4 min read

What running a marathon alone taught me.

This year I set out to run a marathon. That was marked down under the physical section of my yearly objectives and was a key result in measuring my year's accomplishments.

To run 26.2 miles by the end of the year, I decided to set checkpoint runs along the way. Before 2022 started, I had signed up for a 10k in February. In Chicago. Needless to say not only did that race serve as a gut check (making sure I had the ability to run 6mi in the snow) but it also was a mental challenge of its own. It would have been easy to wake up that morning, see the ice & snow, and decide that I would skip the race – many did exactly that.

Before the year started, I had already been running up to 3mi on a somewhat regular basis. This meant going up to 6mi was not the biggest ask. Furthermore, 6mi runs still took less than an hour out of my day – making them easy to schedule. Then came the half marathon – May 2022. Not only did this require hitting double digits in the mile counter, but also making the time for 8, 10, and 12-mile runs throughout the week.  On top of all that – adjusting to running in the humid heat. It was no small task.

The half marathon approached, and I finished at a pace better than I had expected – seeing the results of consistent training pay off. And then came the gut-check experience of compounding numbers. Doubling the 5k to 10k was not bad, and then 10k to the 20k.... kind of sucked. But going from 20k to 40k is a materially different challenge.

The idea of running a half marathon, that left me sore limping around for a week, back to back – na. Not only was this going to push my mental toughness and my physical joints to their limit, but it was also a real sacrifice that impacted the rest of my life while training. Runs were no longer the < 1hr easily allocated parts of my day. They were intense multi-hour events that took extra time on the front to properly hydrate & fuel as well as extra time on the end to properly recover. I was eating a lot and still losing muscle mass – with little energy left to train strength as I had before.

Fall 2022 was approaching and the Marathon I had scheduled was set for the first weekend of October. By September I was able to run around 20mi and was confident with the right motivators and fueling stations – 26 was in reach. Then came the email: "Marathon Cancelled".... just a few weeks before the race. They canceled!

At this point, it was too late to register for most Marathons nearby, and each week that past by the weather was dropping – with winter approaching. It was clear to me that if I did not commit to the date I had been training for – the first weekend of October – then I would find a lot of excuses to delay delay until it just didn't happen. Furthermore, I was sick and tired of that training schedule. I missed feeling strong and being able to push weight around without feeling as if my bones themselves are weak. It was time to get this over with.

The prospect of a Marathon by itself is a monster. At least in a structured race you have people to the left and right also sucking it up, as well as hydration/fuel stations, and a crowd to cheer you along. Make sure you finish. None of that is there when you run one on your own.  You pack what you need to finish, nobody is stopping you if you want to quit, and nobody is there to catch you if you feel like walking. It's just you and you.

Mi 5 - I got this – feeling good!

Mi 9 – Okay this is usually when I turn around.. so just a few miles more and then I can turn around and it will be fine.

Mi 14 – I am getting pretty sore but am about to turn around and head back. Over halfway done let's do this!

Mi 18 - I can feel my body running out of fuel. Muscles are having micro cramps, camelback is thinning out, and sweat is getting sticky.

Mi 19 - Crap I am slowing down and the pain is not stopping!

Mi 20 - Can I do this?

Mi 20.5 - I am so sick and tired of this damn running I need to do this NOW so I don't have to do it next weekend.

Mi 21 - Think about all the food I can eat when I finish!

Mi 22 - This is not good I can barely run at this point and my mile times are exploding to the upside. I am almost out of water. Do I need to stop? (At this time I was running past my home and needed to head a few miles in the other direction. A perfect spot to call it.)

Mi 24 - Fuck this fuck this fuck this fuck this fuck you I am finishing.

Mi 25 - Okay I just need to deal with this pain for another 10 minutes there is no way I am not finishing.

Mi 26 - SPRINTTTTTTT

DONE

As you can see the internal self-talk increases a lot in the tail end of that run.  

This kind of run will test many parts of you– and a misguided motivation for the run will lead you to failure. Over the last year, there were countless moments I could have called the plan off and quit. I could have complained about my strength diminishing, or that it takes too much time from other important parts of my life, or that I need to run it in a structured race because I can't carry all the water and carbs I need.  I am not sure how else to put it but think this image captures the mindset you must adopt for a challenge such as this:

Victor Wrench

There are days you go for a run and the weather is so miserable that the only other people out there are the other sickos – the others trying to tame their inner demons. Seeing what is normally a packed trail with only a handful of people on it was a lightbulb moment for me. This is what separates those who finish from those who try. It's those moments when you test yourself – and if you don't get yourself – it gets you.    

Get me, or I'll get you.