I ran the Honolulu Marathon last month with my youngest sister. It was her first marathon and without question, the most memorable, special 26.2 miles I’ve ever run. We finished hand-in-hand, smiling and crying happy tears. But it was a tough race for her from the start, due to stomach problems beginning at mile 4. Later that evening, as we were falling asleep in our room, she asked me: “Does running ever get easier?”
It’s not an easy question to answer. I know I’ve had the same feelings and questions. There have been countless times I’ve thought about a speedier-than-me runner while completing a tough workout and wondered how easy their tempo runs or long runs must feel. Or thought about how easy it must be for them to be that fast.
In my opinion, some aspects get easier. But others are just as hard, if not harder, as they were when I first started running marathons 10+ years ago. I think running truly never gets easy (especially if you are training for a time or goal or PR). It just changes over time.
When I entered West Point 15+ years ago, I ran my two mile APFT in 16:02; 8:01 pace for two miles was an all-out run for me. I felt like I was going to pass out at the end. These days, my long runs are 10-20 seconds faster and I hope to run my spring marathon about 35-45 seconds per mile faster. So specific paces feel easier – but that didn’t happen on it’s own.
I still push myself to my limit (or close to it) 1-2 times/week to make those improvements. Sure, the paces have gotten faster. But fast-running days are no easier. Speedwork, specifically intervals, still make me feel like I want to puke by the end. Tempo runs still make me focus 100% on pace and form for the entire run. If I zone out for a moment, my pace slows. Long runs still leave me tired and sleepy for the rest of the day.
Racing hurts just as much as when I started. Running 26.2 miles as hard and fast as you can hurts a ton, regardless if your fastest is 2:30 or 5:30. And I think in some ways, it can hurt more if you are able to practice and gain experience running through the pain of the last few miles of the marathon.
“It never gets easier, you just go faster.” – Greg LeMond
Mileage feels easier. My weekly mileage is 3x what it was when I first started. But I’m just as tired, if not more tired, after a week of marathon training now as much as I was 10 years ago.
The mental aspect also seems easier. I am more familiar with the pain associated with certain types of runs. I know what to expect and I’ve gotten better at embracing it. It doesn’t make the pain any less painful, but it is comforting knowing I’m in the training zone I should be in.
And lastly, finding the time is easier. This seems like an oxymoron. As a mom of two boys under 4, my days are packed. I’m much busier than I was 10 years ago. But I’ve gotten 100x better at making time or finding those tiny windows of time where I can run. Running is no longer something I fit in when I can. I now fit in other things around my daily run (to a point – there are days where running will always take a backseat!). I don’t think this is something that can happen overnight, but more of a natural, gradual progression over time.