Before the Chicago Marathon was even a thought in my mind, I had read a lot about the marathon. In fact, I even started to train for one once before quickly realizing my body was not quite ready for it. I invested plenty of hours reading about fueling strategies, diet, taper, peaking, how little you can run and finish, how far most people run, avoiding the bonk, what the bonk feels like, on and on and on. You name it, I probably read about the topic.
Plenty of people were dishing advice my way, all of which I listened to and stored away. I wanted all the knowledge I could possibly get before reaching the starting line. Don’t get me wrong, tons of these little tips helped me. I’d be lying though, if I said I thought I understood what people were telling me, but until it happened — you don’t really get it.
So here are some things I had to totally learn on my own, paired with some things I didn’t even know could happen during the marathon and the training leading up to it.
You’re going to be tired, but you won’t understand how tired.
Duh. Of course I’m going to be tired, I’m training for a marathon. Funny story, I didn’t realize I’d be that tired a few times (typically just in time for rest week). I especially didn’t know I’d be tired for as long as I was after the marathon; it took me a good week to feel normal again post-marathon.
You might not be able to eat after a long run.
I can always eat after a long run. I’m usually starving towards the end of a long run and ready to shovel food into my face as soon as I take my last step. Much to my surprise, after my 20 miler, despite feeling totally ravenous, I was unable to eat more than a couple bites of my lunch.
Some days, you’ll be sick of eating before you’re full.
It sounds ridiculous, I know, but it’s true. Some days you’re just going to be hungry all day. You’re going to eat like a normal human being, but it’s not going to be satisfying enough. After your typical lunch at work, you’ll still look for food. You’ll start drinking water thinking you’re dehydrated, but that won’t help. Your stomach is going to feel full, but that hunger pang just won’t go away. These days are the worst.
Bonking really sucks.
I don’t want to brag, but I’ve only bonked once and it was during a training run of 16 miles. Not enough fuel and not enough water is a pairing for disaster on any day, but especially when it’s 80 degrees and sunny without shade for your entire route. I’ve read about hitting The Wall and bonking, but until you’ve actually had it happen, you can’t even comprehend what that feels like. Imagine your worst run and multiply that by your next worst run and maybe you’ll come close.
“When your legs can’t run anymore, run with your heart.”
I can’t tell you how many people told me variations of this quote. It’s a 26.2 mile race when most of us have only run 20 miles in our life, there’s going to probably be at least six miles that suck hard. Yeah, well, good luck running with your heart because when miles suck, they suck. If you figure out how to run with your heart, let me know. I’m still working on that one.
Training is going to feel forever and like it never happened.
I’ve never had a race both sneak up and feel like it took forever to get there at the same time. Most of my races have seemed to fall in the perfect span of time after training, but this one… not a chance. With a month to go, it felt like it was dragging its heels and then when the week of the race came, I felt like I barely had any training at all.
Maybe this is something other people experience regularly, and I don’t mean it to sound like my friends and family aren’t proud of me usually, but man were they proud. Like, overly, gushing, out of the ordinary, shout from the rooftops proud. I’ve always been a runner so running a marathon after I’ve done a few halves was kind of a no brainer, like a logical progression of events and I didn’t think much of it. I had family members coming out of the woodwork wondering how they could track me, telling me how proud they were of me, sending me well wishes, and just overall bragging. Even after I came home from my trip, my Mom threw me a “congratulations” dinner complete with balloons and banners. I expected a couple “congrats!” after the race, but nothing like what actually happened. So yeah, coming from a non-running family (at least distance running) brings out the amazement from people!