Kelsey began her relationship with distance running when she casually accepted a friend’s invitation to join her in running a half-marathon (13.1 miles). But she never particularly liked running. Her Dad, seeing something she didn’t see in herself, wanted her to run cross country instead of playing field hockey in high school. She went on to play field hockey in college, but she perceived running as punishment. It was punishment for missing a practice. It was punishment for not nailing a drill. It was punishment, plain and simple. Kelsey got hooked on distance running after she finished that first half-marathon, and now, she cannot imagine her life without distance running in it.
Kelsey’s first marathon was Boston. It’s 26.2 miles of hard work, including the noted “Heartbreak Hill.” She finished with a quite respectable time in driving rain at a chilly 40 degrees Fahrenheit. She was soaked to the bone and chilled. Her Mom helped her peel off her drenched clothes, changing in the cramped ladies’ room of a Panera Bread restaurant. Despite being cold, wet, and exhausted, Kelsey knew then that she was not done with marathons. She has run multiple races since Boston.
Unfortunately, with the COVID-19 crisis, Kelsey’s upcoming marathon, Rock-n-Roll DC, scheduled for March 28th, was canceled and not rescheduled as of this writing. She cheerily and optimistically dismisses the “what if…” What might she have been able to accomplish in that race? She has profoundly refined her training regimen, and believes that she has probably trained more efficiently and productively than ever before. But, as she tells us, she is not “one-and-done” with marathons. Once the circuit opens up again, she’ll start training for her next race.
For those of us who struggle to do a five-mile walk/run, marathons seem exotic, if not un-achievable. We dilettantes see a marathon (yes, singular), perhaps, as a bucket list goal. Marathoners don’t see it that way. You are always prepping for your next race. You are looking for ways to shave precious seconds off of your last time. It’s ingrained in you.
Kelsey lives and trains in the Boston, Massachusetts area.
Here, in her own words, and with my questions and comments thrown in, are the Six Things that Kelsey wants you to know about being a marathoner.
Number 1: Anyone can be a marathoner – if they want to be one.
I find this hard to believe. I have exercise-induced asthma.
I cannot imagine running for “fun.”
Look, if you wanted to, you truly could. It takes repetitive discipline and training. You might need to train at different levels and paces, but really, anyone can do it.
When I was training for my first half [-marathon] I said that I would never run a marathon. I mean, I wondered, “How does anyone have the time to train for a marathon?” And there’s the discipline needed. I was in college. There’s not much discipline in college. I wanted to go out and drink!
But you start looking forward to your training. You settle into it and get into a flow. You embrace the training and enjoy it. So you train in short distances. You start adding on a few miles each week, and, before you know it, you’re there.
And marathoning and distance…It’s not necessarily about being fast. If you run 100 yards you are a runner.
Did playing hockey you get to a true marathon level any faster than the typical person?
Field hockey helped but I did not enjoy running when I played team sports. Running is what you do as your punishment. Did you miss a drill? You get five laps. That mentality sticks.
I went to the gym a few days a week with a roommate, and one day, she randomly asked me if I wanted to run a half. I loved the training process.
But the training takes discipline.
I know that you happen to be a disciplined person by nature.
What about the person who doesn’t even make his or her bed every day?
If you can develop discipline, it will trickle down into the rest of your life. Yes, Type-A people enjoy running. But anyone…you can become disciplined even if you are not currently. Training is habit-forming…the discipline comes naturally.
Number 2: You learn to expect the unexpected and roll with the punches.
What does that mean in this context?
With marathon or race training, you put your entire heart and soul for 14, 16, 20 weeks, and then you put it to the test in one day..you put it on the line. I’ve dealt with horrid rain. And with the Rock-n-Roll DC, that I was about to run, I was feeling like I was in tip-top shape, and now we have a global pandemic. You put everything you can into your training, and deal with the uncontrollable, and this applies to other parts of your life. I don’t get to run a marathon [March 28th] like I thought I was, but I will find that closure to this training.
I’m still going to run that day, but I don’t know that that I can run that distance on my own. Part of the cap of running a race is to celebrate with friends and to see your loved ones along the route
I’ll do something to honor the [Rock-n-Roll DC] and my training, but I don’t know what quite yet.
Number 3: Long runs are like church.
