Downsides to Running a Marathon

It's no secret how much I love running, especially long distances.  But there are some downsides, or at least some things that one ought to consider if training for marathons.  Read all about them here, in my latest piece for POPSUGAR, or below:

Running a marathon is a huge accomplishment. No matter what one's finish time is, crossing the finish at 26.2 miles is a major milestone in anyone's life. Whether it's a first marathon or a 50th marathon, it is the culmination of months of training, time, and above all, dedication to running. The feeling of elation and self-awe is something that never really leaves you when you finish. Even the most confident runner will remember his or her first marathon, and that feeling of "I did this" will stay with them forever. It's an amazing feeling to accomplish something so big after months of wondering how it could be possible to get there. Despite all this, there are some downsides to consider when running a marathon.

1. Marathons may make you gain weight

Think all that running and high mileage weeks will make the pounds melt off? Think again. When you're running, you need fuel. You'll probably be hungrier than ever before. You'll also be gaining muscle. If you're not varying up your routine with pace, intervals, and elevation, your body may start to adjust to one thing and therefore be less efficient about burning calories. If you're not careful, weight gain can happen. If this is the case, pay attention to eating more balanced meals during training — full of healthy protein and whole grains — so you'll stay fuller for longer. 

Of course, gaining a couple pounds isn't necessarily a bad thing, as a lot depends on your perspective. If you feel stronger and proud of what your body can do, then embrace those few extra pounds. If the unexpected weight gain causes you to feel down on yourself or you feel like it's somehow hindering your performance, figure out why this may make you unhappy and reconsider what your primary goal was when training for the marathon. Never define your self-worth by the number on the scale. Training for a marathon should not be about trying to lose weight, or certainly not the primary reason. It may be a time goal, just finishing the race, overall self-improvement, or becoming a stronger person — physically and mentally. 


How I Came to Terms With Running







2. Marathons may hurt your immune system

Regular exercise is great for your immune system, but sometimes too much exercise or extremely taxing workouts can actually suppress or weaken it. If you're like me and have found yourself consistently coming down with a cold either right before a marathon or immediately following one, you know firsthand this is true. Certainly proper rest and nutrition can help counter this, but it's worth acknowledging that running a marathon can be hard on not only your muscles but the rest of your body's systems. That's yet another reason why one should allow one's self to fully recover in between intense workouts and certainly following a macro-training cycle (i.e., training for a marathon).


Runners, Please Don't Skip This After Your Next Run!


3. Marathons increase your risk of injury

Statistically, the higher the mileage, the higher the risk of injury. Running so many miles and so frequently may also exacerbate old injuries — or create new ones. So, in training for any long distance race, you'll need to be extremely careful with how you progress the more you spend time running and logging high mileage. It's very important that when beginning any training plan, no matter what the distance, there is a base-building period before the training season even starts. During training, it's so important that you allow yourself at least one or two rest days each week, and on your easy running days, you slow your pace and your effort down significantly. Doing too much, too soon, is one of the cardinal rules of what not to do when running or exercising in general, as this will inevitably lead to over training and injury.

4. Marathons are addicting

It's true that when you accomplish something you didn't think you could ever do before, you might want to do it again. Races tend to be like this . . . especially marathons. You finish one, and then you realize that maybe you could either do better next time, or maybe you crave that feeling of accomplishment all over again, so you sign up for another race. 

When I decided to run my first marathon, I had only previously run a half-marathon and was an inexperienced runner. I probably did everything wrong in my training and during the race in terms of strategy, nutrition, hydration, etc., yet I still finished with a decent time. Even though I could barely walk in the days that followed, I knew I had to do another. I wanted to be faster. I wanted to say that I could run a marathon in under four hours. I wanted to be smarter about my training the next time around. Now, eight years later and seven marathons under my belt, I'm a Boston Marathon qualifier, and yet I still want to run to beat my current PR. I know at some point I will "hit a wall" and start to slow down — this is inevitable — but because I accomplished something I never thought I would be capable of doing, I wonder if I can do better than before. So can self-improvement be a bad thing? Perhaps. One needs to be very careful not to push your limits too much. This could lead to physical injury, burnout, or being so compulsive that running comes at a sacrifice to the rest of your life. Allow running to be just a part of your life, but don't let it consume you. 

