On The Run

Was Training For A Marathon I Didn’t Do Worth It?

Around 18km into a 25km run, I turned to my husband and said, “I can’t do this”. Sensing how low I felt, he didn’t chip in with a cheerful, “You’ve got this, let’s go”. Instead he said, “Let’s walk for a bit.” Exhausted, I responded, “I’m not enjoying this. I’ve lost so much confidence in myself. I’m such a fool. Like really – how did I ever think I’d be able to run a marathon, an ultra trail marathon at that. This feeling isn’t worth it.” We picked up the pace after about a kilometre and sluggishly made our way home. Upon finishing, I didn’t get that usual high, I just felt defeated. A few days later I read this article and these words really struck a chord, “marathon training can be messy, chaotic, and sometimes seem absolutely foolish. Especially for us non-professional, non-elite athlete mortals.” I paused, took a deep breath and felt this sudden relief. It’s not me. I wasn’t weak. Training for a marathon IS hard. I had to stay focused and keep going.

Unfortunately, given the uncertain circumstances around the pandemic, the race organisers felt it best to postpone the race by a few weeks with the option to defer to next year. This announcement came just 3 weeks shy of Race Day. Oh, what to do?

Why I Chose To Defer

After all the hard work, the early mornings and sacrifices, I was disappointed to get the announcement. But truthfully speaking, I had long suspected this would happen. Like many parts of the world, the year hadn’t started well with the pandemic continuing to rear its ugly head. South Africa (where the race was to be held) was placed in a higher level of lockdown with most borders closed. Meanwhile on our side of the border, we were experiencing higher rates of infections and fatalities. I considered the option of doing the race at the end of March but I honestly didn’t think the situation would be that much better. Also, even if the race did proceed in South Africa, I still had the added hassle of travelling across the border, self-isolating upon my return whilst leaving my dad to take care of my school-going kids, potentially exposing him to the virus. I felt stuck in a corner and deferring seemed to be the only reasonable option. So sadly I don’t have a medal to show for all my efforts but I walk away with several lessons.

What Did I Learn Training For A Marathon?

Your Body Takes A Beating. Aside from a calf niggle early on, I completed marathon training without any major injuries or complaints. That’s not to say that my body doesn’t feel battered. Over the last 4 months I’ve gotten used to the dull aches and pains that come with intense training. My big toenails are black and I’ve had several bad chafing incidents on my back, most coming on my long and sweaty runs, either caused by my sports bra or hydration pack or perhaps a combination of the two. I’ve had several blisters and way too many incidents of diarrhoea either mid- or post runs. Let’s not forget I’ve been training in the height of summer which has meant sore sun-burn when I didn’t reach all areas with my sunscreen and just generally “parched” feeling skin and hair. I’ve also had muscle soreness after some of my speed or hill workouts which has felt particularly painful when I’ve had to wear heels to work. But perhaps the most prevalent feeling has been that of fatigue, both physical and mental.

You Spend A Lot Of Time On The Road. Training for a marathon takes time. I’m used to long runs over the weekend. But two every weekend? Not to mention 3 or 4 days during the week of 8 – 12km runs. Also let’s agree – when you’re a slower runner, those runs just take a whole lot longer! And the more time you’re out running, the less time you have for other things. I kept on top of the kids’ school work and my own work and I still had dinner with my dad every Sunday. But I found I was more reluctant to do other things that required any level of energy – stretching and strength work as well as reading and doing other house projects I have.

Staying Consistent Is Hard. A pattern emerged as I was training. I’d be solid one week only to collapse the following one. I found it really hard to maintain a 5-day running routine and sometimes just struggled to keep up. Sometimes it wasn’t even that I was particularly tired, I just needed a mental break from planning my life around my runs. But skipping runs didn’t leave me feeling rejuvenated. Instead, I felt guilty. And so the cycle continued…

You Question Yourself A Lot. You know what was really hard to take? All the bad runs. I figured that as I was running more, I’d be getting better, stronger and faster each week. But some weeks, I felt as if I was regressing. My runs would feel really poor. A couple of months in, I realised I needed to improve some basics like my hydration, nutrition and sleeping time, but even with this, some runs were just rubbish. I can run about 25km without having to walk but on some days I found myself walking after 11/12km from fatigue… or maybe it was just frustration? Running in adverse weather conditions like scorching sun or pelting rain is bad enough but when my body wasn’t cooperating either, I just found myself questioning why I was putting myself through this. What was the point? Was a medal, banana and IG photo worth all this?

You Learn To Appreciate The Good Days. Knowing how bad things could get made me stop taking the good days for granted. I celebrated all the successes. They came in different forms – hitting the set paces in my interval training, feeling comfortable on a long run, getting up on time for a run, successfully running in the rain or hitting my highest monthly mileage like I did in December. Other times, the joys didn’t come from the actual runs but from the experience, for example, spotting new artwork in town, having an insightful discussion with my husband or ironing out some issues in my head on those mid-week 12K solo runs.

