Couch to Marathon = One Extremely Hacked Off and Opinionated Blogger

I’m going to attempt to be delicate in this post, which is not one of my talents.  I’m getting ready to criticize someone about her running, which feels so wrong.  I don’t like attacking anyone personally, and I hope this lovely woman never stumbles across my blog (please, dear sweet lady, don’t find my blog because I do love you!), but I do hope to make a few points that other beginning runners might take not of based on the example.  I’m also wondering if I’m totally offbase in my thinking, and I’m hoping some readers will comment and give their thoughts.

In short, I’m going to be mean.

So let me get comfortable on my high horse, and here goes…

I follow a foodie blog.  Actually, I follow several, which I find pretty amusing since I am often found oogling beautiful recipe pictures while feeding my family the nutritional equivalent of a Hot Pocket.  I love to bookmark recipes that I (usually) never make, and I love these bloggers’ writing style (ever read Smitten Kitchen?  She is to die for, and don’t get me started on her recipes and photography!)

A few weeks ago, a certain blogger started writing about her marathon training.  Out of the blue.  Suddenly she’s on Week 1 of a program.

Say wuh?

I read the first post and felt confused.  She listed her music and her gear (she’s got a Garmin–I’m jealous!), but not one word on WHY she was doing this (which is not a big deal to most people but is the biggest beginning question to me.)  Her reasons may be private and not ones that she wants to share, but still…where is this coming from?

I didn’t recall ever reading about her running, but I wasn’t sure how long I’ve been following her.  I was going to search her blog for previous posts, but then I saw her mention in a reply to a comment that she did a Couch to 5k program last fall and then got sidelined by tendonitis in her foot for six months.  She’s recently started running again using the same program and is running 3x/week.

Oh no.  Oh please no.

Her Week 2 post described how she now considers herself a real runner because Week 2 of training is in the books, she ran a longer distance than she’s ever run in her life (5.65 miles) and she liked it.  Though her program only called for a long run of 4 miles, she ran 5.65 instead (um, why?), jogging up to five minutes at a time and taking walk breaks.

My brain was screaming.  It took every part of restraint I have not to leave a comment begging her to stop.  I looked through the comments to see if any other readers were runners who might offer a gentle word of caution, but all I saw were comments like “you go, girl” and “oh, you’re such an inspiration”.

Oh my goodness.  I’m a train wreck now.

Week 3 is now behind her, and things didn’t go so well.  She is now over a 15:00/mile pace for her long run (just over 6 miles), had to limp home in excruciating pain because of her foot, but is still counting the weeks until her marathon (25 to go!)

I have to wonder at this point…what program is this person following?  What running expert devises a program for non-runners to get to a marathon in 28 weeks?  Who encourages that kind of nonsense?

Jeff Galloway, of course.

Most runners know of Jeff Galloway…at least the name, anyway.  I knew he was the advocate of the run/walk approach, which encourages running for a certain number of minutes (or seconds, I guess) and then walking briskly for a shorter duration.

After looking into it, he’s got a whole thing going with Disney.  Disney offers a number of races and events on their runDisney website (here.)  They are very inclusive, offer many events and encourage runners of all levels.  Jeff Galloway is their consultant, and he offers a number of training programs for runners of different abilities.  He emphasizes getting to the finish line “without injury or pain.”

Sounds good so far.  Let’s get people fit and off the couch.  Let’s offer some 5ks, 10ks, and maybe a lovely half-marathon or two.  Great for beginners!  I’m all in!

But here’s where I get pissed.  They offer a training program for the MARATHON for people who aren’t runners.  I almost barfed as I read it…

The runDisney program for beginners covers 28 weeks (plus the week after the race) and includes 3 runs per week–two 30-minute runs on Tuesday and Thursday and one long run on the weekends.  That run alternates every other weekend between a shorter distance and a longer one.  For example, for the first sixteen weeks of training, the long run alternates between 3(!) miles and a longer distance (17 miles in Week 16!)  For the first several weeks, the runner can run for 50 seconds and then walk for 10.

Further, from Week 17 to race day, the program calls for 3 runs of 20 miles or more, including a 26-miler in Week 25.  He urges runners to run 2 minutes per mile slower than their goal pace during these long runs and not to worry if their long run pace is slower than 16:00 per mile.  Are you serious?