5. Marathons change your perspective

After running a marathon, suddenly a half-marathon or 10k and definitely a 5k can seem too short. When you train for a marathon, you're used to thinking about distance in terms of "long runs" or "medium" runs, combined with tempo, intervals, and hill workouts — which are still usually more than a couple miles. During training, short runs sometimes get sidelined, or aren't thought of as very important as they tend to get classified as "shakeouts" or "warm-ups." Running two, three, or even four miles may be perceived as not a legitimate running distance. Yet it shouldn't be this way. Running any distance — no matter how far or how slow is a workout. It's always better than the alternative. But after taking a hiatus from running, whether by choice or because of injury, starting all over is really hard. Suddenly, a "short" run feels incredibly difficult, as if it's a marathon itself, and yet it's nowhere near the distance of one. This can be a huge blow to one's confidence. Try to separate the past and the present. There will always be a constant urge to compare your new self to your old self. Think about the marathon that you ran as a physical accomplishment and the "starting over" as more of a mental test. Move past the negative thoughts, and just focus on the very act of moving forward.

Despite these drawbacks, there are so many wonderful things about training for and running marathons, but it's worth being realistic about our reasons for doing so. Especially when trying something new, it's always important to factor in the pros and cons. Since most people spend months training for a marathon, it's important to know that there can be downsides when deciding to train for one. And, while marathon participation is at an all time high, this doesn't mean they are for everyone. Just because you may not have run a marathon, a half marathon, or any race distance for that matter, doesn't mean you're less of a runner than the experienced marathoner. What matters is that you move, and you allow running to be part of who you are, but not let the distance you decide to run define you.

Motherhood and Running: the BQ and Pregnancy Conundrum

(This post originally appeared on CityCoach's website, as a guest blog post.)  

 I’m a mother, runner, and a Boston qualifier.  But I will likely not be able to run the race that I qualified for (and got in), because I am pregnant again.  Here is my story.

I was never a super-star runner, so when I first started to run marathons, I never thought that qualifying for the Boston Marathon was even a possibility for me.  Just getting across the finish line feeling strong and happy was the goal.  But over the years, race after race, I gradually chipped away at my times, and each time, the goal was to go faster than before.  The more I ran, the more my goals shifted.

When I became a mother, my goals and priorities continued to change.  For me, and I’m sure for other active mothers AND fathers, finding time to run (and train) became even more a balancing act.  There were times when I questioned if some of my running goals were realistic or “worth” my time and effort. And in the early weeks postpartum, just getting outside felt like a huge victory from a time management standpoint and also my mental and physical wellbeing. It was incredibly important not only for my overall health that I continued to be active, but it became more a part of who I was as a person: it gave me a bigger sense of purpose.  Having longer term goals--whether it be time specific, or more general ones--was incredibly important as a new mother, as it is so easy to “lose” one’s self in the crazy world of parenthood.

A few months before giving birth to my son, I decided to sign up for a marathon, held less than 5 months after his due date, as I thought (a bit naively) it would be a great way to "bounce back."  Of course, after I gave birth, I took much longer to recover than I ever anticipated, so that left basically 11 weeks to train for the race.  I took training run by run, week by week, but I managed to do the minimum.  When I ran the race, I ran conservatively and didn’t have specific time goal in mind--just to feel good the whole way.  When I crossed the finish line at 3:45, it was a total shock, as not only was it a PR, I realized that if I could finish in that time with minimal training, then qualifying for the Boston Marathon was a feasible goal.

The next marathon I signed up for was held another 5 months later, with the primary goal of qualifying for Boston.  This time, I trained a lot harder: hill repeats, interval training, speed work, tempo runs, etc, and also bumped up my weekly mileage significantly more than ever before.  This was much harder to do as a full time working mom, who also was still actively breastfeeding, but I knew that I needed to do this for myself.  I knew I would regret it if I didn’t at least try.  Just like when I trained for the first postpartum marathon, I took it week by week.  It helped to really “pace” myself during my training, as sometimes I was just too tired to push myself 100%.  And that is normal.  When you have a big goal in mind, it’s easy to get too obsessive and then caught up in the self-doubt periods: thinking about the bigger goal too much is counter-intuitive and can be daunting.  It’s the constant balancing act--reminding yourself every so often of your larger goal so you have something to focus on, but also being “present”--and always trying to remain positive and yet realistic.

When I ran the race, it was harder than I expected (it was a marathon, after all), but I pushed through and achieved my goal.  The last few miles I was way off pace but I kept chanting “Boston, Boston” in my head, and then would alternate it with my son’s name, over and over again to block out the negative thoughts.  My BQ time was near 4 and half minutes under the qualifying standard, so I knew that that was sufficient buffer time to get in.  So, when I got the official email nearly a year later from the Boston Athletic Association (BAA), it was icing on the cake. But, literally 2 days later, I found out I was pregnant.

