When I started training for the New York Marathon, I had done months of squats, lunges and sprint work to get my body ready for the grueling schedule. But it turned out; a lot of what I had to learn during my four-month program was mental. Read on for the five most important life lessons I learned as I trained for my first marathon.
1. You Need to Schedule Your Priorities
I am paraphrasing this lesson from Stephen Covey, the author of the international bestseller ‘Seven Habits of Highly Effective People‘. One of the most challenging things about training for a long-distance race is finding the time to dedicate to running. When I would sit down to plan out a week, I blocked in my running time before anything else. I had to learn to say no to happy hours, movie dates and even some fun weekend trips so that I could respect my priorities and the promise I had made to myself. I honored my commitment by making time for it in my life. Then, I started doing that with other important stuff. All of a sudden I had time to do things like cook dinner and read books and take luxurious baths.
2. It’s Okay To Go Slow
I am not what you would call an ‘overly-patient’ person. I put two ice cubes in my morning coffee so I can drink it right away. I usually read the last paragraph of a news article first, so I know where things are headed. I eat breakfast while I’m walking to work, to save time. When I started running, I assumed faster was better. After several mid-distance workouts where I found myself completely out of gas halfway through my miles, I did some research and learned that my assumption was wrong. It turns out, according to a Washington Post interview with renown running coach Claire Bartholic, running too fast when you’re training for a long race means your body can’t build up its aerobic energy system. Translation: You don’t get good at using oxygen to create energy. When I slowed down my pace, I found I was able to run for longer and that I felt better afterwards. Also, breakfast tastes much better sitting down.
3. It Takes Time to Heal
Six weeks into my training, I woke up with a pain in my hip so severe I could barely walk. My first thought was: I’m screwed.
Two days later, I sat on an exam table while a very patient doctor explained to me which muscle I had strained and prescribed some strengthening exercises. He smiled when I drilled him, “What about running? When can I start running again?”
His reply was measured. “Give it a couple of days. See how you feel.”
I rolled my eyes and limped home, furious that I’d blown my chance at the race. Once I got to my apartment, I iced and rested and iced some more. After about four days, the most astonishing thing happened: I felt better.
I went on a tentative four-mile run. I changed my gait to minimize the chances I would hurt my hip again, and got back on track with my training program.
The human body is capable of extraordinary feats, as is the human mind. But neither will function very well if they are not given time to process and work through life’s inevitable pains and difficulties.
4. I Don’t Drink Enough Water
When I started running upwards of twenty miles a week, I started thinking about water a lot. I read articles about how much water was enough, how much was too much, and which were the best electrolyte supplements to make sure my sodium levels stayed balanced. I forced my coffee-addicted brain to start recognizing the benefits of adequate hydration for both physical and mental function. According to Science Daily, dehydration can alter the very shape of your brain, as well as its activity. . Now, I never turned down water when someone offers it. This simple change lets me be more social and more hydrated.
5. Focus on the Positive
My marathon training has been far from perfect (see 1-4 above). But I always feels better when I’m nourishing myself with praise instead of cutting myself down with criticism.
Instead of focusing on my 10-plus minute miles, I compliment myself on my even stride. Instead of worrying about the funny, twitchy feeling in my left knee, I try to send nice, healing thoughts through my body. Positivity is a mindset. After all, it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.