New York City Marathon Training Lessons

Jet lag is a real disease, people.

Side effects including being wide awake when you’d rather be sleeping, and being completely exhausted when it’s time to shine.

I used to secretly judge people who complained about jet lag, particularly upon returning from relaxing vacations in tropical places. But you know what? Their lives are hard! And jet lag is serious.

In other words, I’m tired and I don’t want to be.

I’m finally back in NYC after a week of traveling to various sunshine-y parts of the west coast.

The view from our photo shoot location. Hey Hollywood!

My trip was great, but packing a bachelorette party and a holy-crap-I-feel-like-my-career-rides-on-this-photo-shoot work trip into one excursion was a bit much for me.

First stop: Las Vegas. I have pretty friends.
Second stop: L.A. for a little Mia Michaels love-fest

Let’s talk about running, though, right? This was once a “running blog.”

So far this week I have thrown down 37 miles. That’s a lot for me. Today, thank God, is a rest day, and tomorrow I’m planning to knock out 22 miles, which will be my longest training run ever. If I do a shakeout limp/run Sunday, I could very well end up with my first-ever 60-mile week.

Last week I actually ran 57 miles, not 54 as I had originally claimed. Math is hard. Between the high-for-me mileage and the travel, I’ve learned a bit about my running self. Namely I’ve learned that I’m not sure high mileage (more than 40 miles per week for me) is my thing.

I love running a lot. I’d much rather run 10 miles than three miles because I enjoy being out there. The longer I can run, the happier I feel.


But my body may not agree, and I’m feeling pretty wiped right now. I’ve never looked forward to a rest day as much as I looked forward to today’s.

Yesterday, after a late arrival back in NYC and a fitful night of “sleep,” I did a ton of work and eventually shoved my sausage-like feet (I swear they are permanently swollen or something — or I just have chunky feet) into my Brooks. The plan was hill repeats, because I haven’t done much (any) of that this training cycle, and the New York City Marathon course is by no means flat.

So off to Cat Hill I went.

I was going to do a 2-mile warm-up, followed by eight repeats of Cat Hill. The hill isn’t too steep and it’s a quarter-mile long. Certainly a doable exercise on most days, right? But yesterday it hurt. I wasn’t going to worry about my pace — I was just focusing on my effort, which was a sprint up the hill and a “leisurely jog back down.”

And on the first one, oh did I sprint. I happened to glance down at my pace according to Garmin, and I saw a 5:55 — that’s the lowest number I’ve ever seen. It didn’t last longer than 8 seconds, but I did manage to do the entire first uphill sprint at a mostly sub-7:00 pace.

Overly ambitious? Yes. Exactly.

Because the following repeats weren’t nearly as fast. In fact, by the time I got to the final climb, my “sprint” was edging closer to my recovery run pace.


But I got them all done, so that counts for something, right? And I never got frustrated or discouraged, because I realize that peak week of training means running on tired legs and pushing through the sleepiness.

Also my jet lag. So hard.

So that’s where we are right now: Friday of Peak Week, and I’m loving it. I’ve never been one to add up my weekly mileage or care much about it, but I’m excited to potentially hit the 60-mile mark. And while my “training” since July has been subpar and I’m not quite filled with pre-marathon confidence, I have managed to fill my brain with worthwhile lessons along the way.

Now is the time when I share those “let me remind you I’m not an expert and I don’t know what I’m doing, but I’m a regular average runner with personal what-works-for-me knowledge” lessons with you.

This sign was hanging at our shoot location. I think applies to everything, ever.

Oatmeal is not a good pre-run breakfast for me. I am guaranteed to burp it up throughout the first 5–6 miles of my run. I went through a phase where I was eating oatmeal daily during the week. So I figured I’d give it a shot before a long run one day. I was so mad at myself. I don’t need to taste cinnamon and oats while I’m running.

Massages can be really helpful. A human can do things to your body a foam roller simply cannot do. Brian and I found this crazy-cheap massage place in NYC and we went there one weekend when I was feeling particularly achy. The massage hurt and it wasn’t relaxing, but I felt so much better afterward. I used to view massages as expensive, rewards-only treats, but now I recognize that they’re actually helpful training tools.

