I've had over a week to gather my thoughts about the marathon and the journey I've been on in the past year. I'm sure many people would think what I attempted to do was completely foolish and that I was setting myself up for disaster and injury. But, I made it, and have learned a lot a long the way of completing everything from a 5K to a marathon within a year. I still certainly consider myself a new runner and am ready to tackle some more challenges. I'm tentatively considering my next full marathon - Pittsburgh in May 2011. I'll decide in the next month or so for sure.
For now, what I think I've done right and what I've done wrong along the way so far:
1. Registered for races. I've mentioned many times becoming hooked on running after completing the first 5K on Thanksgiving 2009. I quickly signed up for a 5 miler in January and after that one, signed up for two halfs and the full marathon. Obviously I'm a goal person. Knowing I was signed up for all the events kept me motivated and excited for the next challenge. Although I signed up for a lot and was overly ambitious, I tried to still keep it somewhat in check and not go completely overboard with shorter distances. Speed hasn't been a goal at all so I skipped lots of shorter distances since longer distances were my goal.
2. We broke our treadmill. This certainly wasn't intentional but in February our treadmill became completely unusable. It certainly wasn't a top of the line one to begin with but for several years I hopped on that puppy every couple of days and busted out 3-4 miles at 10:00 min. pace and 2% incline. I never changed it. It was solely to burn off calories to keep off the 50+ lbs. I lost and keep my energy level up. I could NOT run outside. It was entirely too difficult. I'm also pretty sure the treadmill wasn't calibrated correctly. After it broke, it forced me outside. With the races in mind, I started loving running outside. It took awhile, but I eventually got to the point where three miles felt easy, then 4, 5, 6 and beyond. A broken treadmill forced me to run in the cold, the scorching heat, rain, wind, hills and other unpredictable circumstances. Now, I can't stand the thought of the treadmill and can't imagine not running during the week to clear my mind.
3. I bought a Garmin. In January of this year, I didn't know there was any type of Garmin other than the one you'd find in your car (which we don't have anyway). I thought I was being pretty fancy when I went to Wal-Mart and bought a Timex that had a stopwatch on it. I never had a clue how far I ran except the couple of times I hopped in the car and re-traced the route. Wow...4.5 miles! I was so excited. As I learned more, I started stalking Amazon and when the price was right, ordered the Forerunner 305. I can't imagine life without this now. Although I'm somewhat obsessed with the data after the fact, I only look at it occasionally when I'm running. But, it's made me truly accountable for how far I've run and how long it took. I was a victim of over-estimating what I had completed before having it. Plus, I never have to plan my routes - just get out and run.
4. For several months, I had no plan. This is odd, but for the first two half marathons (March and April), I had no plan. I was so new to this, I took the laid back approach that my sister suggested which was to get to a point where I could run 5-6 miles easily and then run 9 or so miles a couple times. Somehow this worked and I really think this approach is what made me continue to love it. I almost think if I had it too planned out early with specific lengths of runs or types, it would've felt like work and wouldn't have turned into a lifestyle.
5. Then, I had a detailed plan. Once I was hooked and realized how far 26.2 miles really was, I picked a plan (Hal Higdon Int. 1) and was completely committed to working as hard as I possibly could, in a responsible way toward the marathon goal. I still chose that plan because it was simple. No complicated speed workouts, hill repeats, etc. The aim was to build the endurance to run 26.2 miles and not injure myself along the way and it was successful. I stayed almost completely on track with the plan as well.
6. I listen to my body. I've been pretty good at differentiating minor aches and pains from other potential issues. When my Achilles felt I bit sore, I backed off knowing that was a pain not to try and push too much. If I was just tired and achy, I pushed through it. I purposely chose an intermediate plan for this reason. I figured I could try it and if it was too much, my body would tell me and I could back down to a lesser plan. In then end, I had to do this and only got in one 20 miler before the marathon.
7. I completed long runs alone. This is an easy one since I'm usually a solo runner, but I certainly understand and appreciate company (was extremely helpful in the actual race). However, I do think running alone builds up a bit of mental toughness that you need to keep pushing yourself forward.
8. I figured out fuel/hydrating. I was very naive on this topic at first too but once the length of the runs was above 10 miles, I started experimenting with just about everything out there. It took a couple of times, but I eventually figured out the perfect combination for me.
1. I tried to add races into my schedule instead of scheduling my training around the races I wanted to run. Running a 18 mile long run after doing a 5 mile race the day before? Sounded fine on paper, didn't work in reality for this beginner.
2. I bought shoes at a running store. What? This is the wrong category. Yes, actually it is. I went to a running store early in the game and bought myself a fancy pair of shoes. They were so cushy and comfortable. Problem was I wasn't used to a built up shoe. I was used to cheap, on sale shoes. I remember starting out in that pair (Asics Nimbus) thinking they felt weird because the heel felt high but I went with it because they were 'real' running shoes. I've learned what I want and actually need in a shoe now.
3. I only got in one good 20 mile run. My 20 miler went really well. I only had time to do one since I altered my schedule but I almost wish it would've been a little tougher for me. I plan on doing one 22 miler in my next training round, just for myself mentally.
4. I picked an Intermediate plan. This is getting lumped into both the right and wrong categories. I'm still glad I chose it but I was getting a little burnt out towards the end. I fully intend on creating my own schedule next time around. It'll still be high intensity but I'll make it work my life and schedule a little better.
5. I attempted to eat way too healthy. In the spring, I vowed I was going to become super healthy during the whole training. You know, I was going to eat just like all those food blogs I follow. I would cut out every bad processed thing in my pantry and my refrigerator would be filled with a bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables that I'd prepare in a new and exciting way every day. This doesn't work for me. I eat relatively healthy to begin with. I figured that out several years ago when I lost weight by simply tracking what I ate and how much of it plus adding in a little bit of exercise. Crazy concept, right? Even then I didn't completely cut anything out completely. So, if I want Taco Bell and a bag of Skittles every once in awhile, who cares!
6. I neglected cross-training/strength training. My XT day was supposed to be on Mondays. The day after my long run. I did it about 90% of the time but it was quite half-assed. Somewhere along the way I decided to do some push ups and couldn't even do 10 anymore. I've been ramping back up in this department and continue to keep it in the mix. I think before I got obsessed with the running, I was actually a little bit stronger!