The BAA current policy states “refunds or deferments of bib numbers for the Boston Marathon will not be granted for any reason, including injury, pregnancy, military exercise or deployment, and family emergencies.”  So, women who happen to get pregnant (like me), who want to run the race have basically two choices: still run the race (in my case, I would be almost 8 months pregnant), or cancel their entry and have to retrain, run and qualify for another marathon.  

When I read these rules after I found out I was pregnant,  I initially felt like I had never qualified and got accepted into the race.  Like it was “my mistake” for “allowing” myself to get pregnant slightly earlier than planned, or that as a “maternal age woman,” I really couldn’t have it all: run Boston and have young children at the same time.  If you’re due in June 2017 like I am, even if you were an elite runner, if you were to try to run another race to re-qualify, it wouldn’t even be feasible to do so for the mid September cutoff for qualifying times.  So, my hopes of running Boston won’t be until 2019.  

Certainly if the BAA does change the rules to allow for deferments or refunds for reasons of pregnancy, this could potentially be Pandora’s box (Would one need to have proof of medical record? How far in advance would one need to notify them? What if there was a termination or loss of pregnancy after deferring, could you retract the deferment?).  While I’m not advocating strongly for the BAA to change the rules for reasons of pregnancy alone (especially not over some of the other valid reasons they state), it does make me think how much harder it is for women athletes--especially those that want to be and are mothers--to achieve their goals.  Either one meticulously plans when they want to have children around their training and goal races (which anyone trying to get pregnant will tell you this is pretty hard to actually do!), or one has to delay their goals (whether it be having children, or their race goals).  

For me, who isn’t a “naturally” fast runner, it’s hard enough to train for the Boston Marathon and get in, but adding being a mother on top of this further complicates it.  Even if one is super active during pregnancy, your physical capabilities start to drop the bigger you get (you’ll inevitably get slower, and most women will eventually stop running completely before their eighth or ninth month, if not before), and then post-partum, you have to build in recovery time immediately after the birth, and then slowly build your way back up.  It’s months essentially away from running completely or certainly being in peak physical shape before and immediately after a baby.  And months more to get back to what you used to be.  

Perhaps becoming a mother is a choice, as is choosing to run.  But as a mother and athlete, for me, I find that both are key to having more of a balanced healthy life.  Can we really have it all?  We can try. Being an athlete makes me a more focused and centered mother.  Frankly, it’s become part of who I am and one of the things I most love.  Being a mother makes me have more perseverance, better time management, and gives me sense of larger fulfillment--which also carries through in my running.   While I may not be running the Boston Marathon anytime soon, this experience has given me an even deeper appreciation for my fellow mother athletes--novice and elite--it’s a new sisterhood that I am now part of.  And yet it’s a struggle.  We’re faced with a lot of obstacles that we have to overcome especially as we return to the sport:  the physical ones (the general postpartum recovery, a bladder that will never be the same, never sleeping enough or the same way again), and also ones that we can’t control, like not being able to run a race that we qualified for because life got in the way.  But just like any training cycle, hardships makes us stronger: we set new goals, we overcome the negatives, and we move forward.  Hopefully just faster, stronger, and more focused than ever before.

Running a marathon...pregnant.

Earlier this fall, I found out I was pregnant again. The timing was a little earlier than what we had originally planned for, but you take what you get when you want a baby!  I was in the middle of my own training (to try to improve my BQ time), plus doing a lot of coaching, including training a group for a marathon.  I also had been asked to pace the NYC marathon by New York Road Runners.  With approval from my doctor, I still kept what I had planned to do (minus trying to PR in a marathon I was supposed to run 2 weeks after NYC).   My level of fitness remained pretty high until the last few weeks of coaching (this was towards the end of my first trimester)...basically around the time we had to do our two-20 milers.  I managed to do both with the group, but it did leave me even more tired than I normally would have been.  Also, this was right around the time I noticed my cardio level was not what it had been...after all, being pregnant, I now was pumping 30-50% more blood.  So an 8:00min/mile felt basically like a 7:00min/mile.  

Still, the pace that I had been assigned to run for the marathon (9:20min/mile) was still "conversational," as my doctor advised me to run anyway, but a few weeks away from the race, I knew it was going to "feel" like more of an 8:20-8:30min/mile pace.  Still feasible, but it was going to be a bit more of challenge than what I thought.  

