Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
When I signed up for my first marathon last March, I read every article, listicle and blog post I could find about what to expect—what to eat, how to train, where to find the perfect non-chafing sports bra. But training for a marathon is an experience that changes you far beyond the number of miles you can log in a single run. Here’s how my first marathon changed me in ways I didn’t expect:
My city felt smaller.
I trained for my first marathon in Los Angeles, a sprawling, never-ending traffic jam of a city where people drive three blocks to go to the gym. But once I started re-thinking distance in terms of running miles, not minutes spent in the car, magically the city started shrinking. I started running to brunch (sure, I was sweaty, but I felt I really earned those mimosas).
In a single run, I’d see the landscape transform from the glitz of Rodeo Drive to the karaoke bars of Koreatown. One Saturday 10-miler served double duty when I ran from Venice to Manhattan Beach for a lazy beach day with friends. When everything was just a training run away, the whole city became accessible, and I realized the best way to see it was on two legs.
Food = Fuel.
Before the marathon, my general philosophy on food was that it should be delicious, “healthy” (however I defined it
that week), and/or highly “Instagrammable.” What that food was doing for my physical performance had never really crossed my mind because, well, I never really needed to perform. But once I started those 10-, 15-, 20-mile training runs, my cravings stripped down to the very basics: Water. Salt. Protein. When I finally crossed that finish line, I experienced a level of thirst not seen since The Great Hangover of 2011.
I consumed two dozen ice-cold, sea salty oysters at my post-marathon brunch, and I didn’t even think I liked oysters. I was fascinated by how human I felt in that moment. I was more appreciative and cognizant of what I put into my body ever since.
Related: Avoid These 5 Common Food Traps
I gained a newfound respect for Oprah.
Oprah Winfrey is known for many things—her influence, her philanthropy, her gajillion-dollar empire. She is not, by most accounts, known for her running ability. But to a first-time marathoner, she becomes everything. She is the goal. She is the curse. Because her 4:29 finishing time in the 1994 Marine Corps Marathon, otherwise known as the “Oprah line,�� will inevitably cause you to utter these words: “I NEED TO BEAT OPRAH.” (I finished a healthy 2 minutes under the Oprah line, thankyouverymuch.)
Yes, my body changed! (Just not necessarily how I thought it would.)
Like most first-timers, I assumed that training for a marathon would be a one-stop shop to Alessandra Ambrossio’s
abs. This happens to some people. I, on the other hand, mainly just couldn’t get my jeans over my calves anymore. But I felt strong, I was getting toned in muscle groups I didn’t know the names of and, Ambrossio-abs-be-damned, I was proud that I had something to show for all the hard work.
I officially ran out of excuses.
The blessing and the curse of running a marathon is that it’s such a psycho thing to do. You’ll never have a valid excuse to skip a workout, half-ass that last rep, or not take full advantage of the day again. Any time I get to thinking how nice it’d be to shirk all my responsibilities and eat cereal out of the box in my underwear today, I’ll remind myself, “B****, you ran a freaking marathon. Get your ass out of bed.”