My experience so far in marathon training has been very engrossing. I hate to use a cliché, but I really do eat, breathe, and sleep the marathon. I eat to fuel, I sleep to run, and I huff and puff my way through every single workout. As a result, those who have attempted to make small talk with me in the past few months (and those who will between now and October) have noticed a trend: I can’t really keep it to myself that I’m training to do this GIANT THING THAT FEELS SO BIG AND IMPORTANT! I mean, it’s bad you guys. “Hey, how are you?” “Oh man, I’m good, but my hamstrings are so tight from my training run!”; “Nice to meet you! What do you do for a living?” “Well I’m just TRAINING FOR A MARATHON, HOW ABOUT YOU!?”
Anyway, since it comes up a lot, I get a lot of questions about it. Here is my attempt at an F.A.Q. for those who might encounter a marathoner in the wild.
Q: A Marathon, huh? And how long is your Marathon?
A: Uhm… 26.2 miles. Like all marathons. Actually a “marathon” refers to the distance, not the event. If I were running less than that, I might have said “Half Marathon,” “10K,” or “5K.” But nope. I’m running a marathon. Funny story (well, more of a legend really the origins of which are questionable at best but it’s still a good anecdote): the “Marathon” derives its name from the Greek city “Marathon.” This was the destination of the messenger Philippides when in about 490 B.C.E. he was tasked to run from Marathon to Athens (a distance of, you guessed it, about 26.2 miles) to announce Athenian victory over the Persians in the Battle of Marathon. In the nineteenth century, the Olympic games were formed and since they were built to glorify ancient Greece, this story inspired the athletic event. So there you go. Marathon = 26.2 in case you were wondering what all those car stickers with numbers were about.
Q: Oh my gosh; isn’t that hard!?
A: Yes. And painful. Actually, I’m probably sore right now. Do you have a foam roller or lacrosse ball handy? Or maybe a personal masseuse? Since my marathon happens in the fall, I have to train in the summer which means I’m running outside in the heat for long periods of time. That, in turn, means I’m also probably a bit dehydrated…. Can I have a glass of water?
Q: Woah, you’re running in this weather!? That’s crazy!
A: Yes. It really is.
Q: How do you even DO that!?
A: You get up really early. Like…. Stupidly early. You cross your fingers and hope that it’s going to be not terrible out, and you just run until you’re done.
Q: Do you take water with you!?
A: Yes, I have a special device that’s basically a bladder of water inside a backpack. It’s got a nifty straw the hangs out at my shoulder so I can sip on it when I want to. Incidentally, I also carry salt pills because in heat like this you need electrolytes to retain that water; running fuel because you can’t just run for four hours and expect your body not to need food of some kind; and generally a host of other gear designed to make it a tiny big more comfortable for me to be out there under extremely uncomfortable conditions. It all helps, but the task is still not exactly a walk in the park.
Q: You must be losing so much weight with all that running!
A: Actually, no. I’m kind of gaining weight. It’s a phenomenon that most endurance athletes deal with; finding the right calorie balance and meal timing when you’re working out this hard and this often is extremely difficult. Additionally, my body just needs more calories because I burn so many of them. Once it gets them, it’s not really willing to let them go so quickly. Also I’m putting on muscle which, as we all know, will make the scale go up.
Q: Were do you even run that far!?
A: I have a bunch of routes that I use; I try to find places that are very shady (it makes a huge difference in these kinds of temperatures), away from lots of traffic, but not entirely deserted so that in the off chance I need help I can find it. I also need to find places that have convenient bathroom stops/places to refill my water because… well… four plus hours is a very long time to go without relieving yourself. There are some very useful tools on the internet for route planning (one of my favorites being MapMyRun); and believe me the last thing you want to be thinking about at mile 14 of 17 is “do I turn Left or Right to get in my mileage and get home?”
Q: Cool! We should be friends! Do you wanna get together on Friday night?
A: Do I want to? Probably. Can I? Absolutely not. I have to be in bed by 7 or 8 to make sure I get enough sleep to support my running habit. Saturday is also not really an option because I have to get up before the crack of dawn, run an obscene amount of miles, then come home and drool on my couch for a few hours before I feel sentient again. Sorry!
Alright; I should probably get back to running… or stretching… or foam rolling…. Or something….