Meltdowns and Mind Games in Marathon Training

I haven’t talked about it in a while on this blog, but if you stalk me on Twitter or Instagram, you’ll know that I am in the middle of training for a marathon. And y’all? It’s by far the hardest thing I have ever willingly put myself through.

Saturday was The Day I Had to Run 18 Miles. The sheer weight of that fact gave me weak knees long before I started running. I ran 16 miles the week prior, but it was with my friend Allison who was also training and the thought of running 2 miles longer and alone… well, I honestly didn’t think I would be able to do it.

I woke up early on Saturday to fuel up properly. I suited up in my ugly running gear — shorts over leggings, duo dry shirt and jacket, and a water belt that may me look like I was trying too hard.

And the next thing I know I was weeping on the floor of my living room.

I’m not sure specifically what triggered it — perhaps it was leaving J and Leia cozied up on the couch watching a holiday movie. Maybe it was the fact that I announced I would be home by 11 or 12 at the latest — and it was still 7:30. Or maybe it was the fact that I only ran once during the week and it was a measly old 2 miler. Or maybe it was because my knee was already hurting me before I had even started. Pretty sure it was a combination of them all.

I can’t do this! 18 miles — EIGHTEEN MILES!?
I just can’t do this! I’m so tired of training.
Why did I sign up for this?
Why am I willingly putting myself through this torture?
I haven’t even lost weight!
Over three hours of running — I don’t want to do it!
I just can’t do it….

And because God put the perfect man in my life — somehow He spoke through J to give me the wisdom and encouragement I needed. I could do this. He was proud of me. I could take as long as I needed, even if I had to walk most of it. I did 16 last week, so I can do 18. The next run longer than this will be with my friends, so this is the last super long one alone. Take one step at a time. I can do it. I can do it. I can do it.

I wiped my tears away, apologized for messing up his T-shirt, bid my family farewell, and drove towards the American Tobacco Trail taking deep breaths and focusing on his pep talk.

Now, anyone who has run for any amount of time may know that your mind does really weird things when you run. Your body certainly needs to work up to long distances, but it’s your mind that actually allows you finish.

In all of my long runs, the first 3 miles are the hardest. It’s cold and the thought that you have so many more ahead of you is daunting. You just can’t think about it or else you’ll go crazy. Usually when I reach mile 4, it starts to get a little easier. Then I realize I’m at mile 5, then mile 6, and then, hey mile 7, how’d I get here so fast?

My favorite part of running is the camaraderie with other runners. They start to populate the trails mid-morning. Other people have exaggerated gear on, and we both know we’re doing some gosh-awful distance that morning too. And for a split-second we bond. We have an understanding. They’ll tip their head, give me a little wave, and we weakly smile at each other in an instant that says, Good job — keep going! You can do this. One time there was a sweet old man that I passed twice who actually took off his hat and gave me a little bow. The mile following was the fastest of them all.

When you get passed the double digits, your body starts to catch up and your leg muscles get really tired. Stopping at red light to cross feels like a sweet gift from heaven — but then it’s torture to pick your feet back up and move again when it turns green. I remember at mile 12 I thought, Just 6 more miles! Just one more hour and you’re done! And then thinking,  How cool (or depressing?) is it that I consider one more hour as not a long time? How far I have come from the first day when 2 miles felt arduous! 

After some trial and error, I’ve come to realize I can’t listen to music too early or else I get burned out. In fact, on Saturday I listened to four sermons before I blasted my tunes. (In case you’re wondering, I subscribe to The Village Church, Summit Church and Redeemer Church podcasts.) It isn’t until the last 30-40 minutes that I invite Kayne and Beyonce to join me.

I could write a detailed paragraph about every inch of the way, but will spare you the boring details. Let’s just say, I finally finished. Thank goodness the last two miles were in a bad neighborhood because it kept me moving.

When I finished, the exhaustion won over the endorphins. But still, as I limped to my car, I was amazed to think that 3 hours and 20 minutes ago I didn’t think I could do it, and BOOM, it was done. Nevermind that somehow I’ll have to manage to run 8 more for The Real Thing in January (let’s not dwell on that now, okay?), but for the time being it was the greatest accomplishment I had ever done. And looking back now I wonder who that girl is that ran 18 miles — it certainly wasn’t me! Because running more than 5 miles is just crazytown.

Have you ever trained for something you didn’t think you can do?
Have you ever trained for a half or full marathon?
What is your favorite or least favorite part of training?