Early in the morning of Sunday, November 6, 2016, I’ll arrive at a small park about an hour away from Pittsburgh. I’ll be putting on my race bib, putting gels in my pockets, and standing in bathroom lines with about 250 runners. Most will be running a half marathon. I’ll be joining the 75 or so running the full marathon.
It will be cool and cloudy–perfect running weather. I’ll get in the back of the starting line, since those trying for a Boston qualifying time need to stand at the front because the race isn’t chip timed. My own excitement and nervous energy will radiate around me, contributing to the overall pre-race energy in this small pack of runners. I’ll close my eyes, breath deeply, and think back on my training. I’ll feel prepared, ready, and cautiously optimistic. I’ll know running 26.2 miles will be a challenge, but I’ll feel confident that I can do it.
I’ll start running the Indiana Veteran’s Marathon on the crushed limestone trail that makes up the race course. I’ll be running with a friend doing the relay. We’ll run 13.1 miles on a slight upgrade on the trail with trees and pretty views all around us. At 13.1 miles, I’ll meet another friend also doing the relay, who will run the second half with me. We’ll turn around for the slight downgrade of the return trip.
When it gets hard, I’ll dig deep. When I feel like quitting, I’ll keep putting one foot in front of the other. It won’t be easy, but I’ll do it. And I’ll enjoy it all–the scenery, running with friends, even the unique physical and mental aches and pains that only a marathon can bring. And when I cross the finish line, it will be the most rewarding and gratifying thing I’ve ever done.
That’s the vision that will be playing over and over again in my head from now until November 6.
My Decision to Run a Marathon
The last time I talked about a marathon, I wasn’t sure whether I should still do one considering my mental struggles in my last half marathon. I mulled over the thoughts and input everyone gave me, which really helped. I pretty quickly decided I was not going to run the Philadelphia Marathon, which I’d originally targeted for my first. Big city races stress me out with the huge amount of runners and spectators. I can’t even think of the Philly Marathon without feeling anxious. Next I considered just running the distance on my own outside of a race environment. There will be 20-mile group runs with our local running groups for fall marathon training, and I could tack on 6.2 miles. But because it’s not official, I’m not sure I’d have the same feeling of accomplishment, nor am I sure I’d be motivated to train well if it’s not an actual race.
A while back, Courtney had suggested I do the NCR Trail Marathon at the end of November. When I say I hate races, that’s not entirely true. I actually really like the races I’ve done on trails. When I’m racing, I’m happiest either on my own or with a small group of runners on a trail in the woods. While a trail race is definitely my speed, my hesitation is that I could become bored and lose motivation. Yes, I love trees and being in the woods, but how will I feel after five hours of seeing nothing but trees? Still, I thought a trail marathon was my best bet. I checked the distance, and the NCR Trail Marathon is almost five hours from Pittsburgh. When I asked my husband if he’d go with me, he said yes but wondered if I couldn’t find a closer trail race.
Next I looked at the Towpath Marathon in Ohio. Gretchen ran the half marathon last year and loved it. But, it’s in early October and can still be pretty warm then, so that’s out, at least for this year.
That led me to the Indiana Veterans Marathon on November 6. With it being an hour away, I wouldn’t have to deal with either the cost or stress of travel, which will be one less thing to worry about. Also, I did the Ghost Town Half Marathon on the same trail last Memorial Day. That race was basically the second part of the course–the slight downgrade, which felt flat. I remember the trail being very pretty, and I enjoyed it even though it was extremely hot that day. It was low-key with a very small field of runners and seemed like more of a group run, which is exactly the type of vibe I’m looking for.
This race has other advantages, the biggest being the relay option. Since I’m not sure whether I’ll get bored and unmotivated in a trail race, I’d really love to have friends to run with. When I told Jamie, one of my running friends, about it, she immediately agreed to do part of it with me. Jamie is actually a coach–not a running coach, but a coach where I work. She has definitely helped me get through long runs, and I will feel so much better running with her the last half of the race. If there’s anyone who can help pull me out of a dark place and keep me motivated, it’s Jamie. Also, the registration fee is only $26.20! It’s more if you want a race shirt, which I probably will get. When I think about this race–the small field of runners, the low-key vibe, the trail course in the woods, running with friends–it feels right. And it makes me very excited both to want to train for it and to run it. My gut is telling me this is right for me!
When I struggled with my 47-mile peak week in my recent half marathon training using the Hansons’ plan, I questioned how I could I do the full marathon plan that peaks at 57 weeks. That’s for the beginner plan. The just-finish plan that includes only easy runs didn’t seem right for me either since I’ve done the workouts in the beginner plan twice now, am familiar with them, and like them. (Note: The workouts in and structure of the half marathon and marathon plans are the same; the marathon plans just have more miles.) I also know that the majority of other runners feel like Hansons isn’t ideal for a first marathon, that the intensity is overkill and more geared to working on a big goal instead of a just-finish goal, and also that the 16-mile cap on training runs won’t provide either enough time on your feet or the confidence that completing a 20-mile training run would.
Despite all that, I know the Hansons’ plan works for me and I know that following it gives me the confidence and mental grit I’ll need in a marathon. I just wouldn’t be as confident following any other plan, and it’s the confidence that I really need. Plus, it’s been proven that runs of more than 3 hours provide little aerobic benefit while significantly increasing the risk of injury (see Are You Putting Too Much Emphasis on the Long Run in Marathon Training). That’s especially important to a slower runner like me who would likely be running more than 4 hours to get in 20 miles. I had two injury-free training cycles using the Hansons’ plan, and I want to stay free of injuries.
So I reached out to Hansons’ coach Melissa, with whom I consulted last year. Melissa is as talented a runner–she placed 15th at this year’s Olympic Marathon trials!–as she is a coach. She gave me a great race plan and tons of tips, advice, and inspiration that helped me run my best half marathon last fall. She will be coaching me this year for marathon training and will be creating a custom plan for me. She agreed with everyone who said you don’t have to run a ton of miles to have a successful first marathon. She also told me that running a lot of miles just to run a lot of miles isn’t the point and that training that leaves me feeling miserable isn’t the point. I think that working with her will help to keep me from going over the brink into overtraining while preparing me to run my best on race day.
So, I couldn’t be more excited! I’ll be running a marathon on my own terms–a race that suits me that I’m excited to run using a custom training plan based on a training method that I know and really like with a coach who can help me through the journey. Everything is aligning in a way I feel really good about. Training starts at the end of June, and I can’t wait!