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Training

Pilk’s Points: 12 Lessons of Marathon Training

A lot is learned from training for your first marathon.

A lot is learned from training for your first marathon.

On the first day of training, my sore legs gave to me…a very real reality check on just how trying, rewarding, grueling and special training for my first marathon would be. Yes, it’s a worthy bucket-list item for thousands of runners, but it’s much more than just a checkmark; 26.2 miles call for real grit, focus and determination—three traits I’ve had to fine tune over the last 12 weeks of training. Although these 12 lessons aren’t as pretty and choreographed as the 12 Days of Christmas I’ve been gluttonously enjoying this month, but they definitely laid the groundwork to get me out the door this weekend and to the starting line in four weeks:

  1. Sometimes you have to run like a kid. When I was running track in high school, my dad used to say, “When you’re tired, get your knees up.” Ten years later, that same familiar voice got me through one grueling tempo run…then an interval workout. Then another one. That phrase became my mantra every Tuesday and Thursday morning, and it indeed helped me gather a second gear when I needed it.
  2. Foam rollers need to be your best friend. If I’m not rolling out twice a day, my back, IT band, quads, calves and hamstrings would be in a much darker place.
  3. Your mind is a powerful tool. When you choose to stop making excuses and trust that your heart and legs can do great things together, that’s when the race will truly begin. My mind played plenty of tricks on me over the last three months—and this is the first time I wasn’t gullible.
  4. Sleep is invaluable. Never have I experienced such exhaustion in my life, and when it’s met with a glorious full night of rest, you’re a brand new runner. Note: On short, easy-run days, don’t beat yourself up for catching a few extra Zzzz and running a bit later in the day. I sure didn’t.
  5. Cross-training is awesome. Yesterday my boyfriend commented on how my form has improved drastically since upping mileage and swimming twice a week. I’m an injury-prone runner (due in part to some stupid training decisions I’ve made)—swimming breaks keep me honest without added impact on the body.
  6. Taper tantrums are real. And I haven’t even done my first 20-miler yet.
  7. “Short runs” become 10-milers. This is probably my favorite part of the process. While I’m stoked to finish my first marathon and hopefully punch a ticket to Boston, I’m more excited to see my half-marathon PR dip under 1:35 next year. Which brings me to…
  8. …Tempo runs are extraordinary workouts. For me, they are a true testament not only to where your honest fitness is, but also to where it can go. I surprised myself on Sunday with a half-marathon simulation and walked away with a relatively comfortable 1:38, just two minutes off my real PR. I have to credit this unexpected sub-1:40 to my own choice to own every tempo and not cut any corners. Ever.
  9. The “breakthrough” run exists. This means different things to different runners; for me, it was the moment I chose to dig beyond some dark memories that used to be roadblocks to reaching my real potential. It felt as if I unlocked a brand-new runner that was always there.
  10. Eating becomes a second sport. ‘Nuff said.
  11. You may lose friends along the way. There have been people in my life that have judged my decisions to not drink, to go home early, to get up early, to skip social engagements—all in the name of a goal race. The marathon is no exception. If you have a goal, stick to it—you never know what strangers you may be inspiring while others are choosing to walk away.
  12. You cannot do it alone. I am 95 percent a solo runner. While I choose to do much of my physical running by myself, I now have a community of wonderful people around me who all share in my triumphs and downfalls when I complete each workout.