When you’re training for a marathon, it’s never far from your mind. I’m pretty sure I’m not just speaking for myself here, when I say it’s always there. It colours every thought.
For me, I’m always thinking ahead to the next run and the one after that. How far, how fast? Do I need to eat more the day before? Will I have to start work late?
Putting appointments into my calendar, I realised they started at 10am. I sighed internally. Could I shift my runs round that week? Would I have to skip a run? Could I run somewhere different to ensure I made it to my appointment on time? Then I breathed a big sigh of relief.
THE APPOINTMENTS WERE IN NOVEMBER.
I didn’t need to worry. The marathon would be over then. Life would be back to normal.
Whatever normal is. I don’t even remember life before training for a marathon now – and I only started in July.
I will still run most days. But if I have to miss one, it’s OK. If I have to make one shorter, that’s OK too. My life will be my own again, not ruled by a training plan.
And of course it doesn’t have to be ruled by a training plan. But if you’re serious about running a marathon, want to perform to the best of your ability and want to avoid injury or illness, you need to stick to a training plan – whether it’s one that’s recommended or one you’ve worked out for yourself.
Then there’s the overthinking. I (and I’m pretty sure many other people too) overthink everything. You feel every little twinge in your legs – things you would never normally notice.
Is that an ache? Could it be an injury? Is it safe to run on it? It’ll be fine – don’t want to miss a run. But what if it’s not fine, what if I make it worse? Better to miss a couple of runs than get properly injured and miss the actual marathon…
I worry about clothing choices too. Is this my most comfortable pair of pants? (I don’t even have a most comfortable pair of pants – they are all identical.) Is my ponytail too tight or not tight enough? Should I wear my hat?
The tricky late summer/ early autumn weather gives additional issues to worry about. Is it going to be too hot? Will it be sunny or rainy? Should I wear suncream even though it’s actually raining at the moment? (You may be surprised to discover that the answer to that question is always ‘yes’. When you’re out running for three hours, the weather can change many times.)
It’s surprising what unexpected curveballs you can encounter when running. During week 11 of training, I got stung on the leg by a wasp on an eight mile run. I was 3.5 miles in and kept going until six miles. By that point, the sting was sending shooting pains up my leg with every step. I would never have been able to finish the race if I’d been stung during the marathon.
In the last couple of weeks of training, the overthinking really does get out of hand. This is where a small injury really does have the potential to stop you running the actual marathon (although of course the theory of following a training plan is that you build up distance safely, with less chance of injury).
This is also where a mild illness at the wrong time could put an end to the marathon too. There is some evidence that long distance running does temporarily weaken your immune system, making it more likely that you will become ill. You might only be ill for two or three days, but you’re not going to be ready to run a marathon straight after that. You may feel weak and drained and will need at least another couple of days to restore yourself to full strength through proper eating and drinking.
I did actually have this experience when I ran my marathon in 2019. I had the worst cold I’d had in about 20 years, which turned to sinusitis. I even went to the doctor to ask if I was safe to run.
2021 brings a massive additional problem in the form of Covid. Let’s be honest, nobody is ever more than a friend of a friend away from a Covid case at the moment. If that kid in my daughter’s art class infects my daughter, who brings it home to me, it’s all over. Even a mild bout of Covid would mean missing a week of training. Anything worse than that and there’s no marathon.
We did have a scare last week, in week 12 of training. The Covid cases in my daughter’s year group were rising rapidly, including people she’d been in close contact with. While waiting for her PCR result (negative thankfully), in my head she’d got Covid, then I’d caught it and had to pull out of the marathon.
With the amount of potential problems and things to worry about it, it’s not surprising that so many people suffer from maranoia. And it’s surprising that anyone ever makes it to the start line of a marathon.