Running a marathon has become a milestone for many runners. Even a number of elite middle distance runners want to give it a shot at some point. And so it was for me (cross out the 'elite' part, in my case).
Running the last few miles of the Erie marathon, with every inch of my body screaming in agony, it finally dawned on me why experienced marathoners recommend that ideally before starting a marathon program, you should have been running about a year (probably closer to 2). You should be able to comfortably run distances between 3 and 6 miles. You should be training 3-5 days a week, averaging 15-25 miles a week. You should have run an occasional 5-K or 10-K race. (Hal Higdon). Even with that level of training prior to building the base, and a conservative race, be ready to endure a lot of pain.
But you can't tell a stubborn mule of a runner that, when her heart is set on 26.2 miles.
Of course, the reasons differ, as people's abilities vary widely. My problem was not endurance. I could easily have run 10 more miles and shaved a few minutes off every mile if I didn't feel like with each step after 18 miles, every muscle, tissue, bone and cartilage south of my abdomen was going through the meat grinder! My hips and knees in particular, were on fire. I just didn't have the strength.
Endurance builds gradually, core strength takes even longer to develop. And during my marathon training cycle, I focused on running and cross training (swimming in particular), and very little on strength training. My meager efforts at improving core and leg strength 2 or 3 days a week included 50 spiritless, 'get 'em done and move on' ab crunches, 15-20 minutes of free weights for the arms (and hips) and some weight training using leg weights (that do not even deserve mention). As a result, during the last hour of the race, though I was psychologically ready to keep going, physically I was reduced to jelly-fish.
After the marathon, I have had no desire to jump right into another marathon training cycle. I would definitely like to increase my mileage, maybe add some tempo training and core exercises into the mix, as well as cycling instead of swimming this time. But marathons can wait until I am confident my legs will not buckle underneath me at Mile 22. If I decide to go through 4+ hours of running hell again, I should have something to look forward to in the end! (i.e. a decent finish).
Feeling fine after a 5 mile run this morning, the itch to race has started again. The idea of running a half-mary, a 15K or 20K by the end of the year seems appealing right now...if only to sate my curiosity on how marathon training affects half-marathon performance. Is it going to be the Great Swamp Devil Run in Basking Ridge http://www.lordstirling.org/lssrun.html or the Philadelphia half-marathon http://www.philadelphiamarathon.com/page/half-marathon in November?