general mood has never been more zen. My training plan is set so I’m not dependent on my mood to run – I just have to do it anyway. And regularly. So, in many ways, it’s keeping my mental health in check. It clearly is exactly the right dose of ‘medication’ for my needs and I’m very, very thankful for that.
  • You find fabulous places to run. I can’t do long runs on the same old paths – I need variety to keep me interested on those long, lonely kms. So I spend quite a bit of time mapping out potential routes as the distances stretch out. I spend long enough doing neighbourhood runs during the week – weekends are for exploring.
  • You learn a lot about yourself. As most of my training runs are done solo, that’s a lot of hours of alone, thinking time. Once I’ve overcome the first few kilometres which always consist of ‘How do I run again?’ and ‘How do I breathe?’, that still leaves ample time to ponder. And lots of ‘digging deep’ is required. But I now know I can. I know that I can push through painful parts, talk myself out of self doubt and complete things I start. Even when they’re hard.

As I said, I’m only part way through this journey but, at this point, am feeling very lucky to be on it and wouldn’t change it for anything.

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Dopey training – week 8

Training started off a bit slowly this week – I decided to push Tuesday’s run to later in the week, partly due to work commitments and partly because my leg was still feeling a bit dodgy. So my first 45 minute run of the week ended up being on Thursday. It’s been pretty rainy and wintery all week so waiting for the perfect weather was definitely not an option – it was either run and take your chances or don’t run. I took my chances, managed to get away from work on time and headed for a park in town. I managed 2 laps before the rain started and I headed down to and along the beach to finish off my 45 minutes. As always, I grinned maniacally while the rain and wind battered me – there is something distinctly satisfying about fighting it out with the elements to get your run done. While I’m not a fan of heading out into the rain, I don’t really mind running once it starts. Although I did have some problems feeling my fingers, especially while trying to take this photo 🙂

Saturday was my second 45 minute run – this time at Brimbank parkrun launch. I had a great run – a beautiful trail and fabulous company, this one was definitely measured in smiles.

And then today I did my long run. There was definitely a time, not that long ago, when I didn’t like long runs at all. Nothing about them. I now feel I’ve moved on to a love/hate relationship with them. And I’m equally as passionate about both sides. All week, I’ve been excitedly looking forward to the weekend for the chance to do my long run. Each day, I’d deliberate about where to go, which route to take. Last night, I was looking at the clock from 7.30pm, wanting to go to bed so I could get up and get it done. The ‘hate’ kicked in this morning when it actually came to getting out of my warm pjs and into running gear but, once I was out there, I was in love again. I chose one of my favourite trails – the Surf Coast Trail from Jan Juc to Ironbark Basin – and soaked up the stunning sunshine that we’re lucky enough to have today. I took it easy today – it was about getting the kilometres done and enjoying some solitude, not cranking out PBs. I started with set run/walk intervals as per the plan but then decided to just go by feel instead. And I made sure I took some time to stop and smell the wattle. Spring is definitely on its way!

Weekly summary:

Thursday – 5.7km (47:03)

Saturday – 5.2km (43:11)

Sunday – 15km (2:18:50)

Dopey training – week 4

I thought that training might be a challenge this week as it's the first week of Term 3 and returning to school always seems to knock me around in unexpected ways. As it turned out, training was a challenge this week but for an entirely different reason – I didn't want to.

'Not wanting to' is a tough one to overcome. I allowed myself to give into it on Tuesday and not run, giving myself all sorts of justifications to make myself feel better. When I finally just came clean and was honest, it really was just that I didn't want to. Wednesday didn't see me in any better mood but I had a much needed and harsh word with myself – it's fine to not want to every now and then but if you don't want to do this day after day, why are you? No one's making you and you're actually paying for the privilege. Is this even something you want? The answer to that is a resounding yes so all other arguments went out the window, I put my gear on, shut the hell up and headed out the door. And, as usual, it was pretty good once I was out there. I quite like running at night – I like the way darkness envelopes you and makes it just about the run. The world seems different at night – a little bit magical and mysterious.

Friday's run was much easier to talk myself into – I'd taken my stuff to work and decided to head up to the You Yangs when I finished. I also had spent the day mentally giving myself permission to walk as much as I wanted to. The whole thing if I felt like it. What always happens when I do that is that I walk for a tiny bit then get caught up in it all and run. And that's what happened on Friday. It was a beautiful run – a stunning, crisp, blue sky evening with the trail feeling like cotton wool under my feet. Even the arduous climb up the Saddle wasn't so bad and, down the other side, I let my legs go and loved the exhilaration of it. I was also accompanied in the last little bit by a couple of large kangaroos – doesn't matter how long I live in this country, I still get a buzz out of that. And, to finish my run, I had an official finish line. Truly. The Trailplus event was setting up at the You Yangs for the weekend and they were just putting the finish line up when I arrived so I helped them out by testing that it met requirements.

