Wednesday, April 29, 2015

What Has Running Marathons Taught Me

Running a marathon isn’t just 26.2 miles.  That’s just the finish.  Running a marathon is the hundreds and even thousands of miles and months of hard training leading up to that 26.2 mile finish.  They say that the person who crosses the finish line at a marathon is not the same person who started running it.  “What does that mean?” you may be wondering.  Well, let me see if I can explain what it means to me. 

When I started training for my first marathon last August, it was 16 weeks before my marathon.  I later found out that some people opt to train for 20-22 weeks for a marathon, but 16 is kind of, sort of a minimum time frame to adequately train yourself to be ready to tackle 26.2 miles in one go.  I had just come off a one month running hiatus and was going straight into marathon training.  I had settled on running 5 days a week.  Going from nothing to running 5 days a week, even with the relatively low mileage at the beginning of a training cycle, was really asking a lot of myself.  But, after a week or two I was in the swing of things and it was smooth sailing.  It was summer when I started and I live in central Texas…so that means I was basically running through hades…or around the rim of an active volcano…you get the idea.  To avoid running with the Texas summer sun beating down on me and causing me to feel beat down, I opted to get up at 5:30am and run before the sun came up so all I had to do was deal with the humidity. 

The first 2 things I discovered about myself thanks to marathon training were A) I really like running regularly…I’m so much happier when I run regularly and just in general feel better about myself and my life; and B) even though I am not a morning person, I love running before the sun comes up.  There’s just something about the still of the predawn time and then, of course, there is getting to watch the sun peeking over the horizon.  I just love it.  I feel more in tune and in touch with myself and life when I run at that time of the day.

A couple months into training, I had my first injury.  It was an over-use injury too.  I strained my calf.  I was running a 15 mile training run, my long run for that week.  I was going relatively slow.  I mean, I hadn’t been doing any kind of speedwork…no intervals, no Yasso’s, no fartleks, no tempo runs…nothing.  Also, I hadn’t been pushing my pace at all.  So yea, I was running slow.  The first 5 miles, I was going about 12:30 per mile.  I was going to bump it up to 12 when I hit the 5 mile mark, but at 4.9 there was a twang in the inside area of my right calf that felt like a string snapped.  I immediately stopped and sat down and started feeling on my calf for a bulge.  I figured it was a tear, but I felt nothing…except for pain like fire, of course.  But no bulge.  As soon as I felt the twang and stopped, I said “well, I’m not running 15 miles today.”  I ran-limped the 2.5 miles home.  Probably a really bad idea but it was going to take almost literally forever to walk-limp that same distance home.  I ended up at the ER later that day because the pain didn’t lessen at all and I was afraid something serious had happened.  A $150 copay later, there were no tests performed and no ultrasound done…all he did was run his thumb over the area like I had already done and say “you just strained the muscle.”  I asked how long I should take off from running and he said “all I can tell you is to avoid any activity that causes pain.”  Gee, thanks doc.  He gave me a prescription for 600mg ibuprofen and tramadol.  I ended up taking 3 days off from running and then wore a compression sleeve on my right calf whenever I ran, regardless the distance, for a month.

What did I learn from this?  I’m tougher than I thought I was.  I also deal with pain fairly well (I technically already knew this part).  While I was disappointed that I was injured and had to take some time off, I was more concerned with healing and preventing further injury than I was with keeping up with my 5-day a week running schedule.  So, I cut a day off my running schedule and just adjusted the distances for each run so I didn’t lose any mileage for the week.  So, I learned that I deal with setbacks without too much issue.  I knew I still had 2 months before the marathon at the time of this injury and as long as I played my cards right, I could make it to the start line without further injury.

By the time the day of the marathon rolled around, I had noticed that my average mile pace was dropping.  I had shaved a minute off my average mile pace.  My average mile was now around 11:30 minutes instead of the 12:30-13:00 I had started my training with.  This made me believe that I really could run the marathon within the 7 hour cutoff.  I did the math and came up with 5:30 hours for a projected finish time.

From this I learned that even if you don’t do any speedwork, consistency pays off.  All that hard work, determination and regular running had equaled a faster average pace for me!  What I take from this is that even when you think you’re not making progress, you just might be!  Don’t sell yourself short! 

Overall, throughout the process, I learned so much about myself.  I learned that marathon training really does change you.  I think it changed me for the better.  Before I started this journey, I wasn’t really into challenging myself or being challenged even slightly.  Hence the no speedwork.  But now?  Now, I’m all about challenging myself.  I’m all about consciously making progress and improving myself.  Now I don’t just HOPE for a new PR, I make it happen!  I really like setting goals and then working my butt off to reach and exceed them!

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