What It’s Like To Run A Marathon

Have you ever wondered what it’s really like to train for and run a marathon? 

Ever wondered if YOU can do it?  While researching what it’s like to run the dreaded 26.2 miles, most of the stories I read were about the elite, the Boston qualifiers, the people who run marathons 3-4 times a year.  Yeah, I’m definitely not one of them, and I’m ok with that.  Here’s what it was like for me to run a marathon.  And I promise, by the time I’m done, you’ll realize that if I can run a marathon, anyone can.

Why did I want to run a marathon?

I really started running in high school, I was on the cross country team and LOVED it.  Not because I was fast and enjoyed running 5 miles every day after school, but because of the people.  Cross country attracts amazing people, and I loved being a part of that.  My average time for a 5k was 21 to 22 minutes.  That may seem fast, but in high school that put me toward the middle end of the pack, average at best.  I had fun, and I loved it- that was what was important.  At this time in my life, I started having this thought that SOME DAY I would like to run a marathon.  Well fast forward, many MANY years, and four babies later.  That same thought was still in the back of my mind, only I realized that SOME DAY could be now. 

How did I train?

First thing I did, searched the internet.  How long does it take to train for a marathon?  Is there a training schedule for a person who only runs 1-3 miles?  Tips?  In my mind, I was still skeptical, can I really do this?  I have FOUR kids, how will I ever find the time?  I researched marathons to find the best fit, and I picked one in Utah called the Utah Valley Marathon.  After researching a lot of schedules, I made up my own schedule that allowed some flexibility in case life happened and I had to miss a run.  Then, I put on my shoes and started running, and I ran and ran for four months.  Then race day came.  Lots of adrenaline, excitement, and then that internal dialogue started up.  “Why did I ever want to run a marathon?  How did I forget how much I hate running?  What! I’m only on mile 17!  That means I have…… 9 more miles.  Um, how am I going to run 9 more miles, I feel like I’m barely moving.  Shouldn’t I be to mile 18 by now.  It feels like it’s been a mile.  How are those people still smiling?  My feet hurt.  Seriously, where is mile 18?  It’s taking FOREVER.”  Yeah, but I finished and vowed I would never run a marathon again.  Until three months later when a thought crept into my mind, “Don’t you think you could beat your time?  You can do better than that.”  And the thought never went away so I signed up for marathon number two.  Yep crazy. 

So, after some tweaking, here’s how I scheduled my training for the second marathon.  I definitely took it slower the second time because the first time I started running too much at first and then had to take a couple weeks off because of pain in my ankle.  I ran three times a week. Yep, that’s it.  Two short runs during the week and a long run on Saturday.  I am a busy mom, and running everyday just wouldn’t work for me, and I don’t have a treadmill.  Also, by the time I got to the really long runs, all that running just felt hard on my body.  The other days I worked out at home.  I did weight lifting (crucial if you are a runner), Insanity, biking, and other aerobic activities.  I started training the last week in February (race day was second week in June).  I increased my long run by two miles every other week, so every other week was a hard week, then I would cut it back a little bit the next week to allow my body time to adjust.  My short runs varied in distance depending on how much time I had.  I also tried to do intervals, tempo runs, and hill sprints on my short runs.  When would I run?  Obviously, running in the morning was ideal, but in February, that’s too cold for me, I’m a wuss.  So if a morning run was out, I would run at my son’s soccer practice.  Yes, that meant doing laps around the field while my kids played. Or I would do hill sprints in front of my house with my kids.  They loved that.  I had to get creative on ways to run with my kids around.  I would do my long runs on Saturdays when my husband was home to watch the kids.  My longest run was 20 miles, four weeks before race day.  Then, the last four weeks I tapered to really let my body adjust and heal for race day.  I still worked out, but cut back on the running. 

Next time I train, I want to start sooner so I can increase mileage slower.  I would also like to do more of the longer runs at the end, maybe run a 20 miler two or three times instead of one. 

What was it like on race day? 

