Dear Mountain Mama,
I’m on the fence about running the Charleston Marathon. I’ve always wanted to run one, but I’m not sure if I have the time to train and still live a well-balanced life.
What should I consider when deciding?
Running a marathon is a big time commitment, training runs, eating right, and getting extra sleep, especially when the mileage increases, getting ready for 26.2 will take a big chunk of time. Start by finding a marathon training program appropriate for your lifestyle, expectations, and fitness level. Once you have a plan that maps out the frequency and distances of your weekly runs, sit down with a calendar and figure out when you’ll run. Will you set your alarm early to beat the dawn, pack a duffel bag to sneak out for lunch time trots, or use a headlamp for late night jogs? Ask yourself whether you have the time to train.
After you’ve carefully mapped out your daily runs for the foreseeable future and taken pains to eat better and get eight hours of sleep, let go of the notion that your marathon training is going to go according to your plan. Perhaps the greatest fallacy of our times is the idea that we should aspire to live balanced lives – that we can control our days the way we do our checkbooks. Life isn’t a recipe – add two parts rest to one part running with a dash of speed workouts and voila, you have a perfect marathon. There will be sleepless nights. There will be muscle tweaks and pulls. There will be unanticipated work issues, intoxicating romances, sick children, social engagements, and family outings. There will be life.
Like the night before my first long run. I had a plan. I’d confirmed the babysitter for 7 a.m. I set the alarm. I arranged friends to run with me. I picked out my running clothes. All systems a go.
Except my soon-to-turn-three-year old wasn’t on board – at 3 a.m. he cried about bug bites. Three rounds of Twinkle Little Star, two applications of Benadryl, and one airplane band-aid later my little guy was fast asleep. But I wasn’t. Would my running friends each bring their dogs? Would their dogs get along? Would one of them get underfoot another runner that I’d planned to meet at the trailhead and get underfoot, resulting in said runner suing me and endangering my ability to pay for the preschool I’d yet to find to enroll my son next year?
I paced the kitchen. I wasn’t even sleeping enough to run the very first Saturday on my schedule. I wondered how I’d ever be prepared enough to run the twenty-plus mile long runs. I was egotistical and bold and perhaps even crazy for thinking I could ever run a marathon in the first place.
And then logic returned. The previous few nights I’d slept well and was relatively rested. I’d planned for the run and was ready. Besides, there was leeway in my schedule. I could cancel my plans to clean my house while my son napped that afternoon and instead catching up sleep.
And so I caution you against planning your days down to the minute, running a marathon without letting go of other plans. Because when the unexpected happens, you’ll already be tapped out, with no room to rearrange, no give in your calendar. When nothing can give, something snaps. We miss one run and then another. Or train without sleeping or eating.
Instead, let go of the idea that your days will be perfectly balanced. If you decide to run a marathon, by default you’ll be deciding not to do something else. For me, running Charleston means I’ll be living in a messy house and paddling less.
Time-crunched, before committing to a marathon, consider what keeps you so busy right now and what obligations or activities you want to let go of in order to add mileage. Consult with your friends and significant other to see if they might be interested in joining you – that way running might encompass your social time. If nothing in your current schedule can give, you may want to take a pass this time around and wait until life settles down before tackling a marathon.