Welcome to Marathon MONTH Philadelphia! Whether you are training for and walking, jogging, running, or racing the Philadelphia Marathon, Half Marathon, 8K, or just want to vibe off of the city’s energy – this is our Super Bowl!
Let’s talk to some of our fellow local runners, shall we? Meet, or allow us to reintroduce you to, our very own Nina DeSilva. Philadelphia Runner Product Expert and member of Only Gaits, the illest run crew in the city that purposely may have never heard of. She’s a regular on #MYPHILLYBLOG had has gifted us with “Five Lessons Learned from Training for my First Marathon.”
In Nina’s words, without further ado:
I did it. I signed up for my first marathon. A hometown marathon in the Fall, which I chose because having family cheering me on to the finish line sounded nice. I also thought, but mostly hoped, the Northeastern Pennsylvanian temperatures in early October could be a bearable option for me.
After last year’s Philly Marathon frozen rain/hail/windy/sub-thirty-degrees weather fiasco, I knew I had to pick a marathon before November anywhere near Pennsylvania. My poor circulation and Raynaud’s diagnosis certainly would not allow my extremities to make it through twenty-six miles and some change in such conditions. All that is to say I am still manifesting a beautiful, low-sixties, sunny, crisp, dry fall day with turning leaves coating the sidewalks on October 8th for the Steamtown Marathon.
Eighteen weeks out of the twenty of my training block have passed—I am currently in my two-week taper portion of training, reducing my mileage from eighty-miles a week, to forty, and then twenty. I have learned a lot about high-mileage training. But even more so—and I know this is cliché, but please bear with me, you might get something out of it—I learned more about myself, and what I need to get me through those high-mileage weeks, the highest mileage weeks I have ever tackled in my running career.
I ran track and cross-country in high school. I ran cross-country in college. But it has only been in my post-grad years I have discovered how much I appreciate running distances beyond the 8k and what is required of me to make running those longer distances achievable.
Here are five things I never really considered would be crucial components of my marathon training that, ultimately, are:
1: I should not be ashamed of running on the treadmill/dreadmill.
The amount of long runs I ran on the treadmill, or dreadmill as most know it, embarrasses me. Why? Everyone has something to say about me doing them, and usually they are questioning looks. Raised eyebrows. “It couldn’t have been me”s. Still, I would not have been able to make my mileage/time goals for the week without my Planet Fitness membership. A membership made just to have access to a treadmill.
With blazing summer heat waves, forgetting nutrition to fuel the long run, getting out of work at 7pm and back home by 8:30pm, Maurten powder sitting in my handheld Amphipod bottle too long for the bottle to be usable, being terrified of crossing Christopher Columbus Blvd in the dark, not feeling like I would be fully recovered if I were to wake up early enough for a run outside, fearing standing on my feet for eight hours at work after running for three hours, what my plantar pain might have to say about excessive standing, not having access to a porta-potty on the route, etcetera. The excuses are endless. The result: me doing a long run on the treadmill after work, wrapping up by 11pm usually.
I grew fond of the treadmill, though, the Planet Fitness, the small talk I worked my way up to with the front desk person. Being able to set a pace and go with it. Adjusting the incline to my liking. Listening to podcasts without feeling the urgency to constantly be aware of my surroundings. To watch another episode of Gilmore Girls. The treadmill made me feel in control, and I liked it.
Yes, I am a treadmill fan and am thankful for every mile I logged that I would not otherwise. Thank you, treadmill. Thank you, Planet Fitness.
2: Sleep is recovery.
The treadmill and sleep component went hand in hand for me. Did I get up at 5am once or twice to get some miles in? Sure. Could I do that consistently without sacrificing the rest recovery my body needs after a mere three hours of sleep? Maybe, but I am guessing probably not. The best workouts I had I know for a fact came after the nights I slept well. For at least seven hours.
As a night owl who likes to write in the dusk hours, seven hours is well above average for me. I would rather sleep in to reap the rest recovery benefits than sacrifice them to finish my long run before 9am. To each their own.
