My first marathon was easy, the recovery? Not so much.

Have you run a marathon?

If I had a dollar every time I heard this I’m sure I’d be able to afford a couple pairs of Vaporfly 4%’s.

For over 12 years that question followed me throughout the entirety of my competitive running career. I heard this from friends and family that didn’t understand running. If I was running so much a day how was I not trying to do a marathon? The concept of finishing a race being the accomplishment had never been motivation. That’s not a knock on others, just for me personally, I did this because I loved racing, I loved feeling fast.

I began to hear the topic of the marathon come up more often as I joined local running clubs in the area.The majority of the people in these clubs were training for a half or a full marathon, looking to try and top an old personal best. Every so often I’d get the question asked again and at that point I had just answered with, “I don’t want to run a marathon.”The years of hearing that question had completely turned me off of it.

To me the idea of running a marathon or even running one was not anything I was interested in. When you actually have to pay for races, you begin to think about things a little differently. With the prices of marathons being significantly higher than some dinky 5K, if there wasn’t a chance to get something out of it, either through a fast time or some prize money, there just wasn’t a reason for me to run it.

Eventually that ended up changing. With a couple craft beers in me I finally decided to sign up for one. I told myself I had 3 months to get in shape for this. I was finally healed up from a bad foot injury in the winter and now I had something to motivate me to get back in shape. I set two goals for myself in this training block, I would have one 80 mile week off singles and one 20 mile long run. I was going to try to stick around 60s for the majority of the summer and focus on quality mileage.

My progression of mileage went like this:

Week of:
May 28: 19.3 miles (4 days of running)
June 4th: 19.1 miles (4 days of running)
June 11th: 21.5 miles (4 days of running)
June 18th: 9.1 miles (2 days of running)
June 25th: 15.4 miles (4 days of running)
July 2nd: 30.2 miles (5 days of running)
July 9th: 23.6 miles (5 days of running)
July 16th: 63.5 miles (7 days of running, 15.4 mile long run)
July 23rd: 18.3  miles (4 days of running)
July 30th: 70.7 miles (7 days of running, 18 mile long run)
August 6th: 27.3 miles (5 days of running, 14 mile long run)
August 13th: 80.1 miles (7 days of running, 20 mile long run)
August 20th: 23.8 miles (5 days of running)
August 27th: 31.5 miles (5 days of running, 10.1 mile long run)
September 3rd: 37.2 miles (4 days of running, marathon)

So much for quality mileage…

I struggled to get any sort of consistency in my mileage throughout this block. For the first couple of weeks I was very slow to start as I was hesitant coming back from injury. After a sub 16 3 mile effort later in June, that went away but I began to struggle putting together consistent back to back weeks of mileage. I was fine up until I hit those long runs and had a horrible time recovering. I almost passed out at the end of my 18 mile long run and followed that week running less total miles than I had in that one run. My  20 miles ended up being the best long of my life but I spent the next three weeks struggling to feel good. I had 11 miles in my legs the week leading into my first marathon. I took two days off before out of desperation. 20 miler or no 20 miler, I wasn’t ready for this.

The Race

I was extremely conservative with my first 10 miles due to my trouble the previous three weeks. I figured I’d stay around 6:30’s for 10 and then make a decision from there. Whether it was to move or to stay at that pace, once I made a decision I would have to commit to it. My race plan changed before we even got to 3. I was able to latch myself onto 6:20 pace without working hard. Aside from a quick pit stop at mile 8 for a tinkle, I was pretty much right on or under 6:20s. My legs wanted to move faster but I didn’t let myself go under 6:15. The time to commit would come. Mile 10 was soon approaching.

I pulled my headphones out of my back pocket and got ready. I had made my decision.. I had been chomping at the bit for a couple of miles already.  The pace change was almost instantaneous. I was tapping on the gas a bit, just enough to satisfy that craving for a little of the fast stuff. I wanted to really let loose but a lot could happen in the last 16.2 and the last thing I wanted was to implode after 20.

Miles 10-13.1 were very much like my first three miles. I spent most of my time making sure I was right on 6:00. I would reevaluate over the next 10 miles what I wanted to do. If i felt good longer into the race I would push a little. From 16-20 the pace began to come down. Mile 17 came, 5:46. Mile 20, 5:50. This was going much easier than I thought it was going to be.

The next 4 miles weren’t too hard but just like that last 1/3rd of a 5k, I was starting to feel it. At mile 24 the real struggle began. The run for home reminded me of that last kilometer of a Steeplechase, trying to survive across each barrier with each subsequent one looking 10 feet tall. These last two miles felt like I was running through peanut butter. I could have sworn I had imploded here. There was absolutely no way I was running under 7 minutes per mile. Turns out I didn’t falter too much, I dropped back to 6:09 and 6:07 for my final two miles.

I crossed the finish line in 2:41:07. I ran a four minute negative split over my first half.

Finally done.
8th overall and third in my age group.

The Aftermath

The moment I stopped running it was as though I had someone stabbing every inch of my legs. My muscles were spasming and it was the worst pain I’ve felt after a race. I could barely move my body, with the only movement coming from every muscle in my lower body twitching in pain. I struggled to walk over the next couple of days. In my 12 years of running I had never felt so awful after a race.

The pain eventually subsided and I attempted to return back to running after a little over a week off. About 3 miles back in I felt horrible popping in the tendons behind my knee. The marathon effects continued to make running almost impossible without a pain in the same spot. Even months later the pain from that marathon still lingers. While it’s not as bad as it was then it still continues to hamper my training.

My first marathon was relatively easy. I ran well considering the little amount of training I had going into it but the key point here is my body wasn’t ready for it. A large part of being in shape is the ability to recover. The ability to recover from a run, a workout, a race, and get back on schedule without too much of problem. Consistency is what I lacked in this training block and it led to some of the hardest months of running following the marathon. almost 3 months later and I’m finally starting to run steady without any issues. Our bodies can work through much of what we put it through. There’s a limit to these things though. Consistency in training and a reasonable progression in workload allows our bodies to be ready for how taxing a race can be. A stable training block doesn’t just allow for optimal performance, it allows for our muscles to be ready for the demands that come with it.

Next time I’ll be ready.

Boston will be that next time.


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