You Can Do Hard Things. Training for my marathon was hard. I had several bad runs. I missed many workouts. I struggled to get up some mornings. I ate more chocolate than I should have. I had moments of self-doubt and days when I felt it wasn’t worth it. We could close the chapter there. But that wouldn’t be telling the whole story, would it? When all is said and done, I ran 550km, I showed up on many days when staying in bed would have been easier, I ran 20km plus on several consecutive weekends, I ran 42km one weekend, I ran 70km one week, I ran on muddy trails, I ran on concrete, I ran on very hot days, I ran in thunderstorms, I ran on humid evenings. My training was far from perfect, but it showed me I can do hard things.

So, was it worth it? All the exhausting days, the chafed back and blistered toes? Yes… I’m stronger. I’m tougher. I’m wiser. I know what to expect going into training next time. And I’ll be ready for it! Thank you to Coach Marcel from Fitness From Africa – we didn’t get the medal we came for but I’d like to thank you for an amazing training schedule, your guidance, your patience and your support on my journey to Addo. To my husband Ditiro – wow! We’ve had quite the adventure – one day I’ll have to tell them about the day I kicked you off my long run! LOL! But today, I just want to thank you for patiently running with me on all my long runs. Cheerfully sticking to a 7 – 8 min/km pace when you usually run a 4 – 5 pace, listening to all my complaints and making all attempts to get the perfect shots for my blog…You’ve been incredible.

Have you ever trained for a marathon? What was your experience like? What did you learn and what mistakes did you make?

I’m joining Kooky Runner and Zenaida on their link up, Tuesday Topics. I’m also joining the Runner’s Roundup with Mile By MileCoach Debbie RunsConfessions of a Mother RunnerRuns with Pugs, and Laura Norris Running! Be sure to read their blogs and catch up with other runners from around the world.

33 thoughts on “Was Training For A Marathon I Didn’t Do Worth It?

  1. Haha, Shathiso, YES to all of your points! I’m planning a “lessons learned” post for next week and you have some great points here!
    Right now, I am just so tired. I am supposed to run 16k this morning and I’m procrastinating it…
    Yes, your marathon training was definitely worth it! Next year, you will be so ready for Addo!
    I am looking forward to meeting you there and celebrating it together with you.

    PS: what happens on the trails stays on the trails. But still, I’m curious: you kicked Ditiro off your long run?! Sounds like a good story!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The number of times I procrastinated those mid-week long runs… So I really feel for you my friend. Goodness, and your mileage per week is a lot more than mine! The exhaustion, mental and physical. I can’t wear sandals in public now, my feet look horrendous! 🤣

      Yes… I kicked him off my long run! And you know what’s funny… Because he is so much faster, I couldn’t pick up the pace to out-run him, so I had to tell him to leave my run 🤣🤣 I should do a post about that, The Pros and Cons of Running with your husband. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Marathon training is seriously hard, but it taught me a lot about myself. You are tough, you are hardcore, you are amazing!
    And next year, I intend to be at Addo too – see you there!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I can relate to the lack of motivation. I struggle to get going for a 5km / 10km run, never mind long runs like yours!

    I also agree that there are many days when the mere act of running itself seems like hard work, but I find at the end that I am happy to have gotten out of the house at least even if the run itself felt “poor”.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I so loved this blog! It was real and honest and what we all feel as mortals trying to achieve big dreams. It is so omportant to be real about how we feel I remember training for my firt marathon feeling why did i ever, but i also remember that feeling crossing the finish line with you and D at the end cheering louder than anyone else. And soon that will be me cheering you over that line!! Take some time, chill and do not feel guilty!!! You have got this!! Another fantastic blog!!! Thank you!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much Zurika! Oh I remember you crossing that Finish Line (and hugging you!! Can you believe once upon a time, we used to hug???). I also remember spotting you out on the road for all those long runs you’d do with Clare all over town. At that time, I couldn’t even fathom just how difficult that was and how much discipline it required! Well, now I know — and I will be back stronger than ever!

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  5. I’m sorry that your race was cancelled. When (not if but when) you run your marathon you’ll have this training cycle in your toolbox. My spring half was cancelled yesterday and I’m debating whether I will run a virtual race or just skip it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so sorry to hear your race has been cancelled!! It’s tough deciding what to do, but listen to your heart and gut. And as you say, even if you don’t do it virtually, your training is just another added tool in your tool box.

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  6. It sounds like you made the best decision you could, especially with the uncertainty of the race and all the logistics surrounding it. Training for a long distance race is never a waste. Last year I trained for a trail race, 25k, taking place in the Everglades in Florda. Then my son had his snowboarding accident and I had to DNS the race. Talk about disappointment! But it was nice to know that I could do it; you can take that lesson and move forward–the next training cycle will be even better. You can draw on the lessons you learned and make it even better!

