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!

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21 thoughts on “Couch to Marathon = One Extremely Hacked Off and Opinionated Blogger

  1. I love a spiky post. I wish more people laid it all out there like this (including me!) – so for that congrats. I think you have a point about going from zero to marathon, although lots try it. If you want to use the marathon as a vanity display – watch out, the road will find you out!! However I don’t agree that someone run/walking a marathon disrespects the medal. In fact I think these people are the real heroes on raceday. I am blessed that I can run without occassionally walking and I still ound a marathon VERY hard. I can’t imagine how much determination it takes to do a marathon if, due the way Mother Nature made you, you can only run for 9 minutes at a time. But that’s my opinion and your post is awesome.

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    • I think you are way more on target than I am. I remember writing a post several months back where I lauded the determination of those slow runners and talked about how people shouldn’t exclude them from the category of “real” runners. That was partly why I was shocked to write the words and realize that I felt that way upon reading that person’s blog–like “where is this coming from?”. Love hearing your perspective…opens my eyes a bit! And I love a spiky post too!

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  2. I agree with you. It takes experience running and training to help a runner take on the commitment of the first marathon. Honestly, it would be great if she stumbles across your post (or anyone else of the like) because guidance from others is also key. I learned so much from my runner friends training for my first marathon last year. And she’s not the only one who would benefit from some honest advice. I’m a member of a FB group for a particular marathon and a new member who will be running the marathon as her first proudly posted that she was going to run 30-mile training runs each weekend until race weekend! Luckily, others listed all the ways this was ridiculous!

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    • Great points! The guidance of others is key…it just takes so much training, and I just think your body needs a certain amount of experience with running, no matter how slow or spread out a training program might be. I would be interested to see how long that group member lasts!

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  3. I take no issue with folks who want to run/walk a marathon and are proud with that accomplishment. Some people are not built to run for 26 straight miles no matter how much they train but I don’t think that should deter them from entering the race and running as much as they can.

    But you’re right about a lot of things and I don’t agree with this person’s approach at all. She hasn’t even attempted running long enough to know if she is one of those people who simply can’t run the whole thing. Since she has chosen a marathon as her first race it sounds like someone who is in it for the attention and ego boost she would get from running a marathon not because she actually likes running or wants to enjoy the sport for the long term. I feel like this is becoming prevalent now that running is gaining so much popularity. People are saying “I want to be a bad ass and run a marathon.” When they should be saying, “I want to become a runner.” If a marathon is someone’s first goal I would be amazed if they ended up continuing and enjoying the sport after they crossed that finish line (if they do at all). Because marathons are brutal. And I can’t imagine how brutal this person’s will be if they have seriously never raced before and haven’t had a chance to learn how to eat, dress, and otherwise prepare for a race day. I forsee a lot of chaffing and gastrointestinal problems. Just sayin’.

    A lot of aspects of the training plan seem insane as well. 3 plus long runs of 20 miles or more? Yikes. My beginner plan had one 20 miler!

    Sorry I just wrote like a whole blog post in response to your blog post. But I just couldn’t not!

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  4. Hi! I’m new to running and I really enjoyed your post! I’m running a half marathon in November and just finished my first 5k (though horribly slow) and am also doing a 10k in September. I love challenging myself (which the half marathon will definitely be), and as a result am now considering a further challenge. I’d really like to get your thoughts on this because I do agree with a lot of what you’re saying and as running is still very new to me, I don’t want to bite off more than I can chew. So any advice you have for me (even if it’s “this is not a good idea”) is much appreciated!

    I’m considering doing the NYRR’s 9+1 program to guarantee entry into the 2014 New York Marathon. So I’d have to run 9 NYRR races and volunteer at 1 by the end of 2013 to qualify. I don’t have to run any of them in a certain time (just before the course closes) and all but one that I’m considering are under 5 miles (most are 5k). I’ve checked my training schedule and none of the races would force me to run further than my training has (theoretically, I suppose) trained me for. If I did it, I’d have about a year from my half to prepare for the marathon. My idea would be to complete the 9+1 program then do more races in the Spring (including another half) and then start training for the marathon.

    I know this is a really long-term plan and perhaps too long-term, but I’m the type of person who gets complacent without a challenge in front of me. Your post is sort of relevant to my situation (though maybe it just stood out to me because my mind is thinking about it) so I’m interested to get your input (and any other runners, really!). Thanks!

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    • Hi! Thanks for reading…so glad you’ve found running! You sound a lot like me…I like a challenge and need to have goals, but I’m fairly methodical and like to do things carefully. I want goals that I can reach. Though I’m no expert, I think your plan sounds great. You will know a lot more how you feel about distance running after you complete your November half marathon, as well as your body feels about it. The marathon distance is truly taxing, and doing the half first (as well as incorporating a nice time period between that and your marathon) will help you start to build that base that I think is so necessary before beginning marathon training. It also will give you time to be flexible, to adapt as circumstances come up, time to rest as needed and (hopefully NOT!) to deal with injuries and small setbacks if they occur without throwing your whole plan off schedule.

      As for your 9 races, all races are good experience, regardless of the distance. You’ll learn so much. And though I may have sounded harsh in my post, I didn’t really mean to be and wish I’d stated things better. I don’t care how fast or slow someone runs, and there are MANY runners ahead of me in every race who would scoff at my times. I just want beginning runners to be patient and work up to the distance…as another commenter said, to desire to be a runner first and foremost.

