Running a marathon isn’t easy or glamorous. It is not just about finishing the challenging distance, but the journey one takes to complete the 26.2 miles. Who knows, maybe one day it will be on your bucket list, too.
In August, my friend signed up to run a 10K beer race for the Fort Worth Oktoberfest located in Fort Worth, Texas. She asked me to run the race with her. She knew a cute guy at her workplace, and she wanted me to meet him. He was going to be running in the 10K race as well. It’s probably not the noblest reason to sign up, but I was always down to try something new. When I heard about the 10K race, I thought it would be fun to try something new with her, get back into racing, and relive my old junior high and high school track days. Despite the fact that I am not much of a beer person, I signed up anyways for fun. It sounded torturous and fun. Later, it turns out that this “cute guy” had a girlfriend.
Since we were both new to the Dallas area, my friend and I would spend a lot of time together after work participating in various recreational activities. From dance lessons to trying out new restaurants and bars, we explored the Dallas area and the neighboring cities in the Metroplex: Addison, Frisco, Arlington, Carrollton, Plano, Rockwall, etc. At that time, I had not been running for a while at all. Although I have always been active since I was a kid, the last time I ran seriously was when I raced for junior varsity and varsity track. When I was in 7th grade, I started running for the track and field team; I was one of the school’s main long-distance runners. I primarily ran the 1600 m every time we had a track meet, but I also ran the 800 m run, 800 m relay, 1600 m relay, 3200 m run, and 3200 m relay.
My friend told me how she wanted to run a marathon in Guatemala when she graduated because her parents were marathoners. I was inspired to do the same. Earlier in the year, I had recently gone through personal setbacks that affected me. Still determined to finish the 2019 year strong, I decided I wanted to challenge myself and signed up to run the BMW Dallas Marathon. The marathon takes place in Dallas’s city hall. It is Texas’ oldest marathon dating back to 1971. When I started training for the Fort Worth Oktoberfest race, I thought running a 10K was a really, really long distance. In some ways, it is still considered a long run, but it is nowhere near as long of a distance as the marathon. It probably wasn’t the brightest idea to train for a marathon under such a short time, but I survived.
On December 15, 2019, I completed my first marathon. Running a marathon is still probably one of the hardest physical activities I have ever achieved. Here’s what I learned from the journey.
Waking Up Early
My Sundays were my scheduled days for long runs. We would run at White Rock Lake. Since Dallas was so hot in the summer, especially in July, I had to wake up at 3:30 AM or 4 AM to avoid running in the heat. By 8:30 AM, the sun is already out and heating up the sidewalks. The temperature was already in the 90s. I already had to wake up early five days a week to go to work. I honestly don’t know how I got up that early for weekends as well.
I had to wake up at 3:30 AM or 4 AM to avoid running in the heat.
Since it was so early in the morning, my friend would stay the night with me so we could leave on time to run. I would wake up first and put on my running gear. Then, I would start making the sport drink mixes for the run using a Blender Bottle (Ucan, BCAAs, creatine, protein) and packed snacks. Then, I would wake her up, so she could get ready. Sometimes, she would fall back asleep, and I would have to drag her out of bed. The drive to Dallas White Rock Lake was almost an hour away from my apartment. We would run a full 15K lap around the entire lake which was 9.3 miles. If I had the energy or if I was fast enough, I would loop around the lake twice before the sun came out totaling 18.6 miles.
Running in Crappy Conditions
In order to get enough mileage in, I had to run in all kinds of weather conditions. Sometimes completing enough mileage for the week involved running in the dark with a flashlight, in the rain, and extreme temperatures including below freezing or above 100 degrees. The perfect condition to run would be around 60 degrees with a slight wind. If I was lucky, then it made for a very easy run. Most of the time though depending on the season, weather conditions were not ideal.
I have ran in extreme heat and almost passed out on mile 17 because it was 100 degrees and I didn’t intake enough electrolytes. When I raced a 5k in Lee Summit, Missouri, it was around 35 degrees.
Sometimes, training involved running in the dark with a flashlight, in the rain/snow, and extreme temperatures including below freezing or above 100 degrees.
Recently, I trained 15.75 miles for a long endurance run. It was so chilly outside that day. My legs were freezing that I could barely do a light jog. My hands felt frozen that I couldn’t bend my fingers close completely while running. Before I run I usually check the weather, even when I plan my runs sometimes the conditions still surprise me. Recently in November, I had planned on doing a 20 plus miler. I had checked the weather a few days before and leading up to that day. It was supposed to be the ideal running weather conditions to do a long endurance run. Lo and behold, the day of it rains, and I mean it really rained down hard. Out of utter determination to finish my miles for the week, I ran anyways. I wore the windbreaker jacket that I got from Cabela’s for a Caribbean volcano hike last year and completed most of the run drenched in the rain. With the hoodie over my head, I ran that day pushing against the wind and pouring rain. My upper body was kept dry from the jacket, but my lower body including my shorts and Hoka shoes were sopping wet. Perfect weather does not always happen, and that is the reality of what it takes to complete the necessary miles for the week.