Anyone who has run NYC before, knows that there are basically 2 races: getting to the start, and the race itself.  The race doesn't start until late morning, which is actually basically lunch time as the date always falls the day after Daylight Savings Time. So while it takes you 3+ hours to even get to the start, by the time you're there, your stomach is telling you to EAT.  Add being pregnant to that, you have to have to have a rock solid fueling plan. 

Even though I've run NYC a few times before, for some reason, it took me even longer to get to the start (probably because I was assigned to a later start time), so by the time I got to the start village, I was famished.  Like ready to grab the first piece of food I saw, even if it was on the ground! While I had brought some food with me, I knew I had to to save it for the race (I don't use Gu's or gels, I get by with good old fashioned Fig Newtons!).  Fortunately, as a pacer, we had our own (heated!) tent that was catered with bagels, bananas, muffins, oatmeal, name it, any sort of carb was there.  I grabbed two bagels, scarfed them down, then grabbed my pacer sign and ran to my corral.

Fast forward...the race.  First of all, I love the NYC marathon--the energy you get from the incredibly supportive crowds, seeing runners from all over the world, running through so many neighborhoods, etc. Running it is usually a breeze in relative terms--it goes by really quickly as there are lots of distractions.  Pacing it is a different thing.  I had to be as consistent as possible with my pace, which is pretty hard to do when running a marathon, but REALLY heard to do when running with 50,000+ other people.  Especially when you're assigned to start in a slower corral...basically, I spent the bulk of the race zigzagging, trying to get around other runners, and then decelerating and then quickly accelerating when hitting a "wall" of runners (or sometimes walkers), just trying to keep to my pace.  Oh, all the while holding a sign the whole time...normally it's very light, but it was very windy that day, so at times I had to hold it with both hands.

To add to this, I had to make sure I stayed hydrated the whole race.  That was the number one thing my doctor warned me about--it's not so much about over exertion, or higher heart rate that is a concern (which you probably won't get anyway if you are running at conversational pace), it's really making sure you don't get dehydrated as a pregnant runner.  So because the pace felt like a faster pace than what my watch said, it was really critical that I stop at the bulk of the water stations.  But...the result of being hydrated meant that I had to pee...the one thing I was actually worried about!  I've NEVER had to stop and pee during a race before, but when you're's sort of inevitable (especially if you've had a kid before, let's get real, here.)  That feeling occurred around mile 15...I told myself that maybe it was in my head and maybe it was a phantom feeling.  Nope.  The feeling got stronger and stronger.  Of course at that point, I was on one of the busiest stretches of the course: First Avenue.  I finally waited until about mile 18...then I could not hold it anymore. There were port-a-potties but there were lines...I knew that I didn't have time to waist to stand in line.  So I literally jumped behind a bench and dropped my pants.  Sometimes you have to do what you have to do.  No shame.

After this, I felt so much better, but I had to make up for the 15-20 seconds I had lost.  So much harder to do late in the course!  But I managed. After the Bronx, around mile 21-22, I started to feel really tired.  Again, if it was "my" race and I wasn't pacing, I'd have probably slowed down, but I was so focused on consistency, that I pushed through. I definitely wondered if it was the "right" thing to do--to push myself, or to listen to my inner fears of would I harm the baby if I pushed myself, or was this normal, etc.  I grabbed more water & gatorade which helped, and I saw a friend who yelled my name, which really gave me a surge.  Once I entered the park, I was still a couple seconds behind, but I got the second wind I needed.  When I saw the finish line, I grabbed a strangers hand who seemed to be on the struggle bus and said, we can do this together--it was literally reaching out to someone else and voicing out what I was supposed to tell myself--that helped.  

I finished at 4:04:46, which was 14 seconds under what I was supposed to finish (ideally we are supposed to finish under 30 seconds of our posted finish time)...which was perfect pacing.  I felt like a rockstar for doing this.  Physically?  Not so much.  When I crossed the finish line, I felt exhausted.  Thirsty.  Even a little sore.  But I reminded myself...I am nearly 3 months pregnant. I just ran a marathon. Not just any marathon, but the most crowded race in the world.  With even paces.  Carrying a sign.  A harder feat to do than I gave myself credit for.  