      I hope that you continue to love running and that my words might be helpful, and if you are blogging I will be sure to follow you! Best of luck!

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    • I don’t know f I am allowed to reply to a post on someone else’s blog – if I am making a huge etiquette blooper, please forgive me. I just want to say to onething to Ciara. Don’t be put off by all the talk your hear about the marathon being brutal etc. It is hard, but it is achievable if you build up to it and it sounds like you are taking a very sensible approach. Crossing the finish line of a marathon is one of the most exhilarating feelings you will experience. A massive sense of achievement. I ran the London Marathon last year and it ranks up there as one of the most enjoyable things I have ever done. Keep doing what you are doing and I for one look forward to your blog post on your New York Marathon finish in 2014 : )

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  5. I agree!!! I am in the first marathon group and I have no idea how I would have done this a year ago, let alone now!!! I understand your frustration. No need to applogize. Great post!!!

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  6. I appreciate your openness in a blogging world where so many people sugar-coat their words and don’t say it like it is. With that said, here are my thoughts on your post:

    1. Crossing the finish line is crossing the finish line. I don’t think how you get there: running, running/walking, or crawling makes a bit of difference or “disrespects” the medal. Running is personal to each one of us. We do it for different reasons, at different paces, and we shouldn’t be comparing this personal experience to one another.

    2. I listened to Jeff Galloway in person last year talk about his program. It is based on years and years of research and thousands of people. There are rationales for the things you criticize. Some things I remember (please don’t quote me because my memory is for shit). 1. He talked about anatomy and physiology and how evolution has created us to be run/walkers not solid runners. 2. I remember him talking about there being evidence that runners do better if one of their training runs is as long as the race. 3. He tracked injuries with different training plans and found that injuries are significantly less with this method over all-running training plans. 4. He spoke about how people can actually run faster with this method. He talked of numerous people that could not qualify for Boston with all-running plans but could qualify using his run/walk method.

    3. I know people that have trained for marathons using both methods and several actually preferred this method over all-running, citing that it was easier on their bodies. One of the coaches of my running group did it after being plagued with stress fractures during previous marathon trainings; she was injury-free with the Galloway plan and said that she was running again four days after her marathon. Crazy, I know.

    4. “Marathon purists” are mortified by the Galloway program. It sounds like you can put yourself in that category. 😉

    5. I see no problem with a 3x/week training plan. I don’t call myself a serious runner but have a fair number of 5Ks and 10Ks under my belt. I ran trained for and ran my first half marathon running just one day a week. My time was kick-ass (for me).

    6. I agree with you completely that starting with a marathon might be a bit ambitious. However, 8 months is a long time.

    Again, I appreciate your openness and love you as a blogger. I appreciate the opportunity to share my opinion and experience on the matter.

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    • I appreciate all your comments! And I definitely think I was off the mark. When I read your comments as well as some of the previous ones, I find myself agreeing with the thought that crossing the finish line is crossing the finish line, and I’ve written a lot about how the experience, the purpose, is different for all of us. I totally respect that! I think I just get a little frustrated about people who tackle the marathon as their first race with no running experience, which is not necessarily the same group of people.

      So if it works for someone and gets them running, you’re right–who cares how they get there or when they cross that line! But if they’re training for a marathon, I stand by my snarky comment about 3 runs per week…it’s just not enough. Of course, who am I vs. Jeff Galloway? 🙂

      Love ya (and love a good discussion!) Thanks for reading!

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  7. The wonderful thing about writing a blog is that YOU DON’T HAVE TO APOLOGIZE FOR YOUR OPINIONS!!!
    Seriously love, that’s what we do. We post our opinions, feelings, selfies, and do it all without apologies.
    That being said. You know that I am currently training for my second half with my third a couple of months later. You also know the pain that I endured trying to run my first without enough training.
    I can’t imagine taking on a marathon until much later.
    But that’s me and my story.
    I know a girl in my running club who recently ran her first marathon and qualified for Boston.
    Each one of us is different. In our bodies and our minds.
    If this girl wants to go from couch to marathon, bless her. I will cheer her on.
    We all know that there are snake oil salesmen out there with their magic energy potions and “easy” training plans.
    Sometimes we have to fall, repeatedly to know if running is what we want to do.
    But, do not, under any circumstance, allow someone else’s accomplishment diminish your own.
    If we start doing that, we’re all losers.

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    • I will cheer her on too…but I will be really nervous for her, because her chances aren’t good and that could keep her from sticking with running. I love your comment about needing to fail, though, and how it might show us if running is what we want to do. Well said! And as for your friend, kudos to her, but I have to imagine (especially since she joined a running club…sounds like a smart gal!) that she built up to it carefully, even if it was her first race. And I guess that’s what I want to see most of all! In my mind, if you’re not already running regularly with a strong base, even 28 weeks isn’t enough. Doesn’t mean this person can’t be the exception though, right? 🙂

      Everyone’s story is different…and I repeat that for you, I know you are going to kick butt on your next half!

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  8. You guys are all so smart. This is has been really interesting and fun reading everyone’s opinions. Such engaging conversations and so respectful, well done bloggers and PP!!!

    I have nothing to add other than this to the conversation other than you are a wise woman and I love reading your posts. You still freak me out, you are amazing.

    Love you!!
    TiffeeG

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