Any race is a humbling experience—but what does training teach us about ourselves?

Photo: Carolyne Chen
Photo: Carolyne Chen

I am four weeks out from my second marathon. As stoked as I am to run the Suja San Diego Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon again this year, I would be lying if I said the past 14 weeks of training have been easy. When I was at the gym today, I experienced a blend of panic and clarity. Panic because I’m starting to question whether or not I’m really ready to tackle 26.2 miles in less than a month, and clarity because I then quickly realized how humbling the training experience has been. Suddenly, I found myself appreciating how much training not only shapes you as an athlete, but also as a person through the lessons it offers. For me, these are 10 of the top reasons marathon training provides that clarity and humility:

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  1. It calls for patience. If you knew me outside of running, I am normally not a patient person. However, marathon training has taught me that progress does not happen overnight. You are not automatically going to hit your marathon goal pace when you start training—and you have to put in the work to get to your peak level of desired fitness to tackle 26.2 miles.
  2. You have to work really hard and very strategically. That may sound like a given, but when you start training, you realize how much you have to factor in nutrition, sleep, time, cross-training and other things that are puzzle pieces to a successful training cycle. If you eat poorly or you do not get enough sleep to allow your body to recover, your training will be impacted as well.
  3. Not everything is in your control. Some days it may say on your schedule to run 8 miles at tempo pace—but your legs have other plans. Your workouts do not always work out the way you want them to, and you can’t control every detail of your training schedule—or your life in general. I am not a weak or bad athlete, it just means my body is tired or other, more important priorities are calling for my attention.
  4. You have to make some sacrifices. Since I am still in college, there are many evenings where my friends want to go out, but p.m. outings cut into how much rest I would be getting before tomorrow’s run. As a result, the training cycle and its demands have taught me when to politely decline an invite out.
  5. That said, it is also about balance. I am running a marathon because I love to run, and there is something extremely challenging and addicting about distance running. However, if I choose to go out some nights and run in the afternoon instead, or I eat that last slice of cake, it’s okay!
  6. Running fitness does not always translate into everything fitness. I think to myself, If I can run 20 miles, I can handle a 60-minute boot camp class. Well, I learned the hard way that running fitness does not always translate to total-body strength—or coordination for that matter—and you may get your butt kicked the next time someone asks you to do 25 burpees. Translation? Running helps me recognize other areas for potential improvement!
  7. There will be some days you don’t want to run. The further you get into your training cycle, the stronger you feel—and the more tired you become. You’ve put a lot of time and miles on your legs, and it’s okay to feel a little burnt out. Those days are good for mentally training to push through the fatigue on race day, but also a good indicator to take a day off from running. Take an extra day of cross-training, go to a workout class, play some other sports and allow yourself an extra out of your running shoes.
  8. You are going to make some mistakes. Whether it’s going out too fast for your long run, trying new fuel that does not agree with you, or not fueling often enough, there will be some errors. Mistakes in training allow you to know what’s best for you on race day. It humbles you to discover how you can change, improve or better yourself prior to race day.
  9. It makes you stop comparing yourself to others. I love social media, logging my runs and seeing what point other runners are at in their marathon prep. It builds friendships, but it also creates a space to compare your progress and mileage to others. Every runner is different; therefore, every plan or long run or speed workout or rest day will look different for each person.
  10. You are training for a marathon! That alone is a humbling realization. There’s only a small percentage of the total population to dedicates themselves to training for an completing a marathon—or any race for that matter!