Why Do We Run Marathons?

IMG_2645As I crossed the finish line in Chicago this past Sunday after running 26.2 miles, my legs virtually locked up in complete and total exhaustion. I shuffled through the finishing chute collecting water, food, and my medal and I watched as other finishers struggled. A couple were placed in wheelchairs. One woman, her face pale and her eyes almost lifeless, was rushed away to an ambulance. The rest of us limped along, virtually silent. There were no audible cheers of joy or shouts of celebration. We were like zombies. I said to the girl next to me with a bit of a giggle, “Why do we do this to ourselves?” She was too tired to answer. While they couldn’t say it, I knew everyone was likely feeling the same combination of pain and total pride that I was experiencing.

IMG_2630“Why?” The thought has certainly crossed my mind other times before. Like during the final miles of the two previous marathons I had run earlier this year. And even at the start of this race when the nerves and excitement had me jittery with anticipation about what the next four hours would have in store for me. With over 45,000 runners, it took almost 15 minutes from the time the race started until I would even get up to the starting line. Here it was…finally! The moment for which I had been preparing for 18 weeks. It was well worth the wait.

I ran the first miles quickly, weaving between the tall buildings and over the Chicago River and soon began to discover that my tight legs weren’t going to make today’s run an easy one. My heart felt like it was racing and I was a little short of breath, probably from starting out at a faster pace than I had been used to. The crowds were plentiful and somehow coupled with the close quarters between runners, it made me feel surprisingly anxious, almost claustrophobic. I thought about the many miles ahead and the difficulty that lie before me. Yet the energy and excitement kept me moving north through the neighborhoods in which I spent a few years as a young “twenty-something”. With 8 to 10 miles down, we ran through “Boys Town” and then “Old Town” and I finally began to set my nerves aside.

After making our way back through the Loop and crossing the half way mark, my ankles that had suffered injury during my training felt tight and a bit achy. I knew the second half would be a fight. By mile 14 my legs were telling me to stop and walk for a bit. I convinced them to wait until mile 15. When I got there I persuaded them to keep going. At about this point I saw a man walking barefoot, well limping, holding his shoes with his head down in despair and his mouth grimacing in pain. “Why do we do this to ourselves?,” I again pondered.

IMG_2655Somewhere around mile 17 or 18 it became increasingly more difficult to continue. I told myself I could walk through the water stops. To me that felt acceptable and more respectable than walking at other places on the course. At the time I was questioning whether I could actually finish and was thinking I would have to walk the last six miles. Feeling nauseous (likely from the warmer weather) I couldn’t stomach any more Gatorade or gels but I knew if I didn’t hydrate I would certainly hit the wall. Walking those few water stops became my method for making it to the finish. I focused on getting to the next water stop instead of through 6 more miles.

The rest of the race is pretty blurry. I was just puffing along trying to make my brain tell my legs to shut up, or vice versa. After mile 22 or 23 I told myself there was no walking. Looking at my watch I could see that I still had a chance to meet my original goal of under 4 hours or at least come in a minute or two faster than my PR from Cleveland of 4:06. My legs were entirely cramped up at this point, but I kept running. It probably looked more like shuffling to the spectators watching me, but I was giving it everything I had. It was like I had the pedal to the metal but I had a flat tire. At about mile 24 my watch died so I really had no idea what speed I was actually going.

All around me people were walking, holding their hamstrings or pinching the cramp in their side. Others had stopped to stretch on the curb. Fans watching held signs saying things like “Pain is temporary, pride is forever.” and “Do Epic Shit.” They kept me going. The final mile seemed to last an eternity. I could see the tall buildings of the Loop up ahead, but it was as if I was running on a treadmill and not getting any closer to them. I skipped the last water stop and kept pressing on hoping that I might still beat 4:06. Not that it really mattered. All I really wanted to do at this point was finish and put that medal around my neck. I turned the corner and inched up the last little hill yelling an obscenity or two and into the park crossing the finish line unsure of my chip time, but pleased that I had persevered.

IMG_2647So “Why DO we do it?” One sign I saw on the course said, “You are all crazy.” Yeah, apparently. But all joking aside, I’ve been doing a lot of legitimate soul searching since Sunday after the pain I felt and saw in Chicago. Why do perfectly intelligent people decide to put themselves through the cramps, the blisters, the chafing, the drama and the misery of those last miles of a marathon? Why do we risk injury and for some, very sadly, even death, to run 26.2 miles? It’s a question I’ve been trying to answer for my family and I know it’s a question that non-runners probably ask themselves when they witness our apparent idiocy. It’s a question that even we as runners ask ourselves on occasion. Here’s where I’ve come out.