I think I understand this philosophy, but I do go to church.
Can you bring this one home for me?
This probably applies most to distance runs. It’s a common sentiment among distance runners: Church of the Saturday or Sunday Long Run. It’s a consistent part of my life and routine.
On Saturday, I wake up and have coffee and some small bits of food, and then I go out and run the same path. It’s muscle memory at this point. I look forward to it and anticipate it. I am by myself and I zone out. I can choose what I think about or not think about. I am in control, and I think about my forward motion.
I’m not particularly religious, but my “church runs” give me a feeling of connection and belonging to the world. When I realize that my run is ending, I snap back to reality and regain my consciousness. It’s a defining moment, and it feels like a true connection between my mind and my body. I have been on autopilot, but then I come back to reality.
Oh, yeah; there are runs every mile sucks. A slog. And, then, there are some times when there is a euphoria that overshadows those awful runs. Those are the runs when I realized what I accomplished.
It sounds like the proverbial sporting sweet spot thing…and there’s nothing like that.
It’s my most concentrated time alone. I’m an introvert. I like running with friends, but my long runs are mine…my protected time for myself. I get to experience my route during all seasons. I’m totally connected to it. It’s like my physical church building.
Number 4: Train for the downhills.
My not being a real runner, I look forward to downhills. I get to kick it into high gear and not think about it. You mean there is actually a strategy?
Downhills are mostly sweet release. Uphills suck: they do. But you can train to be good at them. If you’ve been running 20, and you have 6 to go, and you have downhills, they can really pound your legs. If you don’t do your downhills the right way, you get mashed potato quads.
It’s strategic. On a course like Boston, you have lots of hills late in the game. If you haven’t practiced those, they will wreck you. If you don’t run a lot, you think “downhill equals easy,” and aerobically they are, but you really do need to change up your form and your pace.
You have to know how to navigate your course successfully. You need to at least look at the race elevation map and find similar courses to run in your neighborhood.
Number 5: There’s a lot more that goes into training than running.
Did you learn this after Boston? Did you decide to change up your routine?
Did you have a goal?
With my first race, I just wanted to finish: run the distance. I didn’t have any races to compare it to. No consistent or fast paces. I was only running. I wasn’t doing much strength training.
For the second race, I wanted to do it better. I thought, “What can I do differently?” I got about 50 miles a week. I was adding speed work.
What does your pre-race training schedule look like?
Preparing for this third race, My typical week was easy runs/recovery, one or two speed-specific workouts, like eight sets of 800 with jogs, strength work in the gym, and one long run. The one long run builds every week, from 10 miles up to 21 in my case, this last time.
In my second marathon buildup, I was inconsistent with speed work, but shaved 35 minutes off, and felt like the tank still had some gas. I was much more consistent with speed each week and now I strength train twice a week.
And then your race was canceled! I’m so sorry!
I won’t get a chance to know, but I fell like I would have been right around 4 hours. I don’t know if I will do a race in the fall. The idea of doing marathon training in the summer is not appealing, but I will probably train for a fall marathon.
Number 6: It’s really difficult to be “one and done” with marathons.
So marathons aren’t just for bucket lists?
They are kind of addicting. If you do it once and are successful, why would you say, “No, I never want to accomplish THAT again!” Some people cross it off of the bucket list. I get that, but I want to do it. I want to keep doing it. It’s a difficult and challenging experience. You want to push yourself a little more each time.
The weather in Boston can be demotivating in the winter. So, having the rigidity and goals has been helpful to make the winter more enjoyable.
I cannot imagine training in weather so cold that the boogers in your nose freeze.
It is not appealing. But if I didn’t have [my training routine], I would lose my connection to the outdoors for six months, and I don’t like that idea.
And here is a bonus thing – Number 7: I’ve never regretted going for a run.
When you decide to do distance training it sucks for the first few weeks, for the first month, for sure. But then, you see yourself improving…you get over that hump, and running becomes enjoyable. Yes, sometimes you don’t look forward to running after a stressful day. But I know that’s exactly what I need after a stressful day. I come home, after my run, a completely different person. It’s a release…a total release for my mind and what happened that day. It’s totally helpful for decompressing. I have never come back in a bad or worse mood than when I started.
Running is very personal. This is my experience.