The Time It Takes to Train for a Race
Training for a marathon takes time and that is no understatement. The training was split into endurance runs, strength & conditioning, hill/incline training, and cross-training on separate days. A light day of marathon training was a minimum of two hours a day. During peak training season for a marathon race, it was 4-6 hours a day. This was 6 to 7 days a week. Rest days did happen, but usually, it wasn’t a complete rest for me. My rest days were still active, and it involved stretching, yoga, foam rolling, or doing physical therapy-like exercises. Twice a month I would have a complete rest day.
A typical day would involve running the set amount of miles for the day followed by weight lifting at the gym to build lean muscle mass and lose body fat to run faster. Throughout the week, I would also rotate between doing other physical activities including Crossfit, boxing, kickboxing, climbing, and dancing.
It was challenging to manage a social life because at the end of the day I was so exhausted. I had little time to go out leisurely or interact much with my friends and family.
While your elite runners such as Olympic Trials runners followed by serious Chicago, New York, and Boston runners are running 100 to 120 miles a week. As a beginner, I was running about 35-45 miles a week. The miles were divided into a small amount of distance around 4 or 5 miles in one day on the hills. It was followed by 7-9 miles the next day. One or twice a week, I would do a long endurance run starting around a 15k and building up to 20 plus miles for one day. Usually completing a long endurance run involves running slower than a marathon pace. Therefore, it quickly became time consuming. On those days, I would only run the long-distance and not do any other types of training.
Running well for a race also required having a good eating plan for all meals. While all runners have different nutritional needs and eating plans to best suit them, every runner has a goal to generally eat better and healthier for their races. Personally, for my optimal performance, I chose to cut out a lot of things. Following a stringent diet to lose body fat included lots of “no’s”: no salt, no sugar, no dairy, no gluten, no alcohol, no soda, and no fast food. When I was home, eating healthy was not hard. I had everything I needed to make my meals, but traveling a lot made it hard to adhere to the eating plans. It was hard to cook when I was traveling because I didn’t always have access to a kitchen. Even if I did have a kitchen, I was too tired to buy the groceries and make the meals myself. I knew if I ate at any restaurant there was no way I could properly keep up with my eating restrictions.
Someone once said, “Without commitment you cannot have depth in anything.” Achievement takes will, determination, and consistency. Anything worth obtaining takes a lot of effort and time, but also sacrifice. Training for a marathon not only require the actual physical training of different types of runs and workouts. It also required the mental aspect of planning, staying focused, organized and being dedicated for weeks leading up to the race. My race day couldn’t have happened if I had not prepared and prepared well.
3. Life Metaphors
Besides physicality, there is an aspect of running that is purely mental and a matter of the mind. It is already difficult to race a short distance well no matter the discipline. For an endurance run, you need to “program” your mind to keep going using sheer willpower and determination to finish the long distance.
Don’t Look Back, Move Forward
When I am racing, I’m not looking back behind me to see if my competitors are catching up. I know that by looking back behind me; it does not help me to push forward to the finish line. I shouldn’t be looking to see if the runners behind are catching up. I am already ahead of them.
How many times in my own mind have I been stuck and ruminated on something that had already happened in the past? I can tell you more often than I should. I hold on to bad experiences, emotional pain, and things that do not serve me. I dwell on the past, analyzing, and breaking down problems that does not need a solution. I learned to be forward focused and let go of things that do not serve me. If I am focused on the past, I cannot be present in the moment.
Never Give Up
Recently, I ran a half marathon in Overland Park, Kansas, to get my pace and time. When I started the race, the first couple of miles on the road was easy as to be expected. Then, they took us into the woods. We started climbing through several hills, and quickly I was finding it hard to keep up with my pacer. It was my first time racing the half and knowing that I had around 10 miles left to finish seemed daunting. My pacer did stop at every aid station but he never completely stopped. There were so many moments that I could recall that I just wanted to right then and there quit. My body was hurting from the race pace, but I wanted to finish. During the race, it definitely was an emotional run because my thoughts were in conflict with each other. My legs wanted to quit and my thoughts questioned why I would want to continue this. Instantly, I regretted signing up for what seemed to be a long and treacherous distance. Still with everything within me, I was determined to finish. I had gone to far to fail. I had trained too much to not celebrate a victory. I had gone too far to give up during a race. Finishing was within reach, I needed to push through and I did.
