What it Takes to Train for a Marathon

Over my final four weeks of training for marathon #2 I’m sharing some thoughts on the marathon. This first week I wanted to share some of my thoughts on what it takes to train for a marathon.

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I have had a fairly uneventful training cycle. Things have been going smoothly and I’ve been getting all of my runs in. I’m consistently running more mileage per week and more days per week than ever before. Going into this training cycle I was a little intimidated by that and worried I would get hurt or burnt out.  The weather has been more hot and humid than last summer which has made for some really unpleasant runs. However, I found that I was still enjoying marathon training as much the second time around as the first.

Initially when I expressed my intimidation to my husband he pointed out that I didn’t have to do anything and encouraged me to take things one week at a time. I tend to look at the big picture (in running and in life) and get overwhelmed. I took his advice and began looking at each week as the big picture and focusing daily on what I was to accomplish in training that day.

This strategy worked for me. I have been hitting my mileage and paces and finding joy in the time and effort spent training. Of course spending all that time running has given me a lot of time to think about my training too. I started comparing my experience training to those of my friends and several blogs that I follow. We are all tackling different training plans with different mileage and workouts, facing similar challenges, but continuing week by week to push through towards our goal race.

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As I approach the final few weeks of training for my second marathon I’ve been thinking a lot about the work that goes into successfully training for a marathon. Marathon training requires time, patience, commitment, and a heck of a lot of running. This is all obvious, but what gets me up in the wee hours of the morning to fit in a run when I’d rather sleep in? What inspires me to go to bed early on Friday night and roll out of bed before the sun on a Saturday just to run for 3-4 hours? What motives me to keep kicking during a hard workout when my brain tells me to quit and my body is tired?

Any runner that asks themselves these questions may have different answers. I once read a comment on a race Facebook page from a disgruntled non-runner that was angry about hitting traffic due to a race. It said something along the lines of people feeling the need to “prove” themselves. This has stuck with me for a while. Part of me was annoyed, but then part of me just wanted to laugh and respond, “Oh wow, you really don’t get it.

While I am sure there are runners out there that train in order to prove themselves (to themselves or others) that has never been it for me. Frankly, I’m not sure that is even enough for any runner to successfully complete a marathon training cycle. Because while it takes commitment, motivation, time, and a heck of a lot of running, what I truly believe it takes to successfully train for a marathon is a genuine love of running long distances.

I love long-distance running. I love long-distance running so much that there is nothing about the thought of running 16, 18, 20 miles on the weekend that makes me cringe. I don’t end the week thinking “Oh boy I’m going to need xyz to get me through my run tomorrow.”  I don’t love the heat, humidity, or extreme cold. I do love running enough to face those elements. It’s not about being motivated or feeling like a badass for toughing it out, it’s about doing what I love. Feeling like a badass is a reward.

During some recent miles with my friend Katie (Hi, Katie!) I brought this topic up. I wondered if a genuine love for running is what makes marathon training so much more enjoyable for some while other seem to drag themselves out the door to get their training run done. Katie pointed out that it also takes a love for the training process itself. The love for the process is specifically important for the marathon because a marathon can throw some adverse situations at a runner and the race may not turn out the way they’d hope. It takes that love of the training process to get through those 16-18 weeks knowing that it could all fall apart on race day. It takes a love of that long training process to be patient as improvements come slowly.

And hey, maybe a runner doesn’t love running on a Saturday for 2+ hours. That’s okay. They are not less of a runner. They are not failure. I don’t love 5Ks. They make me want to puke. I think it feels horrible. Even thinking about it makes me cringe. So I don’t race 5Ks.  If you don’t genuinely love running long distance, if it makes you want to puke, if you think it feels horrible, if thinking about it makes you cringe, then don’t do it. Because training for a marathon takes a genuine love of long distance running and a love for the long, slow improvements seen over 16-18 weeks. And if you don’t love it then you risk losing your joy of running.

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14 thoughts on “What it Takes to Train for a Marathon

  1. I agree with you about how important it is to focus on the process instead of just the end result. That’s something I made sure to prioritize from DAY 1 of my last marathon training cycle. Because you’re right, anything can happen on race day – so are we really prepared to say that the whole process was a waste if we don’t hit our goal time?