I think we all run marathons for different reasons. For some, the answer might be as simple as, “Because I love to run.” But c’mon, who really LOVES running miles 20 to 24 of a marathon? For others, perhaps it’s an item they want to check off their bucket list. Still others want to “earn their stripes” as a runner; a badge of honor or perhaps they’re just curious to see what it feels like. And I suppose many runners want to do it simply for bragging rights. I can’t answer for everyone else. I can only tell you why I have run three marathons.

For me, the desire to run a marathon began about a year ago. Before then I was actually pretty vocal about the fact that I had absolutely NO interest in ever trying. Three years ago I could only run a few miles and wouldn’t have even considered that a marathon would be in my future. But last fall, after having completed a number of half marathons I began to finish 13.1 miles to discover I had more in me. I enjoyed the feeling of accomplishment that came with finishing half marathons and I had the desire to see what else I might be capable of. After having watched my husband run a number of marathons (the 2014 New York Marathon in particular), I began to discover that I felt envious of him and the other runners. I watched women who looked a lot like me and thought, “If she can do it, so can I.” Sure, the idea of running that far scared the shit out of me, but the fact that something scared me made me want to conquer my fear. Running has unveiled a bit of a competitive streak in me, more like a lightning bolt. So, last winter after my husband and I had signed up to run the Big Sur Marathon again as a relay team, I told him I wanted to start the relay and run the whole race. Curiosity, the desire to see what I had in me and the drive to conquer something that scared me were my original motivators.

During training for Big Sur when I ran 15, 17 and 20 mile runs for the first time, is when I began asking the “Why do I do this to myself?” question. Running through single digit temps or on the treadmill for two hours caused me to do a lot of soul searching about my motivations and desires. I experienced a few “Why” moments again while running my second marathon in Cleveland three weeks after Big Sur and yet again while training this past summer through sweltering heat and being away from my kids on Saturday mornings to run for 3 hours to prepare for Chicago.

IMG_2641So after all this reflection, “Why do I run marathons?”

The question is always answered as soon I make it to the other side of “the impossible” to feel the complete satisfaction and total gratification of meeting a goal that seemed unattainable and unrealistic at one point. Some of it IS simply about my love of running; my own legs carrying me from one town to the next or from one end of a city to the other. In part, it is about my love of the outdoors and the open road. The desire to run a marathon starts as curiosity, uncertainty and fear. Then, like a drug, the high in those moments (well, hours) when you’re actually achieving it has you immediately hooked. The euphoria of conquering the “impossible” and tackling that fear keeps me coming back for more. I like how it feels to step out of my comfort zone, test my abilities and push my limits. It’s a good way to live life.

Most of all, for me, completing a marathon gives me something tangible to cling to during the rest of my days when I might question whether or not I’m able to achieve another goal. It helps give me the confidence to say, “I didn’t think I could run 26.2 miles and I did. I ran through doubt and pain and came out the other side. If I can do that, I can do THIS.” (Whatever “this” is.) Running marathons gives me confidence and faith in myself that I can persevere. It primes me for the challenges that life has in store for me. It’s like practicing for the pain life is going to throw your way. Are you going to stop and quit? Or are you going to keep running through it?

Sure, the last miles of a marathon are painful. The way I see it, a couple of hours of pain are worth a lifetime of knowing that I have, can and will set goals and come out the other side no matter what sort of obstacles I have to work through along the way. Do you have to run a marathon to teach yourself that? Of course not. But it sure is one pretty powerful lesson.

IMG_2663After three marathons in six months, I have proven to myself that I CAN do it. With the pride, confidence, contentment, self-awareness and humility that I have gained from those experiences in my back pocket, I’m ready to take on new challenges and tackle with zeal the biggest challenge of all, the marathon of every day life.

And while I think I’ll hang up my marathon hat for a bit and spend a little less time running on the road and little more time running after my kids, I know that marathons are also a little like child birth. While it’s happening and in the days after you might say, “I’m never doing that again.” Before long, you find yourself saying, “When can I do it again.”

 


My “Busy Mom on the Run” Marathon Training Plan

Bixby BridgeEarlier this week I was given the ok to run again after the x-rays from my ankle injury looked clear! Hallelujah! The very same day I got an email from the Chicago Marathon stating that there were just 18 weeks until race day! Coincidence? I think not! While I feel like I just finished running my first two marathons in Big Sur and Cleveland this past spring, it looks like it’s time to lace up my sneakers and get ready to take on The Windy City! October 11th sounds really far away. I still have an entire summer to survive (ahem) enjoy with my kids home from school. But I know that, just like every other one before, this season will race by and suddenly I’ll be heading to Chi-town to run my third marathon down some of the streets I called home for a few fabulous years after college. Guess I’d better get to work!

