I registered for my first Marathon at the end of 2019 after seeing inspirational photos from the New York City Marathon on Instagram. If I only knew at the time how much goes into getting that glamorous photo at the finish line (which, by the way – spoiler alert – I never got)! I am sharing my completely real, not so glamorous experience.
Why I Ran
I had struggled with health issues for most of my life, but things really started to decline for me around college (I started college in 2013). The worst of my symptoms were severe stomach pain/issues and extreme fatigue. I now know that I am most likely Celiac. I started my gluten free diet in January of 2019, and had a lot of ups and downs when it came to my health throughout the year. Around November, I was at a high – I was feeling better than I ever had, and I was so grateful for the things I could do that I couldn’t before (simple things, like taking the metro or being able to walk around the city). I saw someone post about finishing the New York City Marathon around this time, and it looked absolutely incredible. I decided (literally overnight) that I wanted to celebrate my health by going after something I never dreamed I could even attempt, and that is how my marathon journey started.
I picked the DC Rock and Roll Marathon, which was scheduled for the end of March of 2020. I was thrilled to see that I could run as a St. Jude Hero and use this experience to help raise money for children battling pediatric cancer. I learned so much more about the organization throughout the process, and it made me even more determined to finish this journey. I am so grateful that this experience brought me to St. Jude, and I continue to support them!
My Running Background
I started running some time around 2011. In school, we would have running tests and I couldn’t make it further than .1 mile. I was always the first one out. I joined a gym with my mom and started running on the treadmill after school to practice. I remember when I first hit 1 mile without stopping, I was so excited! I loved being able to go further and further every time, and it was such a great feeling that I ended up sticking with it.
By 2014, I was ready to attempt a half marathon. As I mentioned before, my health had started to decline at this point. I ran with my friend, and she had to go on without me because I got sick during the race. I was very private about my health issues at this point, and I was mortified by the thought of anyone finding out I got sick during the race. I did end up finishing, but it was certainly not easy. I ran two more half marathons after this one (2015 and 2017), but I did not do much running between 2017 and the start of my training at the end of 2019. However, I definitely think it was helpful that I had some racing background before I started my Marathon training plan.
My Training Plan
I picked the Hal Higdon Novice 1 program, and I pretty much followed it to a T. But wow, let me just say, it sure wasn’t easy! The plan is set up with 4 runs per week (2 short, 1 medium, 1 long) and a cross training day on Sunday. I usually tried to do some weight lifting for the cross training day. At the peak of the plan, I ran 40 miles in one week (5 miles on Tuesday/Thursday, 10 miles on a Wednesday morning, and 20 miles on Saturday). It was intense! I had a lot of early mornings, and my body was exhausted. There were days I literally cried because I had to wake up before 5 am to finish the “medium” runs (still about 8 miles), and how could I possibly run 26 when I felt like I could barely finish these?! This was the hardest part of training for me – getting past the mental block that I wouldn’t be able to do it. It was especially bad in the middle, when I felt like I had been training for so long, but still had so long to go.
Nutrition is a very important part of training. I learned quickly that my diet had to be completely on point, because if I strayed at all it would show in my running. I stuck to a lot of rice, tofu, avocado, beans, pea protein, and veggies. For the actual runs, I started with Gu gels but realized they weren’t for me. I switched to Sports Beans about half way through my training. I tried to have beans every 4 miles, but I definitely could have done a better job. If I ever ran this distance again, I think I would try something more natural (maybe bananas), because processed sugars don’t always sit right with me. I did have a snag about half way through my training, and had to up my Iron and B12 intake (this is already an issue for me given that I do not eat meat). You can definitely do distance running as a vegetarian/vegan, you just have to be more mindful of your diet. If you ever have any concerns, definitely consult with your doctor!
What I wore
Leggings: I have said this before, but I swear by Lululemon Align pants! They are marketed for low impact activities/yoga only, but they were perfect for me! They are so soft and thin, you can barely tell they’re there. Chafing can definitely be a problem with distance running, but I had no problems running in these. They also make them in all different lengths, so you are able to choose depending on how warm it will be when you run.
