Rekindling the Flame / What they DON’T tell you about Marathoning

I want to talk to you about marathoning. Now, before I go on, let me just say for full disclosure that I am by no means a professional marathoner. I’ve only run one, and for those of you who remember, it was a super emotional experience for me.

I ran the Marine Corp Marathon a few months ago, and as I look back on it, I realize there were just some things I wasn’t prepared for. Sure, I ran and trained leading up to the race. I didn’t hit a 20 mile training run, but I did at least two 16’s and kept my running fairly consistent. I made the  wise decision to stick to what I knew in regards to clothing, shoes, gear, and fuel on race day – I’d heard/read of too many race day fumbles due to a runner’s curiosity being piqued on race day.

Not this girl.

No, race day came and I hit the starting line and well…the rest was history.

Or so I thought.

See…what they don’t tell you about running a marathon is what to expect in it’s aftermath. Think about it…you spend months on end training for this big event. Hours of your time every day/week are spent thinking about and planning for this marathon. Then the day comes…and a few hours later, you’ve crossed the finish line. Or maybe you don’t. But the biggest question for those who compete in their first marathon is usually…

What next?

There’s this really weird sensation that comes over you after the anger, hunger, exhaustion, and exhilaration die down. A feeling that you have basically reached the mountaintop, the holy grail for most runners…and that there is nothing that could possibly top that.

Or maybe, like me, you didn’t finish the entire race. Then there is the crushing disappointment, the feeling of failure, and perhaps the fear of ever trying to do a marathon again. But when those feelings fade as well…you’re still left with…

What’s next?

I wasn’t prepared for that question. After the marathon was over…after the initial reactions to what I’d attempted had dwindled…I was left feeling kinda…well, stuck. I spent all last year thinking about that race, and training for that race, and thinking of little else than that race. But when it was over…I didn’t have anything else to really look forward to that could take hold of my attention.

What’s worse? I didn’t really want to run like I used to. Crazy, isn’t it? I noticed that I just stayed in bed or hit the snooze button way more when it came to a running day. There were times when I only ran once a week, and even then was because I had an obligation to my ladies in my BGR running group to lead a run. Sidenote: I’m so thankful for those ladies – they don’t know it, but that one run a week kept me ‘alive’ so to speak. But yea, when I did run, it was only for a short distance. 3 miles here…4 miles there…an occasional 5 miler thrown in there. But nothing further than that. Why? Because another thing that they don’t prepare you for when talking about marathons…

You may develop an aversion/fear of running long.

Yea. Believe it. In talking to a few other first time marathoners, it seemed like I wasn’t the only one who just didn’t want to go long. There is something psychological about running that far, only to realize just how long you were out there….and how much it sucked…and how you might never ever want to run for that long again. Ever.

That was me. I was out there for a good 7+ hours. That is a long ass time to be outside..running…walking…and crying because the finish line seems so damn far away. I didn’t want to be outside running for that long ever again. And even though my normal long runs are only a fraction of the time I was out there for the MCM, somehow in the back of my mind the two became associated. Hence the skipping long run days, and running a bunch of 3-4 mile runs. I thought I just couldn’t handle…or rather I didn’t want to handle being out that long for a run. It didn’t seem fun nor exciting to me. In fact, the idea of it sucked.

I would have never expected that running a marathon would bring about all these emotions, changes, and reactions to running. While my body healed within a matter of days, it seemed like my psyche took a couple of weeks, months even, to get back to some semblance of normalcy. It’s something I wish someone would have told me, something I wish someone would have pointed out. We spend so much time preparing for the race that we forget to ask about what happens or what could happen after.

So if you are preparing for your first marathon, please do not be surprised if you face any of the things I’ve mentioned above. Better yet, begin to prepare yourself for these feelings now. Ask yourself how you would feel if you don’t finish? What is your contingency plan? How much time will you allow yourself to mentally recover from that? And even if you do finish, have you considered taking a break from running after? What about the realization that there is ‘life after the marathon’? How will you begin to look at other, shorter races and runs with the same excitement and passion that you had for the marathon? What are your running goals for other races?

Just some things to think about.

I will tell you, it gets better though. It is getting better for me every week. Part of that is that I had enough time ‘away’ from running to kinda get over it. Plus I decided I was going to give it a try again – difference this time is I’m not going to build my running life around it. It’s just a run. Just 26.2 miles. Yea…justI’m not making a big deal out of it; I’ve got other goals to focus on this year. Yes, other goals – goals that are bigger, better, and more challenging. It’s on to the next thing. And having those goals has snapped me back into focus and have basically made me start running long again. I mean, if I’m gonna do all of those half marathons this year, I’m gonna have to push past those 3-4 mile runs…and with the first half mary coming up in a matter of weeks, I had to get moving. Literally.

I mentioned in one of my posts from earlier this week that I’ve been having a little more fun with running again. I’m trying new routes, or routes I haven’t run in awhile. It’s added some spice back into running for me. Today I went for a run along a new route that I mapped out in a different part of the city and I loved it! I ended up going a little over 6 miles, and to tell the truth I wanted to go further but I was in a crunch for time. There is something about taking a new route…the curiosity that comes with finding out what’s behind each turn…or where this road or that trail will take me…it’s very alluring. That’s how I developed my love for going long – there is just so much to see and take in on a long run, you get preoccupied with your environment and kinda forget that you’re actually running. By the time I hit mile 4 I couldn’t stop smiling…I was just happy…I was at home. By mile 5 I was singing – I just couldn’t be stopped. It was like being hit by cupid. By mile 6? I was in love with the long run all over again. The freedom to roam, the new discoveries, the sights, the sounds, and the other runners you encounter along the way. This is why I run. This is why I love it so much. Running is freedom. It is my outlet. On the trail, I am at home.

And it feels good to be back. 😉



6 thoughts on “Rekindling the Flame / What they DON’T tell you about Marathoning

  1. You’ve made me think that when I get back to running (hopefully soon) that I need to try some new routes for my long runs. I always have run on the Gemini Trail, which is beautiful, but it’s an out and back and I know it by heart. Maybe I need something to spice up my long runs too…

  2. Pingback: Don’t Do Anything New on Race Day! | Run, Walk, Live in Springfield, Virginia

  3. I can completely relate! I’m still working on getting my groove back. Thanks for sharing. I recently read a blog (she also ran the MCM full last year) that shared similar sentiments. If you interested, here is the link: The story is “The Honeymoon is Over”

  4. I love how honest and raw and real this is. The Marine Corps Marathon was also my first marathon, and while I came away with more pleasant memories than you did, I’ve also found the weeks and months since to be a challenge — motivationwise, weightwise, you name it. I haven’t yet found the solution to overcoming the post-race let down, but I’ll let you know when I do!

    And woah, thanks “Run, Walk, Live in Springfield, Virginia” for the shout out! Thanks for reading! 🙂

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