Running marathons has become my "thing" over the past few years, thanks to my fabulous and fun running group, and the never-to-be-underestimated power of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). I truly enjoy training for and running marathons, and knew from my first finish that I was hooked. Now, I've completed four full marathons and one ultra marathon! And, while each training and racing experience has it's own uniqueness, there are definitely some predictable stages that we all go through, whether it is your first or your 51st.
So....you think you want to run a marathon? Here are the 12 stages of training for one.
Curiosity – First, you wonder how crazy of an idea it is. “Can I really run a marathon? I think I could. I mean, those other people did. If they can do it, surely I can do it! Okay, let’s do it!”
Elitism – In this stage, you begin to feel somewhat superior to others. You’ve registered for the race, downloaded your training plan, bought new shoes and gear, and begun finding ways to work the fact that you’re training for a marathon into every conversation.
Confidence – The first couple weeks of a marathon training plan is relatively easy, so a sense of confidence further enables your superiority. “Shoot, this is easy! I should have signed up for two!”
Overwhelm – After talking with other runners about your training plan, you hear dozens of different pieces of advice about pacing, speed work, what to eat before/during/after a run, what time of day to run, how to deal with plantar fasciitis…and as the longer runs kick in you wonder, “why am I so tired? Why am I so hungry? Why do I have to run again when I just got done running?” It’s just kind of taking over your life now.
Pride – But you get over that. You achieve some new distances. You’ve been humbled, and you’ve been built back up. You’re in some new territory, and it feels pretty badass. “I am actually getting better at this! I think I can do this! I think I might even wear tight shorts!”
Surliness – Then you get tired. You get tired of running, tired of talking about running, tired of doing the math to figure out what time you have to get up to run, tired of looking at your splits, tired of eating (yes! even tired of EATING!), tired of wondering if you are doing it “right.” You’re. Just. Tired. And you kind of want to just get the whole stupid thing over with so you can go back to things that incorporate more pillows and resting on them.
Elation – But you persevere. And near the climax of your training, the runner’s high has kicked in. You’ve just run 20 miles with your best friends and you love everyone! You love the trees! You love the sun! You love that lady at the gas station who let you drink out of the faucet! This is awesome and we are going to be the best marathon runners ever!
Paranoia – After that last long run, the taper has begun, and to the newbie this feels like glorious rest because you can run less. “Wait, run less? Are you sure this is okay? This feels weird, I know my plan says I should do 6 but I think I’m going to do 9. I mean, I don’t want to lose my edge. Or my “edge.” Whichever I have, I don’t want to lose it now.”
Taper Tantrum – Veteran runners know this is also a time for everyone in your life to relocate to another house because not running makes you super super super grumpy.
Doubt – As race day approaches, self-doubt begins to set in. You suddenly realize that you have no idea how running works, or how the human body works, or how clothes work, or anything. You question what time to wake up, what to eat before the race, what to wear during the race, what to eat after the race, whether or not you are even registered for the race, and who on earth let you believe that you could run a marathon in the first place.
Resigned to Your Fate – It’s race day! You wake up, get dressed, eat breakfast, and drive to the race start as if you do this every day of your life. You’ve made this bed and you might as well lie in it. Or run through it. It is what it is. You just want to finish. You try to remember if you ever publicly told anyone your goal time or that you were even doing this in the first place. Either way, you’re here so you might as well get on with it. You stand nervously with the other crazies, you sing the National Anthem, check to make sure your watch is on (it’s not), and BOOM! Go!
Disbelief – OMG you’re doing it! You’re running the marathon! All of that training and now it’s here and it’s just running! It’s challenging, and difficult, and there are times when you think you can’t and then you remember you can, and you see the miles go by, and you get to the double digits, and you fight your way past 17, 18, 19, and make it to the 20s. Then the crowd picks up again, and the cheering pulls you along, and you think maybe this is really going to happen, and OMG I am running a freaking marathon, and those people over there are NOT running a marathon, but I AM, and look those people already have their medals on so I must be close to the end, and OMG everything hurts so bad and I just want to lie down in a bed of bagels but look! 25! I can hear the finish line announcer! Okay, suck in, look strong, smile, eyes on the prize, and make it look easy. Here comes the mat. Last step. Medal on. Water bottle put into hand. Tears well. *splat*
Euphoria – (about 20 minutes later) This is when you feel like you are on top of the world. And, you might be, depending on the location of your race. You get food, water, a soft spot to sit down and look in disbelief at your medal. And then someone asks, “so….you want to do the ultra with us?”
As the summer Olympics kicked off Friday night, I sat captivated in my living room, watching the elite athletes arrive and wondering what thoughts were running through their minds. News of steroid use and disqualification among some teams has always cast a bit of a shadow on the Olympics, but overall the event has always held me in awe. The arrival on a stage such as that is the culmination of a lifetime of work, and I admire that.
When I was younger, I used to dream of being in the Olympics. I had no athletic ability whatsoever, was on no sports team to speak of, and spent most of my time watching musical theater on television. But I had a feeling that living like an Olympian was more mental than physical, and it turns out I was right.
Sure, every elite athlete has been blessed with a natural ability that makes it easier for them to perform athletically. But I believe their success is not just the result endless hours of practice, private coaches and trainers, meals crafted by sports nutritionists, and dedicated teams of people to get them to the gold medal. Those who succeed have vision, discipline, and resilience. Here’s how you can channel some of the Olympian mentality into your life:
Know what you want
Parents of elite athletes often tell the same story of their child being driven and focused almost from birth, declaring at a young age that they were going to achieve the highest pinnacle of athleticism. We all have an essence of that in us, and having a vision for our lives doesn’t necessarily have to mean being the best of the best at anything.
Yes, having a vision of being mediocre is perfectly legitimate. The key is in being able to visualize and even sense what it would feel like, look like, smell like, or sound like to achieve it. If your vision is to be a champion for rescuing animals, then that may feel like a warm furry animal curled up in your lap, smell like dog food, and sound like the yapping of happy puppies who are glad to see you.
Studies suggest that visualization training is just as important as physical training. Olympians don’t just think about the race and the finish line, they put time into thinking what it would feel like to receive and take home the gold. The sharper this vision, the more likely it is to be achieved. Practice regular mindfulness and visualization to achieve this level of focus on your dreams.
Know how to push through
Of course, just wanting something is not enough to achieve greatness. A great mental athlete knows how and when to buckle down and power through. This is achieved with a combination of knowing one’s strengths, staying connected to the motivation for the outcome, and creating a routine that brings it all together.
In the big picture, this can mean a vision board or other visible reminder of the vision you have coupled with daily attention paid to working on that goal. In the moment when it is time to focus and perform, motivational self-talk is highly recommended by Olympic trainers. It’s amazing how much we can achieve when we simply tell ourselves that we can!
Practice resilience in the face of fatigue
Even for Olympians, failure happens. They don’t show the bad workouts, the missed shots, the seventh-place finishes, and the face-plants on television, but they happen. Of course they do. The secret of those who rise above those flops and achieve greatness is in their ability to exhibit resilience in the face of frustration and disappointment.
Resilience is a byproduct of a strong support system, an optimistic perspective, and hope for something better. Great athletes don’t quit when they fall down. They expected to fall at some point, and they had a plan for when they did.
Imagine what you could do if you thought like an Olympian every day. As you watch the summer games in Rio, remember that every gold medal started in their minds.