Some thought I was crazy. Why would anyone want to run a marathon? After all, it didn’t work out so well for Pheidippides. But I was committed; I talked about that decision in I Could Not Run.
Two things were key to my making it through my first marathon, and I believe they will be important for you, as well:
- You must put in the miles.
- You must prepare yourself mentally.
Consistency is very important. Get to where you are running 4 or 5 days each week. You’re going to need to build your miles up, and the only way to do that is over time.
To avoid injury, avoid increasing increasing any individual run distance, or your weekly distance total, by more than about 10%. So, if you’re doing 5 mile training runs, don’t jump to 10. If you ran 20 miles last week, don’t go to 30 in the next week. Once you begin to feel yourself getting in shape, it is tempting to push yourself into to doing something you’ve not done before … and you might well be able to do it successfully. But you might not.
It’s also good to stair-step your weekly distance … 20 miles one week, 15 the next, then up to 22, then 24, then back to 18, etc. That way, you give yourself lighter weeks to help recovery from any little stresses and strains that develop.
While I was doing the miles, I was logging every segment of every run on a spreadsheet. I monitored the mileage on my shoes (shoes should be replaced at 6 months or 500 miles) my weight, daily distance and times. I could actually see my daily progress. I played games with myself. Could I run the first segment of this 7 mile run faster than ever? The first two segments? Understand, this was simply me playing games with myself. No one ever saw that spreadsheet … but it did help provide me inspiration to get up at 4am every morning to go attack that day’s run.
And that was how I began to develop my mental approach to running. Understand, running is a mental achievement. You need to convince yourself to go sweat and make your body do things it has never done before. I remember “dead legs” at mile 14, knowing I was still two miles from home. I remember turning my ankle a mile from home. To push through, you have to really want it.
I started running to lose weight so I could go backpacking at Philmont (see Get Big Ones), so I was actually in training to lose weight for more than a year. After I conquered Philmont, I decided to extend my distances and get ready to do a 26.2 mile marathon. I was working towards running my home town race, the Santa Clarita Marathon. I got there … and then LA began to burn. Flames were all around our valley as undeveloped hillsides went up in flames the week of the event. The Santa Clarita race was canceled due to the resulting poor air quality. Luckily, southern California has a lot of races, so I signed up for the San Diego Marathon, now called the Carlsbad Marathon, that was scheduled 3 months later. 3 more months of training. Remember, running is ultimately a mental exercise. Motivation had to stay up for another 3 months.
And then I got to the starting line. I had intense emotions: I was finally at the beginning of something I had worked for 8 months to achieve. I was in the best shape of my life. I could not WAIT to run the marathon. It was truly an overwhelming experience.
Running the race was really never in doubt for me. After all, I knew I could run 40+ miles in a week. I knew I could run 22+ mile training runs. I had done both several times. So I knew I could complete the marathon. I knew it. That’s the mental preparedness, which resulted from physical preparedness.
I’m proud that I ran the first 6 miles in exactly 60 minutes. At that point, again, I knew I would have no problems completing the race. I am also proud that I ran 20 miles without stopping to walk. I haven’t been able to duplicate that feat again, unfortunately.
Crossing the finish line was pure joy. It was completion. It was accomplishment. It was fantastic.
I finished the race in 4 hours 38 minutes, which is still my personal best.
Could you run a marathon? Absolutely. When I started, I was obese and could not run. It took me over a year, but I got there. Taking this journey was one of the best decisions I have made.
It’s about the bling. It’s always about the bling.
Here I am with Michael at the race that started it all: the 2006 Disneyland Half Marathon.
While my username may be MrsMowry, I am not the wife of Henry, but his daughter-in-law, Brianna. Many years ago I met Henry’s son, Michael, and have made his family my own (that is a story for a later time). Henry asked me if I would like to guest-write on his blog and I accepted! So now…on to running.
When I was a girl, running was always a fun thing to do…as part of playing street hockey, chasing my brothers on bicycles, playing princess and pirates…you know…normal kid stuff. In phys ed I wasn’t at the top of my class, but I enjoyed Red Laps (running day). What I had in leaps and bounds, however, was endurance. I could run as slow as a turtle for many, many miles. This would later come in very handy when Henry got an email for the newest, happiest half marathon on Earth: The Disneyland Half Marathon.
I am a Disney freak, to put it lightly. Michael and I have had Annual Passes for many years. We have celebrated many rainy Tuesdays gallivanting around Main Street and screaming on the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. Our first wedding anniversary will be spent at Club 33 (dreams coming true, right there). So, once Henry forwarded the email around, nearly the whole family was in. This began my love of running for life.