I used to be the runner that would go out for long runs, take a couple gels with me, but leave them still in the pocket, uneaten. I refrained from bragging to my running peers that “I don’t need gels” for my long runs, but in all honesty, I thought it, sure. I thought releasing a Maurten gel from my pocket, ripping it, slurping on it mid-run would waste too much time, take too much energy, mess with my flow, ruin my pace, and the extra ‘boost’ it would afford me was wholly unnecessary; I had it all under control.
I admit it. I was wrong. As a Taurus, that is hard to admit. But there it is in fine print. I was wrong.
I never knew how good I could feel at the end of a long run if I just fueled properly. Or in this case, if I had fueled at all. Until I started marathon training that is. I figured out my fueling plan through trial and error on my long runs, forcing down Maurten gels one after the other. And yeah, I have grown to like Maurten. I like that they are flavorless and can be taken without water on the run. Even if its gelatinous texture in any other context freaks me out.
The fueling plan for me was a gel every 5k, or 3.1 miles. Does that sound excessive? I know it did to me initially. But I also know from experience, and the Strava data, that this fueling method helped me push a faster pace than my ideal marathon pace at the end of a twenty-miler.
The trick, I have been told, is to fuel before you feel like you need it. Seems like sound advice. Works for me.
I was always terrified of bulking up if I were to lift while training. As I am sure many other runners can say as well. Maybe a brush with body dysmorphia might have contributed to that fear as well. But strength work does not always include heavy weights. Even just body weight strength exercises—all of the routines I follow are on YouTube with the “no equipment” disclaimer—can make a huge difference.
I worked my way up to two strength-sessions a week, but even just one day a week, which is the amount of strength days I included in the first couple weeks of my training, made a noticeable difference.
Eventually I did incorporate dumbbells and barbells—which I have actually come to love—into my strength program. Thanks again, Planet Fitness.
Like the day after a good night’s rest, I can tell when I did strength work on the run the day after. I might be a little sore, but my form feels so much sharper. The areas I strengthened feel like they have more to offer. My cadence is less sluggish. I feel power. Speed. Effortlessness.
5: Be kind to yourself.
Yes, I have been through multiple injuries during all of my marathon training attempts. Torn labrum, stress fractures, an unnamed ankle mobility issue, Achilles tendinopathy, plantar fasciitis. Not to mention the past two marathons I trained for I had to quit due to injuries.
Third time’s the charm. What got me through this time around, in all seriousness, is partly a stronger determination to run the marathon, but also not blaming myself for my body’s reaction to stress. I did everything I possibly could to instead take care of my stressed body. A training plan is great, but it is not the be-all-end-all. I prioritized listening to my body above following the training plan to a T for this third marathon-training attempt.
I took a week off after some sharp plantar pain felt on what should have been a recovery run. Did I want to curse myself and worry that that week off would drastically reduce my fitness level, and that I would not be able to regain the fitness in time to run the marathon? Of course. The anxiety ran rampant. At the same time, I accepted that what my body truly needed was some grace and kindness. It is ok to take time off if I am experiencing pain. I was told this and then a little bit later actually believed it.
I took a week off from running completely, got my foot checked out by a podiatrist, and was reassured that I can still run the marathon if I just focus on recovery. Two weeks out in taper mode and I have no intention of not running the marathon. During this taper, I have been running, but predominantly loading up on more protein and carbs than I thought my body was capable of digesting. Sleeping well. Rolling out my muscles with one of those spikey balls. Wearing recovery slides whenever I am not wearing my running shoes. Feeling strong.
Training to run twenty-six point two miles is challenging, confusing, draining, time-consuming, and often injury-inducing. But I loved every silly second of it and counting. All for the thrill of it.
To all of you out there running a marathon in the Fall, to all of you pondering the idea of running a marathon/*insert some distance you think is unachievable here,* to all of you out there who think said distance is not even in the cards—good luck and keep on figuring it out. You will get to where you want to be as long as you take care of yourself in the process. And you need to sometimes put yourself in uncomfortable situations to figure out what taking care of yourself means to you. For me, deciding to train for a marathon for the third time was a good way to start the process.
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