In four days, I will run my first marathon. In Greece. Along the original marathon course.
I have been training with my fiancé and a group of people from my work, including a professional running coach who has about 30-some-odd marathons on his legs. Really, I couldn’t have been more spoiled in terms of resources. A month or so into training, I had a stress fracture that took me out for about three weeks, but I was surrounded by experts who diagnosed and offered excellent advice. After three weeks, I was back on my foot and felt like I had lost no time at all.
Just in case you’re wondering, during the three weeks that I took off from running, I still worked out 4 days per week for the amount of time I should have been running. I did spinning and walking at an extreme uphill on the treadmill, which – let me tell you – is quite a good substitute for running.
We started training in July, when it was hovering around the upper 110-115’s out here in the desert (with 80-90% humidity). We spent the first month and a half on treadmills. I watched a lot of Friday Night Lights. A lot.
My personal limit of treadmill action is one hour, fifteen minutes. I know this, because I set out to do a 75-minute run one morning (we measured our training in time on our feet, not by distance, which we were instructed is the best method for first-time marathoners), and right around the 70-minute mark, I started to go completely apeshit. Clothes get itchy, sweat starts to feel like little stinging bees, your hands and arms start nicking the edges of the treadmill painfully as if it’s suddenly gotten too small for your form. Those last five minutes. Holy hell.
We attempted one run outside in August, starting at five in the morning. The sun came up at 5:15. It was horrible.
So, we moved back inside – this time to the 200-meter indoor track at the university where I work. We had the luxury of air conditioning and it wasn’t a treadmill, and that made up for the fact that we made a lot of loops.
Over the course of the last few months, we ran the hell out of that 200-meter track. If you math’d it out, one mile is 8 laps, so for an average long run we were probably clocking around 100 – 130 laps.
That’s a lot of laps.
You have to switch every so often or else one leg will begin to feel shorter than the other.
But at least it was air conditioned.
By the time we got into our longest runs – 3 hours, 3.5 hours, and one final epic 4-hour run that began at 5:30 in the morning on a Thursday – we had worked out a system that involved the underground parking structure and the treadmills in the Fitness Center. One hour on the track, one hour on the treadmills, one hour running laps in the parking structure, and the remainder back on the track. The last long run – the four-hour monster – happened a couple of weeks ago, and we managed to get in the first hour outside before the sun came up and it got too hot.
And then came tapering. Tapering when training for pretty much anything else is a joyous time of rest and rejuvenation. I have much enjoyed tapering in the past when I’ve trained for half-marathons, but this was a whole new beast. I got depressed, anxious, and sick. A raging sinus infection took hold. My legs felt heavy and hurt so much I worried about simply walking around in normal life, let alone running a marathon. I woke up one night, sweaty and nauseous, because a pain had bloomed in my hip so violently I was positive I’d broken it in my sleep.
And now, I’m four days out from the marathon. Tomorrow night, we’ll board a plane to Athens, where we’ll have two days to acclimate before the big race. I am beyond nervous, and still a little in disbelief that it’s actually here, that we’re actually going, and that I have trained adequately for this. I have fears of tapping out after fifteen miles, of getting sick, of injuring myself. I have nightmares about losing my race bib or oversleeping. Normal, normal, normal, all part of the running process.
Beyond the truly once-in-a-lifetime experience that running your first marathon through the ruins of ancient Greece can offer, training for this marathon has been equal parts overwhelming, painful, incredible, and cathartic. It was the last four months of my cat’s life, and I pounded out a lot of that grief and anxiety running circles on the track. I bonded with my fellow runners and came out of the experience with a new friend, the likes of which I had been desperately missing after moving here only nine months ago. Massages are much cheaper out here than they are in the States, and I gluttonously took advantage of that. As an added bonus, I’m five pounds down and feeling a new kind of fitness.
Throughout training, I kept saying “This is my one and only marathon.” I really had no desire to do but the one, vastly preferring half-marathons where I can keep chipping away at my PR (currently 1:55). But, now that I’m in taper mode and a handful of days away from the most epic physical challenge I’ve ever embarked on, I’m already wondering what my time will be. “I’m just running to finish,” I kept saying. And I will – but I can already tell that I will probably be unsatisfied with my time. And that I’ll probably want to beat it.
Regardless, and taking a step back to the present, I feel incredible gratitude. Right when I realized, after last year’s half-marathon, that I was ready for a greater challenge and felt mentally and physically ready to tackle a marathon, I was greeted with such incredible support and resources. Marathoning is a huge commitment – at five to eight hours of training a week, it’s practically another work day – and to not only be training with my fiancé but a group of newfound friends (some of whom happen to be actual experts in marathoning and fitness) was nothing short of a gift. I know that, after next week, I will start to miss those mornings of long runs, when we talked about anything and everything, and then went home and devoured delivery breakfast and took several-hour naps.
I’ll try to remind myself of all of the good, bad, and ugly of marathon training the next time I get all excited to sign up for something epic. But, in the meantime, I’m resting my legs and packing my bag to head to Greece and make some personal history.