I texted my sister a couple months ago to ask if she would train for a marathon with me. She is the best runner I know, so I had a feeling she would be in for this nutty plan. To my delight, she didn’t hesitate at all before saying yes and started asking which half I wanted to do and when. We’ve trained for a few halfs together, so she automatically assumed that’s what I meant, but I quickly let her know that, no, it wasn’t a half marathon. I wanted to do a full marathon. Clearly, she isn’t a Real Housewives of New York watcher.
Carole Radziwill (from the show), a 50-something-year-old woman who often talks about how she’s practically allergic to gyms and sports bras, trained for and ran the New York Marathon last year. I promise this isn’t sarcasm: The way she talked about it in the first episode this season was poetic, about how lonely the multi-hours-long race felt, even though she was surrounded by people on the same pursuit. It was shear self-control and power of the mind to keep moving toward the finish line, and once she crossed it, embraced by the family and friends out supporting her, she said the precise opposite feelings from loneliness overwhelmed her.
I was having a glass of wine while I watched her describe this experience (perhaps that’s why it was so moving?), and I decided I wanted to feel that. I wanted to see if I had the will and strength to run a marathon. If a middle-aged, out-of-shape Bravo-lebrity could do it, couldn’t I?
My sister wasn’t too pleased that I made this choice thanks to a Real Housewife and wine, but here we are. It should be noted that after every single half marathon that I’ve run — and there are four — I proclaimed I never wanted to do anything like that ever again. They say doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results is insanity. That’s why I’m tacking on another 13.1 miles this time around. I may be crazy, but I’m not insane.
So far, we’ve gotten up to a 12-mile run in our training, and this coming Sunday is 14. That’ll be the longest I have ever run consecutively, and to say I’m nervous would be mild. But, if there’s anything I’ve learned from training for a marathon, it’s that my limits are far greater than I thought. So, even though my stomach will be knotted before I get started, I’m going to remind myself that I have already surprised myself with how far I’ve gotten, and this next run is only a few steps farther than that. Here are a few more big lessons I’ve picked up along the way. Check back after the Dare to Ascend marathon (a name that makes me slightly anxious that this will not be a very flat course) in September to see if these still hold true. By then, I could be burnt toast or burnt out. Only time will tell.
1. People say it’s “all mental,” but the physical strength is just as crucial. Running is absolutely a mental game. If you’re thinking about the pain and misery of it, it’s going to be extra painful and extra miserable. But that doesn’t mean that simply a positive approach will get you to the end. I really saw a shift in my training after a friend of mine, whose dad has run more than 40 marathons (I mean, OW, my body hurts even thinking about that), told me he would mix 800-meter (or half-mile) sprints into his shorter 3- to 5-mile runs.
These sprints are not fun. These sprints are not easy. At all. Even a glowing, sunshiny attitude won’t change my mind about that when I’m running at 8.5 miles per hour for 4 minutes at a time. But I did them the two weeks before our 12-mile run, and I completely credit my heightened stamina to the sprint work.
As much as they suck in the moment, they have changed my longevity and increased my endurance tenfold. We also take two days a week to rest and stretch, plus we have two weekly run days where we add on an arm-strength workout and a leg-strength workout. It all comes together, even the rest/stretch days, to build tenacity and durability. I could hardly run 6 miles at the start of training less than two months ago, and now that’s considered a shorter run.
2. The uphills always lead to some downhills. This isn’t just a cheesy metaphor for life, a-la “All good things come to an end.” It’s literally true. As I trek up a nasty hill, with burning in my calfs and tightness welling up in my lungs, I have learned to remind myself that after every uphill comes a sweet, satisfying, heavenly downhill. Or, at the very least, a flat stretch, which I will happily take after a big incline. There’s something peaceful about releasing the unproductive anger that you have toward an unmoving, unchanging inanimate object, aka topography, and being okay with knowing it’ll get better, not just yet, but soon. This is even more vital to remember when I’m doing a straight run, where you turn around halfway into the mileage rather than running a loop, because my uphills actually become the downhills on the return route. My challenges turn IN to ease. That’s some real zen perspective, y’all.
3. Hydration is the most important and underestimated training detail…that I learned about the hard way. A couple weeks ago, after the 12-mile run, I was proud of myself for finishing without walking and without half-dying (which has been the sad outcome of all of my other “long” runs). Progress, finally, was mine. It took about two hours to run on the surprisingly cool, early Sunday morning, but I sweated through my clothes, nonetheless. (Perk of growing up in a desert is that any amount of humidity turns me into a sweaty mess, regardless of the temperature. Good times.) Not thinking anything of the depleted water in my body, I carried on with my day drinking a normal amount of water that I would any other day — which is a solid amount, but apparently not solid enough for the work I’d done.
The next afternoon, I began feeling nauseous and clammy. I took a look at myself in the mirror and remember thinking that I looked like I’d been punched in both eyes, they were so blue underneath and sunken. My heart was racing uncontrollably, even when I laid down, and I vomited twice that afternoon. I’d never experienced severe dehydration and would like to never, ever again. Luckily, after posting a help-me Instagram story, some angel friends pointed me to a few great supplements to mix into my water or eat on my long runs. Runners, if you haven’t tried Nuun Hydration, Vega Sport Electrolyte Hydrator, or GU Energy Chews, I cannot recommend them enough. It has also helped to simply be mindful of over-hydrating before and after all of my runs, long or short. Sometimes learning the hard way creates the most awareness.
4. There’s something spiritual about running, or doing anything, beyond what you thought was possible. Like I said, 6 miles on our first day of training was not easy for me. Afterward, I wondered how in the world I would tack on 20-plus miles to that. But, on my most recent long run, I was cruising considerably easily until about mile 8, and then I began to slow down and feel my muscles fatigue. A prayer naturally drifted into my mind after hitting this wall: “Thank you, God, for my spirit. Thank you, God, for my strength.” It wasn’t a prayer of desperation or of begging for a miraculous second wind, but of gratitude for coming this far and the grace that my legs kept moving forward step after step.
I don’t want to be preachy at all, but I do think there’s something to say for perseverance beyond what we believe for ourselves. I know the strength to finish these challenging runs doesn’t come from myself, since I could hardly see myself running more than a handful of miles, and it could only be a God-given gift of steadfastness. I think He’s given it to all of us, and it takes an experience that pushes your will to discover it. Repeating the prayer as almost a mantra carried me the final 4 miles and placed me in space of humbled gratitude, rather than frustrated exhaustion.
I get that it’s silly that I started this training process because of a reality TV show, but I feel myself growing more confident in my capabilities already. Carole wrote in an article that, when she decided to do her race, she “went in search of self-esteem but instead found self-acceptance.” I’m finding that self-acceptance, radically, but slowly, one step at a time, too. And that makes this pursuit worth every drop of
vomit blood, sweat, and tears.