Lessons Learned from my First Marathon Training Season

Molly running the 2017 Chevron Houston Marathon.

Last year I experienced my first Marathon Training Season. I had a schedule to follow, a group to run with, a GPS watch and lots of body glide! What could possibly go wrong?!

I ran my first half-marathon in November 2015 and my first marathon in October 2016. I am definitely NOT a competitive person, but I got hooked on the training plans, the numbers, the friendships, and the never-ending lessons I’d take away from each training run. I like lists and plans, so naturally I wanted to slowly – more like quickly – become a better, stronger runner the closer I got to race day. Every week I imagined I would build on the previous week, shaping myself into some kind of running-goddess superhero. Well that didn’t exactly happen–at least in the way I thought…

In no particular order, here are some lessons I learned from my first marathon training season:

A New Day, A New Run

You know the runs where as soon as you start moving your legs feel tired? You start to wonder how you’re going to finish your long run, when you already feel like walking at mile 2. I had quite a few of those. It beats you down and lowers your confidence. I’d hit the wall with many miles still in front of me. And then when I couldn’t bring myself to run anymore, I’d walk. And then I’d try to run again. No matter what happened, I always made it back to the start. Sometimes finishing like a winner and other times feeling like a big baby! I found that even when I had one of those terrible (maybe even traumatic) runs, many times the next week I’d have a perfect run! The Point is to trust in the process. Every run is a new opportunity. Every day is a step towards the start line, even if it feels like a step in the wrong direction. I’ve learned a lot more about myself as a runner on my bad days than I do on my best ones.

Don’t Forget to Eat

From the beginning, everyone tells you eating is important. And boy are they right! Eat full, nutritional meals the day before your long runs. Figure out the right nutrition to start your run strong. Banana with peanut butter? Toast/bagel? A gel? Test out different types of fuel during your training. Find the one that you like and order it in bulk! Don’t put off going to the store all week and then realize as you’re grabbing your gel from the drawer that you have zero gels remaining. And definitely DO NOT decide to just wing it and grab a granola bar for your 16-mile long run instead. Your stomach isn’t going to be very happy with you.

The More the Merrier

During parts of my marathon training last year, I was traveling and did not have a run group to join. This. Was. The. Worst. The occasional solo run cannot be avoided and is even appreciated when you just want some time with your own thoughts. But when you have the chance, definitely find a run group to share the long runs and speed workouts with! There are so many groups all over the Greater Houston area that there is basically no excuse. Most groups will divide you based on your speed so you don’t need worry about being left in the dust – or being alone at the front of the pack. You’ll find some pace pals and soon realize that runs are the most fun when shared with a group.

Cross-training is a term for a reason

While I was traveling last year, I completely stopped going to yoga, something I try to incorporate at least once a week into my routine. I’m no doctor, but I kept getting “aches” here and there during training. Forcing me to take a week off here and there to mend. It seemed like right as I was getting back on track, a different ache would resurface. Finally once I settled back into my routine in Houston, they magically went away! Was it actually magic or was it the yoga? I may never know, but you’ll definitely find me at some yoga classes this training season. And if yoga isn’t your thing, find another activity you enjoy like biking, swimming, or CrossFit and add it to your training schedule. As someone whose all-time favorite activity in the world is running, I know it’s not super high on the priority list to add in a second physical activity, but your muscles will thank you later!

Rest like you mean it

This brings me to another point. Rest is usually what your body needs but the last thing you want to give. Once I got into a groove with my training schedule, I HATED my rest days. I usually knock out my runs in the morning, so my day didn’t feel like it really started until I finished a run. I’d feel lazy and sluggish if I didn’t run. Over the training season, I learned the importance of taking a day of rest. And better yet, I learned to take a day of rest even when it wasn’t on my training plan (gasp!). On the many times I ignored a rest day, I’d feel run down when it came time to push myself at the important workouts. So learn from my mistakes and take your rest days seriously.

Expect some Emotions

Every start line I’ve crossed for the Chevron Houston Marathon or Aramco Houston Half Marathon has made me feel pretty emotional. Some might say I’m just an emotional person (and they’d be right), but the journey to the start line is filled with highs and lows, chaos and triumphs. Running is the perfect metaphor for life, so it’s hard not to compare your personal growth with your running growth. What’s going on in your personal life has a way of working itself into your running life too. Three days before my first Aramco Houston Half Marathon, my boyfriend – now fiancé! – told me he was moving to Germany for work. Naturally, I was pretty upset about being forced into a long-distance relationship with a 7-hour time difference. You can guess what happened at that race. Take care of your emotions. And also, maybe tell your loved ones to withhold non-critical bad news from you if you’re running a race in less than a week.

I hope you can learn from some of my mistakes because inevitably, you’re going to find yourself in similar situations at some point this season. Learn from them. They’ll make you stronger! And rest assured, you’re not alone! And you won’t be alone slogging through your training in the Houston humidity and heat. You’re also not the first runner to miss a long run because of travel/work/family/life. And, you’re not the only one that is questioning their marathon goals on the bad training days. We’re in this together Houston! Take each run one mile at a time. I can’t wait to run alongside of each you through the streets of Houston on January 14, 2018.

Molly Mayo is a first-time #HouMarathon ambassador and has run the 2016 Aramco Houston Half Marathon and the 2017 Chevron Houston Marathon. She has never considered herself particularly athletic, competitive or sporty, and yet running has changed her life! Molly believes that the confidence and lessons learned from her running goals, have given her the encouragement to reach her personal goals. As a born and raised Houstonian, Molly’s favorite aspect of the Houston Marathon is feeling the heart of the city around every turn of the race course.