The Three Guarantees of Marathon Training

The hardest part of running a marathon isn’t the race. The hardest part of running a marathon, or any race longer than that distance, is the months of training that lead up to the race. It’s having the discipline to stick to a training plan, regardless of what life throws at you. After all, what are the odds, at any given point, that something comes up in the span of 3-4 months that you didn’t plan on? That was the biggest surprise for me when I trained for my first marathon - realizing that balancing life and marathon training was the challenge. Figuring out the answer to questions like, (1) If I’m sick, do I still go out for a run? (2) If I have to choose between getting 8 hours of sleep vs. getting in a run, which one do I choose? (3) Does having a beer or six with my friends actually affect my training?

In the course of a marathon training plan, and definitely in the course of an ultramarathon training plan, there are relatively few guarantees. But, here are a few:

  1. Something you didn’t plan on happening will happen. You’ll get a blister in a place you’ve never gotten a blister. You’ll trip and fall. You’ll run out of water. You’ll inevitably have to go to the bathroom somewhere that nobody wants to. You’ll get excited to go out on a 12-mile run only to be turned around, walking home 3 miles in. Shit happens. It’s all part of the learning process. Part of the reason you get in so many days running ahead of a race is to get reps with how your body responds to different tests, to different days, and to figure out how to anticipate (and prevent!) some of the common issues that come up.

  2. You’re going to miss a workout or two. Even relatively healthy people often get sick during the course of a training plan, since running can take a toll on your body, and ultimately wear down your immune system. You’ll probably have a (Bachelor/Bachelorrette/Wedding/Birthday/Company/Friday Night [Circle One]) Party at some point that keeps you out way too late, drinking way more than you should, sleeping far less than you need to, and completely wreaking your workout the next day (if it happens at all). Know that this is part of the process. Training for a race is meant to be part of your life, not the great destroyer of it. Take these things in stride (see what I did there?). Know that it’s okay to miss a workout. Know that no one workout is going to make or break your results on race day.

  3. There will be highlights, and there will be dark places. You’ll go faster and/or farther than you thought you could at some point. You’ll go slower and/or shorter than you planned to at some point. You’ll get faster at some point! You’ll get slower at some point (womp womp). You’ll lose weight at some point. You’ll gain weight at some point.

    Your value is not determined by your body weight, your mile splits, or the farthest distance you’ve ever run. Don’t run because you hate your body or your abilities; run because you love your body and you love challenging yourself. Run because you’re grateful that you can. Run with the understanding that you are already enough, regardless of what Strava, or your GPS watch, or your training plan says you are.

Pro Tip: Before each of my workouts, I mentally walk through what the plan is for the workout. I accept what may and may not happen. I recognize and prioritize my health above all things, and I evaluate my success based on my effort and my decision-making, not based on how fast or how far I run (as tempting as that can be). I remind myself to be grateful for my good health and for my good fortune, and then I go.

Happy trails,

Matt