Today's run. Well, I got it done. I had gone out to buy new shoes (which I'm sure will be the topic of a whole other post), forgotten my rain jacket and returned home feeling out of sorts. Remembering the talk I had with myself the other day, I put my new shoes on, found my rain jacket and put it on then headed out into an almost instant and heavy downpour. Within about 500 metres I was thinking of turning around to the warmth of my living room however I then actually started to enjoy it and figured I was wet now – I may as well stay that way and get this run done. 7.5km running around the streets of my town is actually pretty good for me so I've ended the week feeling good.

Let the tapering for Run Melbourne half marathon next weekend begin!

Weekly summary:
Wednesday – 5.5km (46:09)
Friday – 5km (45:52)
Sunday – 7.5km (1:00:19)

Dopey training – week 1

I blogged earlier this week that marathon training had started and I’ve decided to post updates of each week’s training. Mostly, I blog for me – a record of this incredible journey that I get to have and to remind me where I’ve been. However if others get something out of it, all the better.

I’m following Jeff Galloway’s training plan which has 2 weekday runs most week (Tues and Thurs) lasting 45 minutes plus varying length long runs on the weekends. As it’s week 1, the long run isn’t very long at all – 5km.

Even though it’s the first week, I’ve already had to vary the plan but I figure that any plan that can’t be varied isn’t the right plan for me and my life. I ran on Wednesday rather than Tuesday (as it fit in better with the chaos that is the last week of school term) then pushed Thursday’s run to Saturday morning (and cut it a little short). And my long run was much longer than Jeff intended – I ended up with 11km. This is mostly because I have Run Melbourne half marathon coming up in a few weeks and need to keep up the long runs to ensure I get the best out of myself for that event – it’s my last chance to get a better qualifying time for Dopey and I’ll be pushing it as it is.

So here’s the weekly statistics…

Wednesday – 5.5km (45 mins)
Saturday – 5.0km (36 mins)
Sunday – 11.2km (1hr 42 mins)

My long run should actually have been longer – I was aiming for 15km but my stomach still wasn’t happy today so I didn’t want to push too hard. I kept the pace very gentle – I’m learning to ensure my long runs are slower and finish with me feeling strong rather than ‘done’. I ran again on my favourite trail – even when I’m feeling less than average, the scenery is guaranteed to make me smile.

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Let the marathon training begin (gulp)…

This morning’s run was monumental for more than just the fact that it occurred on a weekday morning (quite unusual) – it was, officially, run #1 of training for the Dopey challenge. I say ‘officially’ as I haven’t really stopped training since, well…who knows when. I’m always training for something. But the Jeff Galloway plan starts this week so it’s now officially official.

I can tell you I’m exceptionally nervous and still very much doubt my ability to finish this thing but I’m trying to push those thoughts away and get on with it. Time to trust the plan. It definitely helps to have friends along for the ride although I need to be careful not to be sucked in to anyone else’s pace. My goal of completing this event is well and truly big enough – there will be no time goals to chase for, other than staying ahead of the balloon ladies.

This morning also marked another mini-milestone – I ran my 500th kilometre for the year. I obviously have run this far before however reaching this milestone in the final week of June puts me completely on track to complete my huge, dreaming, aim high goal of running 1000km for the year. Happy times 🙂

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Dopey challenge – here we come!

My alarm went off at 3.45am on Wednesday morning and I actually bounded out of bed. This day had felt like a loooooong time coming; something I’d been thinking about for over a year. I opened up my computer and headed to the Run Disney site……to register for the Dopey challenge (insert freaked out emoticon here!).

To say I felt nervous is a large understatement – my butterflies rivalled those I’ve had at the starting line of major events. It’s a just another event, surely. Why the nerves? There are so many reasons, many of them not particularly rational. We’ve booked in nearly a year ahead so that’s a long time for things to go wrong. I’m not actually running at the moment because I’m injured. The furthest I’ve run is 23km, yet I’ve signed up to nearly 4 times that over 4 days. I haven’t booked the airfares or actually figured out how I will pay for them. But, in the end, these felt like minor details. This event has been on my bucket list since I started running and, if not now, when?

So, it’s done. I was so ridiculously excited that I couldn’t stop thinking about it all day and must have annoyed my workmates with my constant chatter about it. I have a long journey ahead but an exciting one. Bring it on 🙂