Also, can someone please give me back the $80 I lost on the Las Vegas slot machines so I can get a massage this weekend?

Damn you, Bellagio, for convincing me that the Wheel of Fortune slot machine IS going to make me rich. LIES. I’ve never seen a precious $20 bill slip away so quickly.

Not every ache or pain is an injury. When I was training for my first marathon, I was convinced that every twinge, every muscle spasm and every bug bite was the onset of a massive, end-of-running-career injury. This time around, I can better recognize when to push through and when to back off. I have learned to avoid Google at all costs, because then I discover that not only do a have a non-doctor-diagnosed stress fracture, I also have shingles, syphilis and SARS.

Stay off Google. Don’t push through too much pain. Know that some aches and pains are, as Coach Cane once told me, “par for the course” during marathon training.

Rest days are amazing. Last year, I didn’t take very many rest days. I was convinced I could just keep going going going, and when Coach Cane said to “rest” I’d sneak into a spin class but “promise to take it easy.” Now, I take rest days far more often for many reasons, and I truly rest. No spinning. No yoga. No “easy 8 miles run, easy swim, lifting and easy yoga.” When I rest, I park my butt on the couch, get my legs up and shovel food into my mouth. And the next day I almost always have a really good run. Go figure.


A sandwich thin with peanut butter and maybe a few (dozen) chocolate chips is also not a good pre-run breakfast for me. It makes me so full. I’m still working on figuring out my “perfect pre-run breakfast,” and I have no idea what I’m going to eat before the marathon since I don’t start running until 10:05 AM. But I know I get full pretty easily in the morning, so mini-meals will likely be the way to go.

If you’re not doing a long run at 6 AM on a Saturday morning, don’t bother going on Twitter, because everyone on there is running, probably farther and faster and earlier than you, and they want to make sure you know it. When I was injured and then when I was sick and unable to run, Twitter was my nemesis. I’d lay in bed (or, you know, casually check my feed from the bathroom, NBD) reading Tweets from my phone, and I would get legitimately upset. I realize this is no one’s fault but my own, but I had a really hard time reading about everyone else’s “OMG amazing” training when mine was nonexistent. I found myself getting incredibly jealous and as I morphed into psycho-bitch mode, I eventually realized that reading “I’M THE BEST, I’M GOING RUNNING TODAY!!!!!!!” updates wasn’t doing me any favors. I realized I had to just turn it off, stop worrying about what the rest of the running world was doing and go back to bed.

Similarly, just because everyone you know running the same marathon you’re running is doing an 18-miler one weekend doesn’t mean that’s what you should be doing. Training isn’t one-size-fits-all. Stick with your plan so you can run your race. Don’t get psyched out because you think other people are training more/less/harder/faster/better than you.

Yes, I just got my Hamptons Half Marathon photos, and yes I do plan to include ALL THE PICTURES in this post.

It’s OK to make marathon training your life. It’s also OK not to. For my first marathon, I was completely consumed with all things marathon. This time around? Not so much. And that’s fine.

You are not smarter than your coach. If you have a coach, it’s probably because you need help or advice or guidance and you want to become a better runner. Don’t bother trying to tell him “how many miles you think you should run this weekend.” That’s his (or her) job. Just shut up and run. And try not to complain too much along the way.

Don’t dwell on one terrible run. I probably had more bad runs this training cycle than good ones, and at some point I learned to be OK with that. The Tuesday after running a 50-mile week (including a 20-mile long run), I suffered through a miserable speedwork session. Two weeks prior, I had crushed the exact same mile repeats workout and felt great. But this time? I felt like I was dragging a sled behind me. A sled filled with bricks. And tap shoes. It was so difficult for me. I was bummed when it was over, and I wondered if I could have — or should have — pushed myself harder. I was frustrated for a bit, but I moved on faster than you can say “Donde esta the Honey Nut Cheerios?” I got over it.

One bad run doesn’t define a training cycle, and it doesn’t indicate how Race Day will pan out. I did, however, use the workout to see how I could avoid letting it happen again. Enter stepback week and an additional rest day.

No, maybe this photo DOESN’T have anything to do with taking rest days. BUT IT IS HILARIOUS! It’s a dog drinking out of a toilet!