Top: I didn’t necessarily have a “go-to” top – I would just look for any high quality materials that were comfortable and breathable. I actually wore my St. Jude Hero tank top for the race. I hadn’t worn it before, which is definitely not recommended, but I had no issues! Keep in mind that you will warm up as you run, so plan accordingly.
Shoes: I have been running in Saucony shoes that I was specifically fitted for. I would definitely suggest going to a running store near you to get fitted for the right shoes. They will watch you run, and give you a few options to test. My store also created custom inserts. I had some shin pain before I was fitted, which was corrected by the switch in shoes! They can be pricey, but definitely worth the investment.
Foam Roller: This is not always pleasant, but it is so important. I tried to foam roll and stretch every day. If your legs are tight, you will definitely feel it during your run.
Compression Sleeves: I was lucky to make it through the entire journey with no major injuries, but I did have some minor calf strains. I would wear compression sleeves during the day when I had issues, and I believe that they definitely aided in recovery.
Flip Belt: I could not have made it through without my Flip Belt! They make a special water bottle that fits in the back of your belt to keep your hands free, and the belt also has a zip pocket up front for cards, keys, snacks, and your phone. I definitely suggest always keeping a card or cash with you for an emergency.
Fitbit: I absolutely love my Fitbit! You’ll probably notice that I forget to take it off for a lot of my photos (or you will now haha). It was so fun to track my steps! I use the Inspire. I ended up with about 47,000 steps the day of the Marathon!
A note on AirPods: I know people love AirPods, so I did want to mention that they did not work out for me for distance running. I think the sweat from training may have damaged them – one would only work intermittently, and die unexpectedly. I did not want to risk anything for the race, so I went with good old fashion corded earphones. However, I never tried the AirPod Pros (which are supposed to be more water resistant) – I may have had better luck with those.
I started training for the race in November, and it was canceled in March, two weeks beforehand, because of Coronavirus. Canceling the race was absolutely the right thing to do, but I was definitely disappointed after all of the work I had put in. I decided that I would park my car along my usual loop, fill it with some water and snacks, and run the distance anyway.
Pretty much immediately into the run, it started downpouring. I’m not going to lie, I was feeling very discouraged at this point. I was soaking wet, and I felt like all of the work I had put in was pointless. I tried to remind myself of why I had started. My family and friends had believed in me, and helped me raise over $1,000 for St. Jude. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do this. After a quick break, I started back up.
Because I was running along my usual path, it kind of felt like a regular training run at first. Things were going smoothly until about mile 20, which was the furthest I had gone. My feet were starting to really hurt, and I was doubting that I could go another 6 miles. I think this is what people refer to as “the wall”, and it probably didn’t help that I wasn’t eating as many of the jelly beans as I should have been. After a quick break and some more self doubt, I kept going.
The end was SO painful. Every step hurt. I was basically shuffling at this point. When I finally hit the distance, I was on a random sidewalk. This is another part of the story that I want to keep real – I was not happy at all. I had envisioned a finish line, with my family there, and a huge celebration. No one was there to see me finish. There were no finish line photos or medals. I was in pain, hungry, and thirsty. Looking back, I really wish I had a better attitude. I realize now that a Marathon is a distance, not an event. I have so much pride thinking back on this day, but unfortunately at the time it didn’t feel worth it to me. I honestly think I didn’t have time to completely process that the official race was canceled. I had been dreaming of my perfect finish line experience for 5 months, and I just don’t think I was in the right head space from the start of the run.
By the way, I never really cared about the time, but if you’re curious, I finished in about 4:30!
I certainly regret the attitude that I had on race day. The cancellation of the official race definitely threw me for a loop, and I wish I handled it better. The training was honestly more fun for me than the actual race. Although it was extremely time consuming and exhausting, it felt amazing to have such a big goal to work towards. There were certainly those hard days I talked about earlier, but there were more frequently days where I felt so inspired and proud of what I was doing. Overall, I would definitely recommend this as a bucket list item. Hopefully you can learn from some of my mistakes! I would love to do an official race some day, but we will see what happens!
If you have had any kind of similar experience, whether it is with a virtual race or just running in general, I would love to hear from you!