Training for the Pittsburgh Marathon: This Is Hard

Three weeks of training for the Pittsburgh Marathon complete, leaving 103 days until race day! I have 15 weeks left to train.

Training for the Pittsburgh Marathon

A friend who just started running made a comment recently, stating that I make it look easy. While I understand and appreciate the pat on the back, let me make it clear: THIS IS NOT EASY FOR ME.

Running remains a challenge for me, both physically and mentally.

Following the marathon training plan remains a challenge for me: logistically, physically, mentally, everything-ly.

Every step I run is hard-fought, an epic-battle.

All that drama aside, yes, some days look and feel easier than others.

Some days the sun shines and breeze blows just the right amount. The temperatures fall on the just cool enough side of the mercury line and the shade of the trees stretches over the road in just the right way. My running clothes fit just right, not too tight or too loose. My shoes don’t even register as being on my body; thinking about your shoes or your feet while running ruins a run. My running gear — iPhone, Spotify playlist, Runkeeper app, fuelbelt for a longer run — sits and fits properly, doesn’t bounce around, and doesn’t go on the tech-fritz mid-run. The sweat stays out of my eyes. My glasses, sun- or prescription-to-see, don’t fog up. My back doesn’t spasm, my hip (a new ailment!) doesn’t throb, and my not 100% foot, injured this past October, doesn’t ache. I run with a smile on my face, and finish with breath left to breathe.

My neighbor commented once, as I finished a rather lengthy, end-with-a-smile, qualifies-as-good run. “You smile a lot when you run. It must come easy for you.”

No. Even when I’m smiling, I’m fighting the doubt in my own head. I’m thinking too hard about how much work I have left to do before I can possibly run 26.2 miles in one run. I’m worried — big time — about that twinge I just felt in my back. Was that just a twinge or is my back about to give out again? Should I slow down? Speed up? Is my posture okay? Am I making it worse? While sometimes I manage to escape into the silence of my own mind or in the melody of a good song, most often I fight the voices inside my own head that tell me I’m not good enough, that I’ll never be good enough, that these goals of mine don’t make any sense, that others watch and wait on the sidelines, willing me to fail so they can laugh and point.


And that’s a good run.

Imagine what happens when I endure a mediocre or, like yesterday, awful run. A run with bricks in my calves. A run with a butcher knife wedged in my right hip. A run in which I can’t manage to calm my breathing, to get it steady and productive. A run in which, mid-stride, my back sends four or five spasms straight up my spine, causing me to see stars and nearly collapse on the side of my neighborhood street. Imagine having to stop a six mile run at mile two, knowing the choice makes sense from a physical standpoint — but causes even more point on the mental side of things. Will choking on this run ruin my entire training plan? Does bonking on today’s run mean that I won’t be able to run the 26.2 when it really counts? Am I not cut out for this? Why do I even bother? I’m such a loser. And on. And on. And on.

Yesterday’s not-all-that-long long run of six miles ended poorly. I nearly bit the dust just after the two mile mark as my back decided to end any hope of struggling through the full six miles. I begrudgingly shuffled my way up the hill to my house, pressed stop on my RunKeeper app, and bit the inside of my cheek to fend off any tears. I hate quitting a scheduled run. I hate that my physical ailments still limit what I can do on occasion. As soon as I quit, I begin to fear not being able to run or walk or move again, and I get caught in a cycle of worst case scenario, what-if, unhealthy thoughts — instead of just seeing it as one step in a journey of thousands, instead of focusing on the bigger picture.

So yes, running is hard for me. As much as I want to portray the always happy, always eager runner, days like yesterday make me want to throw out (all of) my running shoes, never to lace up and hit the streets again.

But I will.

Today I will rest. I will hit the foam roller this evening, working on that stubborn knot in my right hip and the bricks in my calves. I will slather Arnica on my lower back before settling down with a book. Come tomorrow, I will lace up my shoes and head back out, fighting the voices in my head and the twinges in my back.


Any number of reasons. Maybe mainly because I said I would — run a marathon. Or maybe mainly because I need to — run in general. Either way, when you see me run by or when you catch the RunKeeper update on twitter after I finish a run, know that I went out and fought for every step I ran — and won.