Here comes the nasty…this is not running a marathon, people.  It’s just not.

I want to be a cheerleader.  I do.  I talk about how I want this blog to encourage people to run and how runners want others to join the club and find the joy and peace that running brings.  Running changes people’s lives, their health, their confidence.  It’s a big tent…come on in!

But I just can’t see this.  Not for the marathon distance.

Why the need to go from zero to marathon?  I try to recognize that everyone has different personalities, and I want to be respectful of that, but this is too much!  I ran for years before even considering running a race (too much the other way, I know), and then I ran several half-marathons, a 10k, a 5k, THEN thought about tackling 26.2.  And even then, I didn’t have to do it.  In fact, though a runner for many years, I always said I’d never run one…until I had a specific set of reasons for doing so.

I myself would see no joy in completing a marathon at such a pace.  That medal would mean nothing to me.  And though I realize that such a medal could mean EVERYTHING to someone else, someone who has come from nothing, who has maybe begun a life-changing process, it still makes me mad.

And that’s where I feel so guilty.

The marathon takes a tremendous toll on your body.  It’s a dance of muscles and joints and tendons, electrolytes and glycogen, mental endurance and months of training.  It requires discipline in a way that’s so different from any shorter distance.  It’s a gorgeous, ugly, taxing feat.  And though I’m certainly no elite, I felt confident that I was equipped to take it on.

And here’s the meanest thing I’ve ever written, and it shocks me a little…if someone goes from the couch to a marathon in less than eight months, and walks away with the same medal that I would, it dilutes it.  It disrespects it.  And that’s not an inclusive attitude, and so I feel terrible, because I know that those people would be so proud of themselves and would have worked so hard, just like I did.  Why can’t I just be happy for them?  How would I feel if I read an elite runner’s blog and they said the same thing about people who run the race at my speed?  What is wrong with me?  I might not be proud if I’d run a marathon at that distance, but why can’t they be?

I’m shocked that I feel that way.

Further, it makes me mad because I worry about people.  The capacity for injury is huge, and the desire to not quit weighs heavy when you’ve been training for months and are close to race day (trust me!)  You need to tackle marathon training knowing that you have to be able to LET IT GO if you get hurt, and where does that leave a beginning runner?  On the couch and inactive again!

I know I’m not an expert, and Jeff Galloway is, but only running 3x/week?  And then 3 20-mile + runs?  Huh?  I know these people are jogging super slow, but still—how do they not get hurt?  And when they’ve just gotten going and are feeling so good about themselves, it would be sad to get hurt.  I don’t want someone who is just beginning to run get derailed by injury because they’ve taken on too much, because then they need time to recover and then they will be starting from scratch again.  If they’d just built up slowly and maybe set a 10k as their first race, they would have a far greater chance of becoming a true runner, nabbing that first special medal and avoiding chronic injury.

If you’ve never run a 10k or half-marathon, you will not have a good sense yet of listening to your body, of understanding aches and pains and what signals your body is sending you—these are things that come from lots of running experience, and they are so helpful during training.

There are differences between types of soreness/pain and their location.  It matters when you feel pain during a training run and when and how it goes away.  Understanding how you should feel on recovery days and how you shouldn’t…knowing your level of energy, your sleep, etc. during training…these are things you need to be very familiar with before you tackle a 7-month long training commitment.  

I can’t imagine going through the training I went through last winter without the experience and knowledge my previous half-marathons gave me.  I also can’t imagine setting such a huge goal to start.  When I started running, my initial goal was just to better myself.  I built up to running 3-4 times a week and got comfortable with varying mileage and speed and getting to know how running affected my body.  That experience was invaluable.

If you’re a beginning runner and you’re reading this, please don’t hate me.  Please start slow…there is so much joy in the 5k to half-marathon distance, and those medals will make you so proud AND more likely to be a lifetime runner!  There is simply NO NEED to start with the marathon.  Please feel free to leave a comment or add your perspective!

If you’re the lady who I’ve singled out and you ever stumble across this post, please know that in spite of my doubt and my nastiness, I still wish the best for you! 

And if you’re a runner like me, please add any thoughts of your own.  Correct me, yell at me, agree with me…I just really wonder what other people think!