    I think another thing that’s important is that our feelings and our relationship with running can change over time. I used to be the one who loved long distance running. Now, not so much. Everyone’s love of the sport takes different forms and it’s really important not to pass judgement on runners who don’t love running the same way we do. That’s why I really appreciate that you added in that last paragraph. For some, it’s a love of long distance running, for some it’s a love of racing and competition, and for some the love is about running for fun and health and training/racing would actually ruin that love. Like you said, not one of those people is any more or less of a runner. If you run a marathon every month, it doesn’t mean you love running more than I do with my 25 miles a week – it just means you love marathons more than I do. If you train in beast mode all year to win local 5Ks with near-elite times, it doesn’t mean you love running more than I do with my majority long slow miles – it just means you love racing more than I do. To each their own.

    I am in a weird place right now, as my love for the sport is changing and I’m trying to figure out what motivates me. I love structure, but I’m tired of training; I don’t like long slow distance, but I don’t like short fast stuff…it will be an interesting year for me as things change. But one thing remains the same: I’ll be RUNNING!!!

    1. I agree with everything you said. I often see social media profiles with “Half marathoner x #” and “Marathoner x #” and I think it’s great to be proud of your accomplishments, but just as you pointed out it doesn’t mean that person loves running more than someone else that has run less races. Races are expensive and I prefer to run fewer and push myself harder than run a bunch just to run them. I do think it’s really important to keep in mind that not everyone loves the marathon distance and that’s okay. There are runners I follow that are way faster than me and have run way faster marathon times than me, but prefer shorter distances. That doesn’t change the fact that they’re awesome runners. Training is time consuming and racing hurts, so I can also understand people that just like to run for fitness purposes and not be tied down to a schedule or goal.

  2. Sounds like this has been a really great training cycle for you! I’m fascinated by the different ways people approach the marathon. What you say here makes a lot of sense to me. If you don’t love running long distances and don’t love the training, why do it? I see so many people who are the opposite though–people who want to do as little running as possible and still run the marathon. I just don’t get that, but maybe it’s because I’m at the opposite end of the spectrum and love training on its own apart from the race.

    1. I think there are people out there that want the glory of saying they are a marathoner, but don’t want to put the work in. I guess that’s fine, but I am with you that I love training on its own and I enjoy the process. I also like to go into the marathon (or any distance really) being able to put in my best race. I also don’t personally feel like I have bragging rights to the title if I don’t put in the work to get it because that is such a huge part of it. And yeah, if you don’t love it then why do it? In the grand scheme of things no one really cares if someone is a marathoner or not. Even before I ran my first marathon I wasn’t somehow blown away by people that had run a marathon. I don’t have a 26.2 sticker on my car, I don’t have the title “marathoner” anywhere in my profiles, and while I identify as a runner I don’t tell people I’m a marathoner unless they ask. Maybe I downplay it too much, 26.2 miles is far, but there are people out there doing far better and braver things than training/running a marathon.

    2. Stalking your comments section because I’m bored (lol), but I just have to chime in that I agree with you both.

    3. Crap I pushed enter too early. Anyway, I also don’t understand why someone would want to run a marathon without putting in the work but like Ariana said, I think some people just want the bragging rights or to check the item off their bucket lists. I have a friend who is like this and it drives me nuts. She runs half marathons and literally does not train for them, and now she’s doing her first marathon in 3 weeks because “OMG bucket list item since I was 9!” Which is fine but she STILL doesn’t train. She never runs during the week, does the occasional half marathon, and just last weekend pushed herself through a 20 miler. And she has the time and resources to train, so I just don’t get why she won’t. I mean how could it possibly be satisfying if you didn’t work for it?

      But I think another thing is that a lot of people just want the social media attention that comes with it.

      1. 100% agree with the social media attention. I guess I just don’t find it impressive if someone finishes a marathon and runs like 15 miles and then has to walk the rest because they didn’t put the work in. But that’s me, maybe I’m a snob.

      2. Trust me it’s not just you. I don’t care how fast or slow anyone runs just do the freakin work! You either want to run the marathon or you don’t.

  3. I’m right there with you on 5k’s, I think they are miserable!! People think I’m either insane or condescending when I say I’d rather run a marathon than a 5k, but running isn’t even enjoyable to me when I’m at my “vomit threshold” the whole time. Like you said it all comes down to doing what you love.

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