I went out and fought for every step I ran... and WON!

Are you training for Pittsburgh or another spring marathon? How’s it going?



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14 Replies to “Training for the Pittsburgh Marathon: This Is Hard”

  1. It is hard, but it makes it all worth it when you cross that line in May. Just wait until you get to the 3-4 hour long runs in a few months. Marathon training is a special beast (one I’ve been banned from for a while because of the intense training time and my obsessive nature with it), but it’s one that can be conquered with the right attitude and mindset. Cutting short a run does suck, but it WILL NOT ruin your training. Trust me on that one. :)

  2. Running is never easy. It can’t be. Or everyone would do it. I hate running. Maybe because my effed up hip will always make it harder. Oh right. And my knees. OMG. But still. The biggest reason I stopped is that it never gets easy. Riding my bike gets easy. And awesome. Running doesn’t. It’s forever a fight for me and I can’t deal with that. Runners have a special heart, I think. Kinda like writers. Writing doesn’t get easy either. But when you love it, you keep going.

  3. We have all bonked a run. My thinking is that it doesn’t hurt your training. It HELPS it. It helps you become tougher mentally. It helps you appreciate those runs where everything is perfect and effortless (or even those runs that aren’t SO.HARD).
    I remember bonking a long run last year and I was so mad at myself. I sulked all week and then I went on my next long run and killed it. It was an amazing feeling of highs and lows. There will be highs and lows as you run your race. It’s good training!

    I’m training for two half marathons. The Nike Women’s Half on April 27 and the Pittsburgh Half the following weekend. I’m fully expecting some bad runs in my training. And I’m counting on them to make me a stronger runner.

  4. I love those good runs… the ones where you finish and think “Man, I wish I could do that again.” (Except you can’t because you’ve already DONE your run and you would keel over if you tried.) I think those are the runs that make runners keep going because we kind of vainly hope we’ll get to the point where they are all like that. And when they don’t, you just keep wishing for the next one, knowing it will come again.

    Or maybe that’s just me.

  5. Jenna,

    This resonates with me in so many ways. I understand the pain factor and working through it. Good or bad that feeling of accomplishment is what we strive for.


  6. Spoken like a true runner.

    I have come to terms with the fact that if I want to run (and I do) it comes with the ridiculous maintenance required to keep my legs healthy. Setting aside time to stretch, ice, compress, recover and fuel are a must.

    I ran injured causing a greater injury. I was sidelined for a year. A year of expensive, torturous physical therapy. Therapy that will not change the fact that I have a benign tumor in my right leg (discovered during said therapy).

    I question every.single.step. I am slowly learning to trust the process. All we can do is put in the work and trust it will be enough to get us across the finish line with healthy legs.

    What you are experiencing is normal. It is what makes crossing the finish line that much more exhilarating! One step at time, right? You are doing great.

    I am unofficially training for a half on March 1. I’m waiting to see how my legs hold up with the millage. So far so good.

  7. Oh, Jenna – a marathon! I am so proud of you for doing this. I am hoping to run the Cape Cod Marathon in October. (We’ll see how the Buffalo Half goes this spring…) I’ve slacked off on my training because of the weather but your weather is just as bad as ours…I should probably get back out there, shouldn’t I? xo

  8. Jenna for me running has been a love hate thing. It was dependent on the day. Now that injury has temporarily sidelined me I truly miss it.

    You are right it is not easy but in the end worthwhile. I have a picture that was taken at my first Pittsburgh half as well as one from training and in both I have a big smile on my face but it was anything but easy.

    I enjoy reading your updates. As simple as it sounds I am trying to be ready for a 5k in the spring. This year for me it will be a milestone.

    I have friends who are running the Pittsburgh marathon so I will be out there cheering for you and them in May.
    Thanks for sharing.

  9. I try to smile as much as I can when I run too. It makes me feel good when I just don’t.

    Training for my first half in Sept @ 49. I love how I feel after I run… for the next 48 hours (I know.. newbie) but running is hard.

    So great that you make it look so easy… even when we all know it isn’t!

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