Like Henry mentioned in I Could Not Run, the training process was slow. Luckily, Henry had the experience to push Michael, Lauren, Velda, and myself to be smart runners. We listened to our bodies, being careful to avoid injury. We ran 5 to 7 miles, 4 days a week. We were in excellent physical shape and we rocked our first half marathon.
Since that day, Michael and I have become Legacy Runners of the Disneyland Half; we haven’t missed a single race. In 7 years, each race has posed a different challenge. The funny thing about running a half marathon is the fact that nothing matters until the morning you wake up for that race. Swollen ankles, blistered feet, upset stomach, shin splints, etc. Any small ailment can ruin a run. After finding out about a heart condition earlier this week, I had to force myself to walk today’s half. There is nothing more torturous than having the energy, strength, and drive to run a race and be completely held back by poor health. But, good news. There will ALWAYS be another race. I may have finished 13.1 miles today in well over 3 1/2 hours, but my PR is 2 hours and 16 minutes. I know that today’s problems will not be next year’s problems. So after a few days of rest, it’s back to pounding pavement. The trick to being good at running marathons is not necessarily in your body, but in your mind. You can’t let one small mishap during one race ruin your entire career. Get back to it! There is always time for running, only you can tell yourself there isn’t.
Brianna at the 2nd Annual Disneyland Half Marathon.
Philmont’s most famous landmark, the Tooth of Time.
When I started getting in shape to go to Philmont, I really didn’t know what I was doing. I decided that I could lose weight if I started running … something I had never been serious about. I had run track in high school — but I mean that in the loosest possible sense. I ran, I was in high school. I was pitiful. The only team point I ever scored was when I finished 5th in a 5 man race. I ran the 2 mile. No idea what my times were … who would keep track of such a thing? The stop watches were already off when I finished. Every time.
Assistant Referee, 2002
Move forward many years, and Velda volunteered me to be a referee for Christopher’s soccer team, a part of the AYSO program. (Many referees begin this way!) I told myself that it was my exercise program … and it was better than nothing. But it did not lead to healthier lifestyle choices, and I remained overweight. I could run as fast as a 9 year old dribbling the ball, though, so I was OK. This would have been 1992.
Ten years later, I was a better, faster referee, but I still needed to shed 60 pounds. When I first hit the road to begin running … I couldn’t run a mile. Long before then, I was a wheezing mess. I kept at it, though, in my sweats and my Reebok cross trainers … and kept at it. I actually ran enough miles in those Reeboks that I wore the soles of the shoes away to a severe angle (come to find out, I’m an underpronator. Who knew?). When I finally bought new shoes, I found I could not even walk without pain, as my tendons wouldn’t let the soles of my feet land flat as I ran anymore. Oops. Back to walking.
And then I was a fitness runner. As I got more serious about my running, I got more serious about my gear, eventually switching to good shoes, a GPS system, and (perhaps most importantly) a simple spreadsheet log of what I had done. I began to keep a daily record of my runs after I was well into my fitness program; in February ’03 I was able to do 10 minute miles for 3 mile runs on a good day (on a bad day, not so much). I split the longer runs into shorter intervals, and kept track of my time for every interval. I didn’t have that in high school … now, I became obsessed with it.
I believe that this daily ritual is the most important reason that my running succeeded: I always knew how fast I was running, and I wouldn’t let myself slow down. I pushed. I was in a race with myself, and I celebrated every time I broke my record for an interval by coloring that square in my spreadsheet a special color! Silly, but it worked. I focused on turning the spreadsheet green, one interval at a time, one day at a time.
On my last run before Philmont, I did my 3 miles with an average mile pace of 9:51, my best yet. My weight? Back to what it was in college.
Philmont was GREAT … my life was GREAT. I felt better than I had in years. And suddenly … I had achieved my goal — and didn’t have another. That just wouldn’t do. It was about then that I talked to a great lady, Linda Johnson. Linda was a serious runner — she was doing 9 miles as a daily run. Linda worked with me as a sales rep, and she taught me the value of multiplication.
Linda asked what I was running, and I told her I was doing 3 miles most days. She said great, if you can run 3 miles, you can run 6 miles (and I could!). And if I could run 6 miles, Linda said I could run 12, and that’s almost a half marathon. And if I could run a half marathon, she proudly said, I could run a marathon.
A marathon? WHAT?
Remember where I started: I could not run a mile. And here I was a year later, with a real runner telling me that I could do a marathon. Unbelievable.
And then I did it.
Here’s your takeaway:
1. Get a goal.
2. Keep track of your progress versus that goal.
3. Celebrate your progress towards your goal.
4. Achieve that goal.
January 18, 2004. San Diego Marathon, now called the Carlsbad Marathon. 26.2 beautiful Southern California miles!