315088_197903707_XLargeSpeaking of summer, I’ve been feeling a little anxious about how I’m actually going to fit in training for this race with all three of my kids home from school. All. Day. Every. Day. It’s hard enough to find a few minutes to sneak away to go to the bathroom by myself for Pete’s sake. How will I ever find time to train for my next marathon in between the snack requests, the tattle-tales, trips to and from swim practice, golf lessons and tutoring? That’s not to mention my role as Summer Activities Director and the constant dishes and endless laundry left behind by a potty-training toddler. By the way, whomever called it summer “break” was evidently NOT a mom. Nope! Not a “break” for mommas.

Well, when I am faced with a challenge, I find a way to conquer it. My parents always tell me they thought I’d grow up to be a lawyer because of my relentless persistence. No time to train for a marathon? Says who? Not anymore. I’m proud to announce that I have worked together with well-known running coach, long time Runner’s World Magazine contributor, best-selling author, Olympic Trial Runner and World Masters Champion Hal Higdon to develop a marathon training plan to fit into my time-crunched life. Introducing my…

“BUSY MOM ON THE RUN” MARATHON TRAINING PLAN!

Getting CloserI know there are lots of other busy mommies and daddies (and just busy people) out there who love to run. Some of you have run marathons before and you know that it is indeed a big commitment. Others would like to run their first marathon but just can’t see how they could possibly find enough time to fit in all the appropriate training considering it is difficult many days to find time to even get a shower. That’s exactly how I felt last fall when I first began thinking that my next running goal SHOULD be a marathon, but that there was no way I COULD find the time with three young children at home. Now I can’t tell you what’s right for you, but today I will share my plan for training for the Chicago Marathon over this crazy busy summer.

Surprisingly, training to run 26.2 miles with three small children at home IS feasible. Yes, it takes time and dedication. It means setting aside some of my other responsibilities in order to meet my goal. Training for a marathon requires sacrifices from everyone in the family. (Lots of dishes were left in the sink, laundry baskets were overflowing and toys were left scattered everywhere during the months I was training for Big Sur.) It means spending part of my weekends running instead of playing with the kids (of course I’m always catering to their needs the rest of the day). Sometimes it means running through rain or snow, frigid temperatures or scorching heat. Other times it means logging double digit runs on the “dreadmill” early in the morning or late at night. There is often guilt, but the confidence I gain from meeting such a huge goal that I thought was never possible has transcended every part of my life. Running makes me a better person and a better parent. I can say from experience now that training for a marathon with three kids at home is definitely within reach. Here’s my approach.

RUN THREE DAYS A WEEK… YEP, JUST 3!

Who has six, five or even four days a week to get out to run like many marathon training plans suggest? Not me. Not unless I wanted to run 10 or 20 miles pushing a jogging stroller. But I haven’t seen one made to fit three kids yet. This winter between the illness and the snow days and the bitter cold, I was lucky if I got to run even twice a week some weeks. Yet I still got in enough training to finish Big Sur, one of the toughest courses out there, and then I ran the Cleveland Marathon just three weeks later, finishing in 4:06, beating my previous time by 40 minutes.

By modifying and combining some of Hal Higdon’s plans, I’ve created this schedule that allows for running on just three days of the week while not losing out on any of the miles. Mr. Higdon has reviewed, approved and encouraged me to share my plan with you “for the benefit of all”. It includes one “long run” day (which I plan to do on Saturdays) and two shorter runs (which I plan to do on Tuesdays and Thursdays). Both increase in mileage as the weeks go by except for a few “stepback” weeks to allow you to gather strength for the next push upward.

WEEK DAY 1 DAY 2 DAY 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 DAY 6 DAY 7
1 CROSS 4 m run CROSS 5 m run REST 6 m run CROSS
2 CROSS 4 m run CROSS 5 m run REST 7 m run CROSS
3 CROSS 5 m run CROSS 5 m run REST 5 m run CROSS
4 CROSS 5 m run CROSS 5 m run REST 9 m run CROSS
5 CROSS 5.5 m run CROSS 5.5 m run REST 10 m run CROSS
6 CROSS 5.5 m run CROSS 5.5 m run REST 7 m run CROSS
7 CROSS 6 m run CROSS 6 m run REST 12 m run CROSS
8 CROSS 6 m run CROSS 6 m run REST REST Half Marathon
9 CROSS 7 m run CROSS 7 m run REST 10 m run CROSS
10 CROSS 7 m run CROSS 7 m run REST 15 m run CROSS
11 CROSS 8 m run CROSS 8 m run REST 16 m run CROSS
12 CROSS 8.5 m run CROSS 8.5 m run REST 12 m run CROSS
13 CROSS 9 m run CROSS 9 m run REST 18 m run CROSS
14 CROSS 9.5 m run CROSS 9.5 m run REST 14 m run CROSS
15 CROSS 10 m run CROSS 10 m run REST 20 m run CROSS
16 CROSS 8.5 m run CROSS 8.5 m run REST 12 m run CROSS
17 CROSS 6.5 m run CROSS 6.5 m run REST 8 m run CROSS
18 CROSS 4 m run CROSS 2 m run REST REST Marathon