Sometimes training just does not go the way you had anticipated. There are curve balls and things you can’t prepare for, which may leave you attempting to train for 26.2 miles in just eight weeks. This is the greatest lesson I’ve learned, and I’ve accepted that sometimes the best plan is having no plan at all. I’m learning to roll with the punches. There were factors I couldn’t control that prevented me from having the training I wanted so badly.

Turns out, the 2012 New York City Marathon isn’t the only marathon ever. Shocking, right? There will be more marathons. This isn’t my only shot. While ultimately I haven’t trained for this race the way I would have liked, I’m proud of the effort I’ve put in. I’m proud of the runs I pushed through, including the brutal hill repeats, the always-painful mile repeats and the easy morning runs that sometimes required 14 bathroom stops. Much of it wasn’t pleasant and it certainly wasn’t easy.

But it’s a marathon. It’s 26.2 miles of running — plus hundreds of miles of running leading up to the start line.

It’s not supposed to be easy.

Lesson learned.

YOU’VE GOT WISDOM, TOO, I BET: What lessons have you learned through marathon training? This is the best part. We share. And we all learn together.



31 Responses

  1. LOL “Stay off Google” for sure I’ve talked myself into shingles. I have a 10K race tomorrow and 13 weeks left in my first attempt at the marathon. I had a tough weight workout the other day and did a few different exercises along with heavier weights. I pulled some muscles. Google says its shingles. Im done with online self diagnosing. Cheers Ali!

    Quality over quantity + consistency = success.

  2. I especially like your advice on not letting injury or illness get to you. In the middle of my training, right when I was hitting the big miles, my left knee became excruciatingly painful. I have switched to doing lots and lots of cross training instead of the lots and lots of running. My coach assures me this will work. I’m not convinced, but I will still give it my all come marathon day.

  3. Ali,

    I started reading your blog about 2 months ago and love it. You are definitely great motivation for me on days when I’m questioning why I am getting out a bed early for a run. Anyway, I am doing NYC this year also, and I think I may have seen you on the Westside Highway this morning while you were on your 22 miler (I was on my second, and last, 20 miler). Not sure what point in the run this was for you but you looked really happy, very impressive that you can smile while running!

  4. I love your posts, Ali. Thanks for putting things into perspective for me.

    I have similar stomach ails, and I find that a banana does it for me before a longer run, accompanied by some coconut water (to help with dehydration from morning issues). On my run I bring some fuel (water + honey stingers, which sit well). I don’t run as far (just 1/2s), or nearly as fast (probably half your speed!), so it is probably not enough, but it tends to work well for the stomach side of things.

  5. I love this post. I get so caught up in social media running statuses sometimes and while focusing on other people’s runs, end up feeling so bad about my own! I am running NYC, hope to see you there!

  6. The most important thing I learned from this post is that the dog you featured is a boss. Both paws and a head in the bowl yo, is like cash money before payday.

  7. The Wheelnof Fortune slot machine is full of lies! I played it at the Bethlehem, PA Sands Casino, which is clearly as posh and glamourous as the Bellagio, and the wheel did not spin once.

    I can’t wait to yell motivational sayings to you on your long run tomorrow. By “motivational sayings” I really mean “hide in the bushes and jump out and scare you.”

  8. No full marathon training to impart, just half training.

    Even if you don’t want to do a training run, you still have to do it. And afterward you’ll feel better for having done it. I’m all about rest days, I’m the QUEEN of taking rest days. When I start to take too many rest days in place of training runs, my running really suffers and I spend the next week berating myself for taking too many rest days.

  9. Greatest lesson(s) learned during training this summer: (1) You can run a marathon if you don’t get to follow your ‘perfect’ plan. It prob wont be your fastest, but it can be done! (b) The race is legitimately 60% mental. There is NO WAY I would have been able to get my medal on Sunday if I would have believe it wasn’t possible. (c) rest days… or rest weeks in my case… can do WONDERS for your physical and mental health!

  10. “You are not smarter than your coach. If you have a coach, it’s probably because you need help or advice or guidance and you want to become a better runner. Don’t bother trying to tell him “how many miles you think you should run this weekend.” That’s his (or her) job. Just shut up and run. And try not to complain too much along the way.”