Would I do it again?  Maybe, just maybe not pregnant. There were so many other both physical and mental factors I hadn't really thought about too much going into the race.  Even though my doctor told me to go for it and was very supportive, there were times (especially when I was starting to struggle physically) that I questioned if it was the best decision or even "safe."  Of course it was, especially as a very active person (and a person who has been consistently running for years), but it still was on my mind.  Maybe it was superstition, especially as I was still in my first trimester.  I think it's natural to doubt yourself, but when you feel responsible for not only yourself but also the little person inside you, that's a lot of pressure.  And as pacer, I was responsible for keeping a consistent I think in retrospect it was too much to put on myself.  But I did it (and now in the second trimester as I write this, the baby is fine), and I learned something more about myself and also my body's limits.

Women's Running Magazine article!

You know when there is something on your 'to do list' but months and months go by and it's still there?  Well, this past week, I finally dug up a piece of writing about my postpartum marathon journey, and submitted it to Women's Running Magazine.  Since I didn't know anyone there, and had no idea if they accepted unsolicited material, I figured there wasn't much chance they would even consider publishing excerpts.  But, still worth trying.  

Well, to my surprise, they got back to me immediately saying they loved the piece, and they would publish portions of it this week as a lead-in to their Mother's Day features.  How awesome is that?!

You can read the whole piece here.


A lot has happened since my debut "postpartum marathon" addition to a couple intensive projects as an Event Producer, I decided to get a RRCA certification as a running coach.  And...ever since I ran a 3:45 marathon...I decided to make it a goal of qualifying for Boston.  If I could run a 3:45 marathon on the most minimal marathon training schedule ever (or in my experience), I thought knocking off 10 minutes was certainly possible.  Difficult, but not impossible.

After 3 months of solid training, I knew I was ready.  My training had consisted with the typical speed workouts, tempo runs, and hill repeats, plus long runs that is in most marathon plans...but some of this was actually new territory for me (up until this point, I had actually never incorporated speed or hill repeat sessions in my marathon training....oops.)  But it seemed to really work for me this time.  I also had run 2 x 20 mile runs (again, all other times I trained for a marathon, I only had done 1 x 20 miler, not two), and my last one was super solid--a 2:42:44, or 8:08 per mile--that's FAST for me.  I knew that even if I ran this pace (or certainly faster), I could totally BQ.  In fact, my reach goal was actually a sub 3:30 (3:25 ideally).  Regardless, I was ready.

Race day arrived.  I did my usual "postpartum race day routine" (wakeup super early, breastfeed/pump, eat, bathroom, gear check, dress, eat again)...then was bussed to the start.  Then we were off.  I chose to run with the 3:20 pacer...I figured I'd start a little fast, then scale back as needed.  This wasn't necessarily a "mistake"...but I should not have run with this specific pacer (of course I could not have known this).  Around mile 10, I started to feel more tired than I should have been this early on.  Up until that point, I hadn't really looked at my watch much.  But when I did...I knew I was in for trouble.  I had run a few miles at a 7:20-7:25 pace.  That's way to fast for me.  My sweet spot should be been more in the 7:40-7:50 range for the marathon...nothing under 7:30.  When the pacer made a comment that "he was running by feel"...that was a huge red flag.  (Pacers are supposed to run consistently even splits, and this guy was definitely not.)  I started to fade back, and told myself to run your own race.

The middle portion was tough...unusual for a's usually the last few miles for me!  It was partly due to my confusion about pacing...and my early fatigue.  By miles 16-17, I got my pacing back on track and kept repeating "BOSTON" in my head.  But around mile 21...I really hit the wall.  Hard.  Mentally and physically.  Maybe it was the guy puking his guts out in front of me that did it, or another guy who looked crazy fit but was just walking by then...or the fact that my fueling strategy that worked for me in my training runs was just not working anymore.  Or the fact that I started to feel really tired 13 miles in.  I felt so sick to my stomach...and my legs felt like lead.  And I felt like it was a death march.  This specific marathon (the Mohawk Hudson) may have been true to how it was listed (flat, fast), but there were NO CROWDS.  We were on a bike path near a highway and there was no one to cheer us on.  So I had to dig deep, and fight the urge to walk.

I kept going.  Those last 5+ miles were probably the toughest I've ever run.  But I pushed on.  When I entered into the finish area, and crossed the finish line, I wasn't even smiling. I looked at my watch...a BQ.  I still had managed to qualify by over 4 minutes.  But instead of elation...I was just happy to be done.  It was only after I managed to get properly hydrated, where it really stared to sink in.  I had DONE IT.  I set out to achieve something and I did it.  10 months postpartum.  While my racing strategy and mental game was not what I had planned for...and while I didn't get a sub 3:30 which was my reach goal, I still qualified for Boston, which was my primary goal from the start.  That's all that mattered.