CROSS TRAINING

My EllipticalI’ve allowed for three “cross” days because those are a little more flexible and can potentially be done at home before the kids wake up or during their nap (If you are lucky enough to have a kid that still naps, I’m jealous.) For me, cross training includes either a 30 to 40 minute elliptical workout, a spin or circuit/”boot-camp” class, strength training or a workout video. I like to mix things up and keep things fresh. My fear is that if I run too much I will get bored or burned out. I enjoy too many other activities to only run and I feel strongly that cross-training helps me run faster. As the miles build and my runs get longer I will begin to stick to “safe” cross training activities that will not leave me feeling sore and unable to properly accomplish my runs.

REST

Mr. Higdon is always a big proponent of rest days.

“Scientists will tell you that it is during the rest period (the 24 to 72 hours between hard bouts of exercise) that the muscles actually regenerate and get stronger. Coaches also will tell you that you can’t run hard unless you are well rested. And it is hard running (such as the long runs) that allows you to improve. If you’re constantly fatigued, you will fail to reach your potential.” – Hal Higdon

You’ll notice I have only included one day of rest here in my “Busy Mom On the Run” Marathon Training Plan. Here’s why. With kids at home, I know that when I get the chance to run or get any workout in, I’d better take it. Because there is no doubt that some unforeseen event will arise on a day when I have a workout planned and that will become an unscheduled rest day. Like I always say, “Seize the Day” or really it’s more like “Seize the Hour” when you’re a running mommy. However, if I have cross training scheduled on a particular day and haven’t had a rest day yet that week and/or can tell my body really needs it, I sometimes use a ‘CROSS’ day for rest instead. One or two rest days a week are very important for me.

FLEXIBLE

As moms we are used to being flexible. We have to be. As a busy mom marathoner, I need a flexible training plan too. That’s why another feature of my Busy Mom’s Marathon Training Plan is that I have not labeled the days of the week. For me Day 1 is Monday. Many people do their long runs on the weekend. That’s what I plan to do this summer. During this past year I actually did nearly all of my long runs on Wednesdays during the three hour window of time where all three of my children happened to be at school. If you decide you want to use my schedule, modify it to work best in your own crazy calendar of kids activities. I don’t feel bad when I have to swap days around a bit. Runs will be missed because of other priorities. Don’t fret. Sometimes I use a “cross training” or rest day to fit it in (just not too close to the long run). I focus on getting in the long runs and the other two runs fall into place somehow during the week.

CARVE OUT THE TIME

Mission AccomplishedSo I realize that even finding three days a week to get out and run for an hour or more is not easy. Many runners I know get up really freaking early and run before work or before the kids start asking for stuff. With my husband’s unusual work hours I don’t have this luxury. I do have him home in the late afternoon though, so often we take turns running and babysitting (he is a marathon runner too). During the school year I used every bit of the three hours that John was at preschool to get in my runs. My plan for the summer is to run in the late afternoons when my husband is home or I am considering running during the hour that my girls are at swim team practice on Tuesdays and Thursdays while having a friend’s daughter play with John for a bit. Multi-tasking! My husband and I will take turns doing long runs on Saturday or Sundays.

It is not easy. If it were, everyone would do it. Just like the roads you will run, training for and running a marathon will have its peaks and valleys. For me, the sense of accomplishment, confidence, self-love, pride, happiness and feeling of physical and mental toughness that results is worth all the time and effort required.

Cleveland Marathon Finish

PLEASE NOTE: I am not an expert. Just an average mommy and an average runner. This is simply my personal blog where I’ve captured my own training plans for myself. Please consult your doctor before training for a marathon or beginning any new exercise routine.

My Busy Mom on the Run Training Program is based on programs by Hal Higdon, specifically his Marathon 3 program. All of his programs are available for free on his website. Hal also posts tips and answers questions on Facebook at Hal Higdon’s Marathon.