2019 BMW Dallas Marathon
Days Leading Up to the Race
My friends took PTO to travel and support me for the marathon. They lived in the Kansas City, Missouri area, and we carpooled together down to Texas. We had reserved two Airbnbs for the weekend. The house we reserved was located in Highland Park, and the condo was located in Downtown Dallas near the actual race. Since they decided to travel 500 miles to go support me run. I decided to throw a party that Friday evening two days before the race to kick off the weekend. The marathon kickoff was held at Rockwall Country Club. It was a lot of fun! We had volleyball teams competing for prizes. We ended the night with a champagne toast and cake that my sister, Jessica, designed at a local bakery.
On Friday, we picked up our race packets, and then we got ready for the party. The next day, Saturday evening, I decided to give them a bar tour of my favorite rooftops. My friends went out to the Galleria to check out the Christmas tree while I was back at the AirBnb getting ready. First, we went to the Statler Hotel and bought drinks at Waterproof rooftop. Then, we uber to Happiest Hour in Victory Park on Olive Street and walked next door to Te Deseo. When we finally got back to the AirBnb it was around 3:30 in the morning. I felt bad for people getting wasted, so I stayed up to take care of them. Finally, my friends suggested that I go to sleep. I slept for two hours.
Sunday Morning: The Marathon
Then the next day, my friend, Alek, wakes me up out of bed. I looked at the clock, and the race was about to start soon! Everyone was pretty much hungover from the night before. While Alek is waking everyone else up so they could send me off, I quickly got ready and threw my hair back into a ponytail. Everyone was rushing to get ready, Alek helped me lace my race sneakers with the no tie fasteners. With two hours of sleep, skipping breakfast, and not adequately consuming proper nutrition before the race, I quickly gathered what I needed to bring for the race which was my running gels and my running belt. Michael, Alek, Jess, and I got into the car, and Alek started driving us there.
I was afraid we were not going to make it with it being so close to start time. Traffic was crazy in downtown Dallas and my friends suggested that they dropped me off with my sister while they go look for parking. At that point, it was too late to be well prepared and I was just glad I didn’t miss the race.
That morning had perfect running weather and it was slightly chilly. Dallas is generally warm even in December. I scurried towards finding the right coral to enter.My sister grabs my jacket as she sends me off and tells me “good luck!” looking back cheering of the crowd, the bands playing, and the excitement of the runners. Suddenly, the gun goes off, and you could see smoke in the sky. The corals start moving forward as I waved bye to my sister.
Envisioning the Finish Line
Although with all the training that I had went through, the day of the marathon race was still hard. The course was lined up with aid stations and medical tents every few miles or so. I did pretty well leading up to the half marathon mark running the fastest pace time out of all my races. Then, shortly after that I found it to become increasingly challenging. You would think I would carry water throughout the race, but I did not. The reason being is that I did not want to carry something with a lot of weight when I knew that there were going to be aid stations lined every few miles or so. They would pass out 5 oz paper cups of Gatorade and water and you can take as much as you needed. The problem was that I could only drink so much water or Gatorade at one time.
If you didn’t want to finish the race, there was always an option to quit. The course was lined up with aid stations and medical tents. All you had to do if you wanted to back out of the race was to find to locate an aid station or medical tent. There were volunteers located at those mile markers who drove golf carts. You can choose to opt out of running and get on the golf cart. The volunteers would take you back to the start of the race, but you would not get a finisher’s medal. The easy way out was tempting. I felt like quitting, but I had gone too far to give up then. My friends had came from far away to support me. I threw a kick off with my friends that traveled and my Texas friends. My sister was there. I knew I had to finish. I think at approximately mile 15-ish, I could not run anymore. I was severely dehydrated due to the heat, and I was not drinking enough water in between the aid stations. My hips and legs were hurting as a result of it. Not wanting to quit and determined to finish, I power walked as fast as I could towards the finish line. It was very tempting to get on the golf cart considering how hot Dallas was. I had lost my record race pace around mile 15, and still had 11 miles left to go. About 6 hours later, I finished. It was an hour and a half later than my anticipated finish time. Given the circumstances, I was glad that I got to the finish line before race closed. I think about winning in life is about discipline, willpower, and commitment. Running a marathon helped me take away useful metaphors that helped me mentally to stay focused on my goals.
To keep this post short points 4-7 will be released in Part Two on an upcoming blog. To be continued…
In the meantime, share in the comment section below what you learned about your running experiences. I would love to hear your stories. And add me on Strava!