Training for the Phoenix Marathon

I’m going to summarize 2 months of training runs into a single post, so picture a movie-style training montage, but… at the end of it, I’m running slower than I did at the beginning. So kinda like a training montage run in reverse. It would be completely inaccurate to call it the story of me figuring out how to run slowly enough to finish a marathon, but sometimes that was how it felt, and I like the sound of it, so I’m going to say it anyway.

It was a lot of miles and a lot of hours of running. My longest training run was 20 miles, which took me a little over four hours to do. I did that 20 mile run, a couple of 18s, and several 16s. You can do the math if you want, but I think “a lot” covers it pretty well.

The things I learned:

It’s hard.

The transition from half-marathon distance to marathon distance is profound and unlike any I’d done before. Going from 5k to 10k, to 12k, to 15k, to 13.1 miles, to the several-legged 15.5 trail miles for Ragnar—there was obviously (if you’ve followed my running history at all) a lot of time along the way in between all of those, but there was never a point where going up to the next step felt like a significantly different experience than the one before it. It just took more training and more time to do.

Getting up to 16 was not like that. It’s hard to describe what exactly made it so different, but nothing over 14 felt like anything I’d done before. I’ve read that once you run for something like an hour and a half, you’ve tapped out the glycogen stored in your muscles, and from that point on, you’re running on whatever you’ve eaten since you started. Whatever the reason, increasing distance was hard—harder than the way I’d done it previously, which was “add a half mile each week,” or “add a mile each week.” I had to have a week where I’d increase, and then follow it with a week where I’d back off. Then back up a little more, and back down to a little higher than the previous back down.

I dragged myself through a 15 mile run in mid-December, before I understood how this was going to work, and thought, “Okay, I’m good—even ahead of schedule. All I need to do is go up a mile each week starting in January, and I’ll be more than set by the end of February.”

I was wrong.

Don’t skip the early weeks of training for your first marathon, folks. You might think you know how it’s going to go, and you’re going to find out that you’re wrong.

I had to change my shoes.

I’ve been running in minimal shoes almost since I started running. Not the zero-drop, barefoot-style minimal, but the lightly-cushioned, 4 mm offset style. Mostly Brooks PureCadence, but something about the most recent (at the time) PureCadence 3 wasn’t really working for me, so I had been doing some running in my Saucony Peregrine 2 trail shoes (which was what I used for the 2014 12Ks of Christmas and the Ragnar Trail for which they were originally bought). Both pairs of shoes were starting to get a fair number of miles on them, and I was starting to feel really beat up as I worked up to the 14+ mile distances, so I thought getting new shoes might help.

Since I was liking my Peregrines and not loving the PureCadence, I thought I’d give the Kinvaras (another 4 mm offset Saucony shoe) a try. They were lousy. Flat and hard, and even though I just kept running in them thinking that eventually they’d break in and loosen up, they still hadn’t done so after 60+ miles (which at the time translated to about two weeks), so I had to take it that they were as good as they were going to get. Unfortunately, I’d ordered them over the internet (hooray slightly discounted price!) rather than a reputable running store, and their return policy turned out to not allow for test running (unlike Brooks, so another negative mark for Saucony), so by that point I was stuck with them. Chalk this one up as a learning experience.

Hoka One One Clifton
Still one of my all-time favorite pairs of shoes!

To shorten an already too-long story, I learned the error of my ways and went back to a running store, where I ended up going with some Hoka One One Cliftons, a pair of shoes with significantly more cushioning than anything I’d ever run with before. And they helped (I’m totally in love with them now). I still felt beat up after the long training runs, but I wasn’t spending the next several days afterward limping.

Energy gels… ugh.

You eat two or three while you’re running for a couple of hours, no problem (I used to actually kind of like them). By the time you get to number six and you’re four hours in, they are downright sickening. I stuck with them through training and the marathon because that was what I was used to, and I wasn’t going to futz with the formula late in the program or for race day, but I have definitely got to come up with something better for the next long run, because I was physically unable to choke them down by the end (20 miles and beyond) of the marathon, and not getting that energy hurt me.

Turns out I can only stand so many of these…

I was very, very afraid.

This isn’t necessarily something I learned during training—well, in a way I did as I came to understand how hard it was going to be—but I think it’s worth mentioning.

I spent a lot of time and effort training for this thing, and I did not feel ready for it. I didn’t want to disappoint myself. Very little in this world feels as good to me as performing well in a race and accomplishing what I set out to do, and it hits me hard when I don’t (that’s something that I feel is ultimately good for me, too, but that’s a topic for another post). I know it’s silly (or at least I think it is), but to me, if you can put a marathon under your belt, there’s no longer a question of whether or not you’re a “runner.”

I feel like I’m a “runner,” and I’ve felt like that for a long time, but there was something really important to me about checking that box off as proof to everyone, and more importantly to myself, that it was unequivocally true, and I was so afraid that I wasn’t going to be able to make it. I think bad runs and races can be good learning experiences (again, read my thoughts on that elsewhere), but that one would have been devastating to me.

I guess fear as (partial?) motivator worked.

It was worth it.

I ended up being in okay shape for the marathon. You can read my full post about it once it’s written, but I’ll spoil the ending now and say that I made it. I could have been better prepared (I’ve never run anything where I didn’t feel like that was the case), but I ran and finished it the way I wanted to—running the entire distance, never being forced by exhaustion or injury to break down and walk.

Best feeling in the world.