You know that mantra “you should do at least one thing that scares you every single day?” Well, slap a big fat check mark next to October 11th, 2015 for this lady because I ran more miles than I thought humanly possible. 26.2 to be exact. On purpose. During a little old thing we call the Chicago Marathon.
And some people might come off such a feat exclaiming “that was amazing!” or the real crazies might say something along the lines of “can’t wait for the next one!” I am not apart of that group- running 26.2 miles, was by far one of the most physically demanding thing I have ever put my body through, and my legs are still not pleased with me.
If you are thinking of running a marathon, here is my entire roundup of the good, the bad and the ugly- the before, during and after, if you will.
Once you have committed yourself to a marathon (that’s $200, your soul, and also your sanity please), the real fun begins (need help finding motivation to run a marathon? read this).
You will need to pick a training program. I would recommend using Hal Higdon’s guides to running- I found them to be easier to follow and didn’t require a track. Higdon’s training offers a variety of programs, varying in intensity based on your experience, and even include training for races of all distances.
After choosing which suits you best, the difficult part becomes sticking to your training. It is essential not to skip runs- or if you can’t do it one day, make sure you get in the miles on a different day. It’s ok to move around the schedule based on what works with the rest of the crazy things going on in your life, however, be intentional about keeping the running, cross training and rest days consistent. The toughest part, logistically, about the training will be carving out time in your schedule to get all of the miles in.
Also, running is apparently a cult, and there are so many people, brands, events, and resources that are designed to help you. One of my favorites? The FlipBelt, a running accessory designed to keep the important things on you- i.e. keys, I.D., iPod- in both a fashionable and comfortable way. There are running clubs in almost every city, races of varying lengths to help you make sure you’re getting in long runs on the weekend, and even apps that provide coaching and community to ensure that you reach your goal. Snap Kitchen was a massive help to me in terms of understanding the new nutritional requirements to make sure I’m fueling my body when I would expend as much as 3,500 calories during a single run. They helped me create a dietary plan that upped my carb and protein intake in order to optimize my performance during training. To call it life-saving is a massive understatement.
At this point, you’ve put in the work, you’ve been tapering and you will be a weird combination of thrilled/ horrified/ excited and terrified of the physical feat you are about to embark on.
Let’s talk about something important: Carb-a-loading.
Seriously, there is actually nothing I would rather talk about than warm carbohydrates. An actual quote that came out of my mouth: “honestly, these 300ish miles, ridiculously early morning workouts, nights in, and grueling pain were completely made worth it when I had a 2-day free pass to eat whatever I wanted.”
Granted, it’s not supposed to be whatever I wanted, but everything I’ve ever wanted is pretty much found on the Olive Garden Menu, so it’s the same thing. The most important carb-a-load day is 3 days prior to race day, followed by 2 days prior. Your body needs time to convert the carbs to glycogen and store it in your muscles to use as energy on race day. Try to stay away from buttery sauces, and stick to the good ol’ tomatoe sauce, if at all possible (trust me, I know, sometimes it’s just not).
Chicagoans, the Waldorf Astoria has an incredible marathon menu- it not only consists of the right stuff, including gourmet seafood for lean protein, but it’s completely mouth-watering. I was blown away by this hotel more than any other in the city for the preparation and excitement that they cultivated, whether it be from their pre-race food, the information and direction they provided to guests the morning of, and especially the spa packages they offered for recovering runners in need in the days after. If you are running, or just coming to watch a loved one run, I could not recommend any Chicago hotel higher than this one.
The morning of race day, it’s important to wake up early and eat right away. Stick to what you’ve been eating before long runs during training, and wake up a few hours before necessary to, ahem, get things moving in your body.
Give yourself plenty of time to get to where you need to be. The Chicago Marathon was absolutely nuts, and took my friend and I about 45 minutes just to get to gear check.
Then, it’s running time. Every runner will be different, but stick to your pace, and it will just unfold for you. Everyone talks about a “wall” that they hit, and I never felt like I hit that mentally. Physically though, around mile 19, my legs had enough of my crap and weren’t picking up like they’re supposed to. From there on out, it was 100% mental to make sure my body kept moving to the finish line. Something that really got me through, was knowing where my family and friends were cheering. Insider’s tip: know which side, and the most specific location possible if you’re wanting to see your people during the marathon. There were millions of bystanders for Chicago, and I missed mine at mile 8 because I hadn’t picked up this tidbit yet.
Running the Chicago Marathon was the most challenging, rewarding, physically-demanding, fun, and inspiring experience I have ever had, period. I couldn’t feel my legs when I crossed the finish, but I felt my heart swell eight times its size knowing that I overcame one of the biggest obstacles I had ever set for myself. But more than me, it was awe-inspiring to watch a city ignite with passion and come together to support all the crazy people that dared to push themselves to the limit, believe they could go a little further, and refused to stop. It was even more special when the city that is coming alive to support you is the one your heart belongs to.
Thank you, infinitely, to the people who believed, supported, donated for causes, and made hilarious signs for the crazies who took on 26.2 that day. Thank you, especially, to my people, for the calls, texts, signs, cheering, tracking, tolerating my complaining, and not laughing when I told you my pace. It meant the world.