    This made me laugh because I people do this to me all the time. “Oh hey I’m feeling really good today can I run 7 miles even though you said I should only run 4? Also I am not sure about the pace you want me to run I’d really like to do it faster than that”

    I am with you on the high mileage weeks – I used to love the IDEA of doing 60+ mile weeks but whenever I reached that peak was when I seemed to get burnt out/ injured/sick or a combination of the three. I don’t think my body is meant for that many miles, at least not while I’m working full time and don’t have lots of free time to rest.

  11. I’ve been training for my first ever race (a 5k!) which is now a week away, and your posts always make me feel so motivated! In my little 5k training, I’ve learned that even if you don’t feel great in the middle of a workout, you will always feel proud of yourself for finishing it!

  12. I’ve learned that I need to be more flexible with my training plan. It’s okay to not hit a mile goal if pushing through could lead to injury or illness. It took a while for me to figure out what to eat before a run as well. An egg & cheese bagel sandwich works for me on long run days, some type of Luna bar for shorter run days. But I went through a lot of not so great options before I landed on these choices.

  13. I was training for the Chicago Marathon for this year. On labor day I starting getting bad pain in my hip and turned out I have a stress fracture. That meant no marathon. I was really upset (still am) because of all the work I put into my training. But I learned to be proud of training because the training in itself is a great accomplishment!

  14. I like the sound of Cat Hill. Is it full of cats? Because that would make me really happy.

    I have NO idea about race day breakfasts either…I’m thinking bagels/PNB for Sunday, but I’m not sure any PNB is safe at the moment.

    Maybe a massage on Monday though…that’s a great idea.

  15. I have no idea what I’m going to eat on Race Day either since I’ve been having something different almost every weekend. One of my best long runs so far was fueled by oatmeal cherry cookies for breakfast and generic Target fruit snacks as run fuel, haha.

  16. I have no marathon wisdom to impart, but I’m getting excited for the NYCM and volunteering as an interpreter at the expo and finish line. I think it’s going to be so cool to see all those runners cross the finish line and be in the middle of all that excitement!

    I’ve also tried pre-run oatmeal and I’m not a fan. Right now I’m really enjoying cinnamon raisin bread with peanut butter.

    And do tell – where is your newly discovered awesome cheap massage place??

  17. Great post! I have had more bad training runs than good during this cycle. If you check my twitter feed at about 11am on Saturdays, instead of unicorn and butterfly tweets mine are all “I hate running and want to die and why won’t my leg, stomach, head cooperate with the need to run 22 miles”. But I’m hoping the bad runs will get my head to a good place if or when the pain comes during the marathon.

  18. 1. Agreed, pre-run oatmeal is gross.
    2. Forget the $80 you lost … I know where you can get an awesome massage without even leaving your apt! (Unless you want to.)

  19. 1. I love Mia Michaels (once again jealous of your job).

    2. I’m half-marathon training right now and I have to agree on the massage. Once a month or so I get a sport massage and it hurts, and is not “relaxing and pampering” but the day after my muscles feel much better. I also suggest getting in some foam rolling during TV commercials (since I can’t hold off and wait to watch Modern Family and Vampire Diaries on DVR) it’s a good use of down time.

  20. I have learned that I cannot control everything. I can prepare myself mentally ut sometimes my body does not cooperate. There is an ebb and flow and sometimes I have to be ok with a stinky heavy legged run.

  21. If you’re not doing a long run at 6 AM on a Saturday morning, don’t bother going on Twitter, because everyone on there is running, probably farther and faster and earlier than you, and they want to make sure you know it.


    By the time I get around to doing a long run on Sunday afternoon all you people are tweeting about your brunch and naps and football. You should pay more attention to us slackers. WE’RE PEOPLE TOO, DAMMIT.

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about ali

I’m the creator of the Ali on the Run blog and the host of the Ali on the Run Show podcast. I’m also a freelance writer and editor, a race announcer, a runner and marathoner, a mom, and a huge fan of Peanut M&Ms, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (way better than the first one!), and reliving my glory days as a competition dancer in the early 2000s. I’m really happy you’re here.
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