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  7. I think you made the right decision. There will be other races. When the conditions are more normal. And you learned how to train.

    Yes yes. I experienced everything you said. What helped me on my long runs was running very slow with others. I knew it would be hard. I also knew if I let go of any time goals I could finish. It didn’t matter if I walked. As long I reached the finish line.

    The training seemed more daunting than the race itself. The long runs were not exciting. They were grueling.

    Will I run another? Doubtful.

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  8. Like always, you have your eye on the big picture 🙂 I don’t think any training (or difficult races or frustrating runs) are wasted if there are any lessons that come from them. Just knowing we have the ability, that we can do hard things, is pretty incredible. Keep on keeping on, girlfriend, and keep that smile front & center!

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  9. Ha! I love the picture of you lying on the road. That sums up how I felt after every marathon training cycle so well! 🙂

    I ran a bunch of marathons, but I was at a different point in my life than you. My kids were all grown and out of the house. You do have to plan your life around your runs. That’s why I question whether I want to run another marathon – not the race itself, but all the preparation that goes into it.

    Good for your hubby and all the support he gave you. Maybe a marathon is in your future. Who knows? Never say never! 🙂

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  10. Training for a marathon is so hard! I think we often forget about all the details after completing the actual race, so it probably make it tougher for you that you didn’t get a chance to enjoy the reward of all your hard work. You will definitely be prepared for the next time you start marathon training!

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  11. Watching you train and transform over the last year has been really amazing. You have come so far and learned so much about what you are capable of. That is always a great lesson to learn. I haven no doubt you will run your marathon one day!

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  12. No, I have never trained for a marathon. Some day? Maybe. I haven’t wanted it bad enough to pile it on everything else that’s been going on in my life for the last several years. And you’ve got to want it badly.

    Your next experience training — which I don’t doubt you’ll do — could be an entirely different experience. Your kids will be older. Hopefully there will be no uncertainty due to a Pandemic! It’s never going to be easy but every time is like the first time in some ways. 🙂

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  13. Lots of love to you. You are strong enough to walk away if necessary and that’s huge. You are going to come back from this, better than ever, and hopefully with the pandemic under control. Hang in there ❤

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  14. Yes, that’s a tough one. To do all that training and then not run the race… I’ve been there. But training never goes to waste. You learned a lot and will be even more ready for it next time. Thanks for posting this!

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  15. Training for a marathon is hard. Everything you wrote is what we all go through. Still, on race day, crossing the finish line and getting that medal makes it all worth it. I am sorry your marathon got cancelled. Everything happens for a reason. You’ll start training for another one but at least now you will know what to expect.

    Lots of hugs to you!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. There’s no way to sugarcoat it – Marathon training is hard! You really go through a wave of emotions. I’ve also found that the training is more mentally challenging than the race itself! I think that you made the right decision to defer to next year because now you have an idea of what training entails.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Fitness never goes to waste! Marathon training is hard work, but also enjoyable work. Even without a race, you will probably feel more comfortable with the mileage the next time you train due to this! And you are awesome for putting in the hard work!

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  18. I do try to warn people – did I warn you sufficiently – it’s bloody hard ESPECIALLY for us slower folks who are out for SO LONG. I’ve done four maras and an ultra and the fatigue is real, the only good thing about the second etc is you know what to expect and you don’t have such a rollercoaster of emotions which is also v tiring.

    I have those back scars, too. Oh yes. No amount of bodyglide can completely eradicate them. When I run around bits of my old training routes, I can see the wall where I sat and sobbed and WhatsApped our Manchester marathon group after having a massive poo at my friend Tracie’s flat (which I had never been to before!!) and Bernice ran further than she was supposed to to meet me and the boys said they’d come out in cars to find me, the bus stop where Bernice had a cry on our 18 miler … I do enjoy long runs but it is bloody hard.

    I’m sorry your race was taken away from you: I KNOW you will take your learnings and come back even stronger, you epic woman, you!

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  19. Yes, marathons are tough but you are tougher! I’m so sorry you had to defer after all the hard work you put into your training. Marathons require an outrageous investment of time and dedication. Know though that your months of training will pay off next year. Your body and mind will be that much tougher. Truly they will.

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  20. I love that quote about no one being able to take away learnings. So true. I also love how absolutely supportive your husband was there. It wasn’t about saying the right thing but rather making you feel the right way.
    I had a love/hate relationship with marathon training. I’m so glad I did it, but knowing the hours of soul sucking it took, and guessing that the four month ITB injury was probably marathon related, I’m not sure I’d have it in me to do it again. Talk to me closer to another milestone bday, maybe I’ll do a 50K for my 50th 😀
    So proud of you

    Liked by 1 person

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