How I really feel about summer marathon training.

A few summers ago, I bumped into a friend on a trail frequented by many local runners. I was out for a quick four miler and she had just finished up 20. Yes, that’s in two-zero.  

“I’ve got 22 next week,” she imparted casually with a shrug. “Marathon training!”

As I took in her flushed face, her tank top and shorts soaked through with sweat, the flash of her watch screen displaying her mega mileage, I couldn’t help but think she was a total bad ass. But, with temperatures rising into the 90s that morning, I also couldn’t help but think that it all sounded pretty awful, too. 

At the time, I was focused on Olympic-distance triathlon, so my training was spread out among swimming, biking, and running. And my “long” run typically topped out at ten miles. I had plenty of uncomfortable and tough training sessions in the heat and humidity of my Maryland environs, but none of it yielded the mileage count of a marathon build.

Then, last summer, when I decided to run my first marathon in 20-some years, I accepted, with trepidation, that those two-to-three-hour runs in the unbearable east coast weather would soon be a reality. 

Turns out, I thrived as a runner last summer. The early, muggy mornings when it seemed like the rest of the world—save for a few bunnies, foxes, and deer—still slumbered away. The triumphant feeling of hitting stop on my watch after logging my longest runs in years. And besides, summer weather doesn’t last forever. By the time we rolled into fall and the heat and humidity lifted, running felt lighter, lovelier. And my reward for all of those hot, miserable miles? An October marathon in near-perfect temperatures (thanks, Twin Cities!). 

A perfect day for running 26.2.

I won’t paint a totally rosy picture of summer marathon training, because for the most part, it sucks while you’re out there. But, a lot like childbirth, we seem to forget all of the painful stuff when the end result is so rewarding. Which is why I signed up for this year’s Marine Corps Marathon with little hesitation. And here I am, in the thick of marathon training once again. But this time, I’m armed with more insight and experience. Here are some of the lessons I picked up last summer that I continue to remind myself of every day. 

Plan Water Stops

In my younger, more competitive days, I had the silly belief that stopping for anything (water, bathroom breaks, tying your shoelaces) was a big no-no. Now? I realize that quick pit stops are not only just fine, but they’re a must for me on extra-warm days. Whether it’s choosing a trail that has water fountains every few miles or making sure I’ll pass a gas station where I can pop in and grab a bottle, a brief fuel break invigorates me and can turn a run from tortuous to terrific. 

Choose New-To-You Routes

Running the same route over and over can be mind-numbing when you’re covering all the miles. In order to keep things fresh and less, well, draining, I choose a different route each week for my longest runs. I make a loop on the Map Pedometer app (I’m not an out-and-back fan), seeking out shady neighborhood streets. I’ve also done some destination runs, (like running to my kids’ swim meet at a pool ten miles away), which is a fun way to stay engaged and energized. 

Slow Your Pace

A few weeks ago, my running buddy Noel and I took off on our 10-miler running the same jaunty pace we’ve grown accustomed to. The problem? We were running a loop with significant climbs on a super-humid morning. We both hit a (small) wall midway, and realized that we’d taken it out too hard. The next week, we started more than a minute-per-mile slower and were able to gradually speed up and finish our 12-miler strong–and with a faster overall average pace than ever before. 

Still smiling 12 miles into a run on a 80+ degree morning.

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff 

Sweat is inevitable during summer runs. But the one thing you don’t want to sweat? The small stuff. Like when you don’t execute a run perfectly, or hit your target pace, or you can only get in 18 instead of your planned 20. It. Will. Be. Ok. As long as you are out there, moving your body, getting any run in, you are priming yourself for success. Because, let’s be honest: Even the perfect build-ups don’t always merit flawless marathons. And training is hard. So go easy on yourself and just do your best, you bad ass, you.