Training For & Running My First Marathon

This piece is not about what marathon training plan I used. It is not about what workouts I did or if they were on city streets, a track, or treadmill. It is not about my nutrition and meal plan while training. This piece is about a few of the many things I observed on runs and the marathon itself. It is about my meditative and reflective relationship with running. It is about facing my own doubts and anxiety in achieving goals and just living life. It is about my personal, mental, and emotional growth while training for and running my first marathon.

I faced a lot of my own personal demons throughout marathon training, but I can say with confidence that running never put me in a more negative mood. Some runs left me absolutely euphoric, some left me feeling mediocre, some kicked my butt and left me dead tired with worn, flaming legs. No matter how the workout went, all runs made me feel good. Thank you endorphins. This is not a new discovery, for me or for proven research on the benefits of exercise. What was a new discovery for me was training my mind as much, if not more, as my body, especially during long runs with mileages ranging from 14 to 20 miles.

Training for and running a marathon undoubtedly shaped my stamina and fitness to the best it’s ever been in my life. In each long run, I broke the circuit board for my mental and physical strength, setting a new boundary and continuing to push past it in the following weeks. Each week, each workout was a tiny journey of its own, and while it certainly was not all highly disciplined or polished, overall, each week I set a new standard for what I was capable of.

Each run was an opportunity to practice being in the present, checking in with myself mentally and physically. In each run I tapped into and practiced keeping my head space steady. I’d take mental notes of small, pleasurable sights and moments along the trail, to record them later in writing: a young girl wearing a tiny pink sequined backpack, a guy with long tied back hair and shaved sides walking his pet pig, an older gentleman wearing a shirt that said “I love pho” in black and white lettering, fleeting rainbows lined by dark grey puffy clouds, blossoming succulent flowers in the early spring, exchanging passing smiles from passing runners to validate our dedication before sunrise or in pouring rain.

During tough miles, self-doubt would sometimes creep in under a guise of self-preservation. I’d think about doing weekday morning workouts that afternoon as I lay groggy in my warm bed at 5:30AM. I’d think about cutting long runs short and heading back to my car so that I wouldn’t get sick. But I knew these were excuses so I tried my absolute best to keep going. I kept going and kept taking in the the seemingly huge, challenging aspects of difficult runs so I could push through and later recall on them for strength and determination: a cowardly catcall no more than three blocks from my apartment on a before run dawn, a few hundred feet of crying uphill during a rainy and windy 18-miler, words from people in my past that would eerily echo in my head saying “you’re not mentally strong, you’re just not worth it, you should keep things to yourself so that you’re not a burden.” 

In late January to early February, running had helped lift the heaviness of depression and anxiety from my chest. I felt focused and clear, unclouded by fleeting attention spans and depleted mental energy sources. Any existential dread I had about the world or my own life seemed to lift during and after my runs and positively effected my mindset in other areas of my life. I became meditative and grounded through running. That feeling lasted after the workout and with more running, the more I felt it and flowing motivation. But I remember very vividly after running my first ever 20-miler, that night, as I lay on my back in bed, trying to fall asleep, the pain in my chest settled in, like a dense rock was placed right on top of the space between my breasts. I counted on my tired body to easily fall asleep, but my heart and mind were whirrling awake. I started crying. I felt overwhelmed, I felt sad, and this was after my greatest physical accomplishment thus far. I realized that running was helping me cope with my own growing pains, but it wasn’t a cure. I was an important gear in the mechanisms of my personal growth

On race day, I told myself, today’s long run is 26.2 miles. Despite a much earlier wake up call of 4AM than the usual 6AM during training, I told myself the marathon was just another long run, not a race. If I didn’t tell myself this, I knew I would stand in my own way and or self-sabotage. I knew that nerves, anxiety, and my unhelpful ability to overthink everything and anything in the span of .02 seconds could derail my race day experience — if I let them.

I stuck to the same strategies I used during long runs, to practice being in the present and checking in with myself mentally and physically. I relished in moments along the course that made me smile: viewing the downtown LA skyline in the rising run at mile 1, reaching the top of a hill to view Walt Disney Concert Hall with a taiko drum soundtrack at mile 4, smelling chili dogs at mile 6, spotting the Burning Man symbol painted on the back of one runner’s t-shirt at mile 10, Yakult and red bean buns being offered at mile 24, rediscovering my love of orange slices upon eating them at many different points. I was also reminded of so many LA memories along the course: part of a viola lesson on the stage of Walt Disney Concert Hall during high school, senior prom in Hollywood, shows with my family at The Pantages, my first warehouse party upon moving back to SoCal last year, new memories with new and old friends in West LA as part of my twenty-something life. The race route was the best tour I’ve ever had in LA and also a trip down memory lane, one way on the path reminiscing and feeling pride for the, the other towards new growth and nurturing the relationships I’ve been so lucky to create and have here.

Running my first marathon was incredibly surreal. My senses felt like a digital reel downloading and recording its surroundings, running out of mental storage near the end, where I remember not being able to think in complete sentences other than “you got this,” and recalling a dream I had about running towards the ocean as I was running along the ocean in the last mile. While I’ve done my best to savor the post-celebration of completing the training for and running my first marathon, the experience has left me feeling empty. I welcome in varying my workouts and setting other goals,  but I am also excited and looking forward to my next race, continuing to grow and learn about myself in my reflective and meditative relationship with running.