Intense!  The night before I did not get very much sleep- way too stressed out!  For the Utah Valley Marathon, they bus you up the canyon to the starting line.  Guess what time the buses leave?  Between 3 and 4 am, yes you read that right.  Crazy!  Race started at 6 am.  They had fires, because even in June it’s FREEZING up in the mountains at 4 am., porta potties, Gatorade, and water.  It was so cold that when the race started, my toes were numb.  About 20 minutes before race time, I did my warm up then lined up.  Let me stop here and talk about goals.  I had a best case scenario and worst case scenario.  I told myself I would be happy with anything in between.  Best case scenario I finish in less then 4 hours.  Worse case, 5 hours.  I knew that the planets and stars and moon and everything else would have to align for me to finish in less than 4.  So realistically, I figured I would finish after 4 hours, but really wanted to finish before 5.  At the starting line, they have pace setters.  This was the first mistake I made.  I found the pace setter to finish in 3:55 (just under a 9 minute mile), and I looked briefly but did not see the pace setter for 4:00 or 4:05 so I hopped in with 3:55ers.  Mistake, I should have looked harder.  I was comfortable running a 9 minute mile and knew I could maintain that for a long time, and I hoped with the right crowd, I could maintain that the whole time.  Well, the gun went off and we slowly settled into an 8:30 pace.  It was comfortable at first, but I knew it was too fast for me.  Before we even hit mile 10, I had fallen behind this group.  Then, I was passed by the 4:05 group.  I started kicking myself, that was the group I should have started in.  Too late now!  So I plugged along alone.  I tried to keep a positive attitude the entire time.  I knew I could do it.  Honestly, I felt pretty good until mile 20.  Man, that’s when my legs just refused to run any more.  It was sooo hard to pick up my feet and keep running.  I felt sick to my stomach.  Then, my phone rang.  It was my husband.  He was so encouraging.  He got me all pumped up so I picked up my pace with new vigor and enthusiasm, for about 5 min, then my legs turned to lead again.  But a little while longer he called again, and then again.  He is the one who really got me through those last 6 miles.  The last half mile of the race my seven year old son came and ran with me.  I had to put on a good face for him, and that helped tremendously.  FINALLY, I crossed the finish line in 4 hours and 20 minutes.  Not bad.  I was perfectly happy with that time.  After crossing the finish line, it was such a relief. I had done it! Yeah!  My stomach hurt so much I could barely drink or eat, but knew I needed to so I forced some food down, and then got a massage.  I felt bad for the people who had to massage hundreds of sweaty, stinky legs, but man how I loved them.  After enjoying the kids race and gathering my belongings, I took a nice, long nap. 


Find a friend.  Yes, you can run a marathon by yourself, I did.  But when it starts to get tough, and it will, it is so nice to have someone right next to you encouraging you.  And when you can tell they are struggling, you encourage them.  You tell them they can do it! (Even if you don’t think you can!)  All that positive thinking rubs off on you.  It’s also nice to have a friend to train with and help hold you accountable.  I did have an awesome friend who would run with me.  This helped my training so much!! 

Have realistic goals.  Have short term and long term goals.  I like having a window for my race day goal.  There are so many things you can’t control on race day, like the weather, so it’s nice to have a flexible goal to accommodate when life happens.

 Keep a journal while you are training.  Write about how your runs feel.  What did you eat? What did you wear?  Do you get blisters?  How did your tummy feel?  Any unusual bathroom stops (yes they happen in the most inconvenient times).  During my 16 mile run, I fell and skinned my knee with 4 miles left.  I had a choice, I could run home (less than a quarter mile away) and get a band aid, or keep running, even though blood was running down my leg.  I knew if I stopped, it would be so hard to start up again. So I kept running.  I had to stop and wipe the blood off a couple times, but I had such an adrenaline rush from falling, I finished the last 4 miles in record time- it was crazy!  Anyways, write all that crazy stuff down so you can go back and review what habits are working and what needs to be discarded. 

Training for a marathon is hard and rewarding at the same time.  Seriously, if I can do it, anyone can!  You just need a positive attitude, determination, and some running shoes.  I know you can do it!

I used this book to guide my training- it is an amazing book especially for busy moms! 

Check out my guide for choosing the best running shoes!  Seriously, you need awesome shoes to train in, don’t skimp on shoes!

Not quite ready for a full marathon?  Try training for a half first!


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