Enjoying the Marathon Training Process

A few months ago, I was pacing the Santa Rosa Marathon and was talking to one of the girls running with me. This was her first marathon, and I asked her if she thought she’d want to run more. We were around mile 19 (often the hardest part of the race for many marathoners), and she said she was already looking forward to her next one.

First-time marathoners often fall into one of three camps after the marathon – those who hated it and will never marathon again, those who loved it and can’t wait to sign up for number two, and the third group who immediately swear off marathons but who, once the chafing heals and the physical exhaustion passes, start looking for the next race.

Never Again! Vs. Let’s Do It Again!

I have a theory about which runners fall into which camps and it falls squarely at the feet of a thing I love so much – process.

The runners who never want to run another marathon are the runners who only wanted to run a marathon. They are often entirely focused on the end goal of crossing the finish line. The training and the long runs are only a thing they need to do to accomplish that goal.

The runners who become lifelong marathoners are those who find some enjoyment and fulfilment in the process of training for the marathon.

Sure, the finish line is still the ultimate goal, but the process of training has rewards too.

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Training For a marathon running a marathon

For the Love of the Process

Process geeks like me enjoy the process because… well… we like processes.

We enjoy setting up (and following) color-coded training plans that we lay out weeks before day 1 of training. I’m a type-A planner, so I’m all over this. My friend from the Santa Rosa Marathon was like this too. She was an engineer who, with the help of her experienced marathoner friend, had laid out a training plan worthy of the moon landing (by the sounds of it).

For me, I’ve long known that if I’m training for an event, I will do every run on the training plan. I’ll be borderline obsessive getting in the runs. However, if I’m not training for a specific event, I’m terrible about running.

I can create a running schedule, but I’ll still rarely get out the door to run. Deep-down I know those runs aren’t part of a ‘real’ training plan, my runs aren’t leading up to something bigger. They aren’t part of a larger process.

Apparently, running for its own sake isn’t enough for me.

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running schedule

I know we are the exception (or are we?), but non-process nerds can still find joy and fulfillment in the process of training.

But why focus on the process? Isn’t the end goal enough?

Motivation Fades

Every runner who signs up for a marathon is excited about running that marathon on the day they register. I’m sure they have grand visions of crossing the finish line (likely in perfect weather, setting a new PR).

But motivation fades and reality sets in.

Shit gets real and you need to start doing the real work, doing long runs that just keep getting longer.

The day will come when you need to run 10 miles in the cold or the rain.

On that day, only caring about the marathon finish line, which is months away (and hundreds of miles of training runs in the future), likely won’t be enough to keep you going.

You Can Only Control the Process

There is so much that’s out of your control while marathon training.

You can’t control the weather or prevent many injuries that could keep you from race day.

You can’t even be sure the race will happen. There’s a sad new trend in Northern California- every fall, wildfires start, the air quality plummets, and races get cancelled for the safety of runners and to save community resources for fire relief.

If you are only focused on the outcome, this would be devastating.

But if you’ve found some enjoyment and fulfillment in the process, terrible weather on race day or a cancelled race, while still disappointing, will be much easier to deal with.

Being a Noun Vs. Doing the Verb

I was listening to some podcast where the guest was talking about how many people want to be the noun, but they don’t want to do the verb.

They want to be a writer, but they aren’t willing to sit their butt down and write.

They want to be a painter or an artist, but they want their art to improve without doing the work day after day.

I, of course, thought of it in running terms – people want to ‘be a runner’ or ‘be a marathoner’ but don’t always want to put in the hours of work it takes to get there.

I know not everyone will become a process nerd, but there are some things runners can do to enjoy the training process a bit more.

Consider Your Goal

As you set your goal (in running or in life), really consider your goal.

  • Why is it important to you?
  • Is it really your goal, or is it just something ‘they’ think you should want?
  • Is it the right time in your life to work towards this goal?

Consider the Process

Now think (honestly) about what you will have to do to accomplish your goal.

Are you willing to do whatever that is?

  • Is the processes doable?
  • Doable by you?
  • Is your timeframe realistic?

You may want to be the noun, but are you willing to do the verb?


Once you’ve set your goal and created your process to get there, forget your goal.

Forget the goal and focus on the steps you need to take each day.

Find enjoyment and fulfillment along the way.

Celebrate little victories.

The ultimate goal, crossing the finish line on race day?

That’s just icing on the cake.

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