“Just four more weeks and I’ll be on the start line, and I won’t feel this bad!” I said to myself once a minute during every run last week.
But four weeks is a long time and I am so so tired. There are some days, even a week or two stretch during the throes of training that make me want to chuck my trainers into Green Lake and call it a day. This is The Marathon Training Gauntlet, a two to three week period during a marathon training cycle where every run feels like a marathon itself. My coach lovingly refers to it as “a bitch-of-a-three-week stretch.” I just call it hell, and for a fleeting moment I feel like a crazy person who decided to put my body through the ringer just to attempt to run fast.
The Marathon Training Gauntlet typically creeps up during peak training volume weeks, when you’re feeling more tired than usual, and usually after a particularly hard run. The lack of motivation to run when you have a big goal isn’t the easiest topic to broach when your Facebook feed is chockfull of friends posting awesome workouts, running personal bests, and gleefully proclaiming their love of running. Yes, it is great, but during the MTG we are tired. If this sounds like something you can relate to, here are my tips to getting on the other side.
The Buddy System
When I know I’ll be having a tough few weeks of training, I purposely plan to meet up to run with people more often than I usually would. Why? Easy. I can’t bail on my friends, and good conversation takes the sting out of feeling so tired on my runs.
- Pro-tip: Meet up with someone else who is marathon training; you’ll have someone to commiserate with, and someone else who understands your insane runger. (Bonus: this will increase the odds they will want to eat pancakes afterwards with you.)
Write Down Your Goals
If you’ve already written down your goal at the beginning of the segment, do it again. Really. It’s a great reminder of why you’re putting yourself through this, and through the process of revisiting your goals, you become much more mindful about your training. This simple act can work wonders and you’ll be able to see the light at the end of the training tunnel that much easier.
- Pro-tip: Write your goal on a post-it and place it in a spot you’ll see every day. It’s a tried and true trick to remind yourself why you’re lacing up for every run.
In the words of Tom Haverford, “Treat Yo’ self”
When training for a big goal, it’s easy to tell yourself you’ll do everything right. For most people that means no desserts, drinks, or staying out late, which is great to a certain extent. But I always leave room for some sort of treat after a big workout. Whether I’m craving a huge burrito with all the fixings slathered in sour cream or a bitter IPA or two, I indulge myself. I worked hard for it. I also know a burrito or three is not going to make or break whether I run my goal time. It’s the work I put in for the entire segment that will.
- Pro-tip: ice cream is delicious.
It’s Okay to Cry
Don’t let Tom Hanks fool you, there is crying in
baseball running. Sometimes, after a particularly hard run, it’s okay to want to cry. And then it’s okay to cry. Working towards a big goal is a physical and emotional investment, and sometimes it doesn’t go according to plan! It’s infuriating. Grieve your bad run and move on, because there’s still a couple more weeks to go!
- Pro-tip: Perhaps after you wipe away your tears, break out that ice cream or crack open that IPA.
Take an Unplanned Day Off
Are you feeling on the verge of injury or just exceptionally bad? Maybe your achilles is feeling unusually tight? Consider taking the day off. Taking one day off to R.I.C.E. (rest, ice, use compression, and elevate) could be a saving grace later in the segment. A lot of runners fear the dreaded unplanned day off, but if anything is bugging me too much to run through, my coach is usually the first to say, “Take the day off, it’s not a big deal.” And, it’s not. Usually that’ll be enough to heal up whatever was bothering me. Additionally, by taking one (or *gasp* even two) days off from your segment, you could save yourself from weeks off due to injury. It takes a lot more than one or two days to get out of shape, especially if you’ve been training exceptionally hard.
- Pro-tip: Unplanned days off are also great days to treat yo’self.
Get your Blood Levels Checked
Are you more tired than normal training fatigue? Sometimes low iron is the cause, which can easily be remedied. I know my iron is low when every single run feels like an uphill, hard, and fast long run. Checking your levels sooner rather than later may save your segment and catching it in time will have you feeling back to your old self by race day.
- Pro-tip: When it comes to getting your iron checked, having a running friendly primary care physician is key. Many doctors are not accustomed to the demands runners put on their bodies and assume any level, even very low in the normal range, is fine and will not treat you. A running-friendly doctor will understand that low levels are not optimal for a competitive runner.
Revisit your Training Plan
If none of the above work, it may be time to sit down with your coach or your training log and consider your options.
- Can your goal be altered or modified to still be a success (in your mind)?
- Do you still want to race?
- Are there life circumstances that are standing in the way of your training and subsequent racing goals?
- Is there a remedy for that?
Consider all of these questions, and answer honestly.
If your answers are “1. no 2. no 3. yes 4. no”, it may be time to reconsider your plans. No one is forcing you to run this race (and if they are, send them my way and I’ll straighten them out). Only you know when it’s time to retire the running shoes for a bit, and it’s your choice.
- Pro-tip: Running should enhance your life, not drag you down. Only you know the right balance between the demands of training and the demands of the rest of your life and if something is off there, there’s no blame to be had in fixing it.
Even if the Marathon Training Gauntlet feels like it’s dragging on forever, it’ll be just a blip on the radar when you look back on your training after you’ve met your goal. Soldier on, and your legs will come around. Come race day, you’ll line up knowing you’ve put in the work and can capitalize on those heavy weeks of training.
Under normal circumstances, I absolutely love to run and compete. I enjoy training and seeing my progress steadily chug along workout after workout. I get an immense satisfaction from plugging away week after week, month after month to let it all loose on race day. But sometimes even I have trouble getting myself out the door, even if I know I want so badly to race well. This time, rationally, I know this stretch of hard training will end, my taper will mend all matters, and come October 9th in Chicago, it’ll all be worth it to know I’ve done the work. But I must first face the training gauntlet to get there.
Have you ever experienced the Marathon Training Gauntlet? How did you get through it?