I almost titled this “5 Lessons Learned by Running a Marathon Untrained” but then I realized I was selling myself a little short. It’s not as if I attempted to go from couch to 26.2 in a week. I train daily. I’m active. I’m more fit that I’ve ever been. I was just not able to complete the last 6 weeks of long-distance runs for this event. I undertrained.
My training was basically put on hold after I ran 12 miles and suffered an unknown foot injury. I did everything right — as least in my opinion. I went to the doctor, sought out physical therapy and let myself heal by easing off the runs and modifying my workouts. However, I couldn’t just move marathon day because I wasn’t ready. Marathon day is marathon day! Especially when you are specifically traveling more than halfway across the country for said marathon!
I weighed my options and decided to forge ahead with my original goal. This post is a combination of why I chose to run the marathon anyway (when I could have backed down to the half,) and what I learned by doing so. Plus, all the official photos from the event! — click here to see my original post-marathon post.
1. Know Why You Sign Up For Events
For me, signing up for events comes down to pushing myself out of my comfort zone (hello, Tough Mudders!) Almost everything I do (races, vacations, etc.) I decide to do because it challenges me in some way.
While recovering from my injuries I started to add back in long runs — 3 miles, 6 miles, 10 miles. Slowly I worked myself back up to about the distance I was at when my training failed. Was I ready for a full marathon? NO! But I also knew a half would be a letdown for me. I didn’t sign up for the half because I can easily run that distance. I’ve done it 5 times! I signed up for the full because I wanted a challenge. I wanted something to excite me. Push me. I wanted the experience of crossing the finish line after running 26.2 miles.
Five years ago I did that, but I walked large portions. This time I wanted to run and run I did! I kept a slower pace from the start and didn’t stop to walk once besides water stops — I did, however, have to stop to use the bathroom FOUR times. I swear, my bladder just ain’t what it used to be! I would have been so much closer to my goal of 5 hours without all the potty breaks, but I digress.
My first lesson is to really know what your own personal motivations are. I’m not a fast runner, I have no desire to be a fast runner. If that is what drove me then backing down to the half to chase a PR (personal record) may have been the better choice. I know lots of folks who are motivated by speed. That’s just not who I am.
I’m also not OK with backing out of my commitments. I would have rather failed at the attempt of the full than to not try it at all. Again, that’s my personal motivation — what drives you could be totally different. Choosing the half over not running may be a better choice for others.
At the end of the day I’m the kind of person who would rather try and fail than not try and wonder. Only you know what truly motivates you. All you can do is go with your gut.
That being said, if you decide to tackle the marathon undertrained I have a few more lessons to share.
2. Slow and Steady Wins the Race
We’ve already established I’m not very motivated by speed, however, if you are attempting to run a race you are undertrained for I think you need to consider slowing down even more.
I came out of the start gate running about 80% of my average pace even though there were some pretty strict cut-off times. When staring down 26 miles you just have to!
You are going to get slower as you run regardless (at least many of us will) but you’ll be able to maintain your pace longer if you start off just slightly slower than you are used to. I was still running a little over 11-minute miles at the 20-mile mark pretty easily — a distance I never got to hit in training. It was around mile 22 that my pace started to fall considerably or at least it felt that way. Those last few miles were torturous! I can only assume they would have been less so if I was fully trained.
3. Corral Considerations
The Rock ‘N’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon had a combination of clock cutoff and chip-timed cutoffs. For example there was a 5-hour time limit to complete the marathon. However, that 5-hour limit didn’t start until the last corral began running, which was delayed (I’m assuming) about an hour from the official race start time. In addition, there were three specific cutoffs on the course that you needed to reach by a certain set time, like 7 p.m.
I knew I was at risk for missing both cutoffs especially considering I was in the second half of corrals (30). So during registration I asked to be moved up to a faster corral. I know there are some serious runners who would disagree with this decision, as one of the points of corrals is to have the fast folks in front and the slow folks in the back to help prevent bottlenecks. But my goal was to finish this race, and I couldn’t have done that if I missed the clock deadlines at the 9-, 12-, and 15-mile marks. And I knew I couldn’t do that if I was standing at the start line for an hour.
I’m not saying what I did was right, I’m saying I took my corral into consideration and made the best decision I could to help me complete the marathon with the time limitations. If I stayed in my original corral I risked missing the course cutoffs mid run even though I may have been able to complete the race in 5 hours. It ended up I wasn’t able to do that — 5:16 was my official time — but I wanted to at least give myself a fighting chance.
4. Run With a Friend
I know this may not be a possibility for everyone but if you can find a friend crazy enough to run with you, do it!
Having a buddy stick by your side during an event you are undertrained for is a godsend. I reached out to my friend Jimmy a few days before the marathon. We already had a small group of friends who all signed up for a weekend in Vegas but Jimmy was the only other person registered for the full. I told him what happened with my training and he agreed to run at my pace to help me finish. To be honest, I’m not sure I would have been able to do it without him. There’s nothing better than chatting on long runs to distract you and those last few miles he really helped keep me going. At one point around mile 24 I just about stopped to walk and he gave me that boost I needed.
5. Don’t Stress
HA! Of course this is easy for me to say now. I’m now over the pre-run stress part but really, I had nothing to worry about. The worst-case scenario was I attempt and fail, but you know what? You could say that about anything.
I’ve been running long enough to know what I was getting myself into. I trusted myself to stop if I felt I was risking injury. And I knew having a friend would help me get over the mental aspect immensely. I was all about the experience and, sure, there’s some trepidation but you will still have the experience regardless of the outcome.
I can’t recommend anyone attempt a marathon undertrained but I also know that training in the real world will never be perfect. Don’t stress, do what you can when you can, trust yourself, and whatever you decide will be right.