How NOT to Train for a Marathon

How NOT to Train for a Marathon

Last year at this time I was training for the Boston Marathon.  I also had a one month old baby.  Basically from the time my son was born via c-section I had 13 weeks until the marathon.  Subtract 4 weeks for recovery and that left 9 weeks to train for a marathon.  If you are wondering if you can safely train under those conditions I will fill you in… NO!!! It is a complete recipe for DISASTER.  Smart runners would know this and either not run Boston at all or decide to walk/ run it.  Me?  I was planning to run it in under 4 hours, of course.

My training for Boston:

Once I found out (at 27 weeks pregnant) while registering for Boston that I could not defer my entry I had to make the decision on whether or not running it at 13 weeks postpartum (and post c-section) was even a possibility.  I didn’t make any final official decision but in my head I was going for it.  My “training” was maintaining my running while pregnant.  While my running buddies were following their carefully planned training schedules I was plugging along getting bigger every day.

Once my son was born I took off 4 weeks to heal. Then I started up with very good intentions.  But you should know that good intentions are no match for a mom who is ready to prove she still has it, 20 pounds to lose and the most prestigious marathon in the world.  When I went to see my OB doctor at 6 weeks he gave me the official go ahead to start exercising again.  Thanks doc, already up to 8 miles.  Running just felt so easy, especially since there wasn’t a “basketball” bouncing on my bladder anymore.  I loved the freedom running gave me, as it was my only “alone” time out of the house.

I intended to slowly increase my mileage but I was just so ready to get out there.  Plus, I was in a time crunch so I didn’t have time to build a strong base. Never underestimate a strong base.  By the time my baby was 7 weeks old I randomly decided to run in the Little Rock Half MarathonProbably not the smartest move.  I admit, it felt incredible to be racing again but my body wasn’t quite caught up with my mind.  Sure there were challenges with my condensed training program but I could handle them (or at least I thought I could).  By the time my son was ten weeks old I ran the one and only 20 miler in my Boston training cycle. 

Below is a handy little graph of my mileage in the year 2011.  Note that January has zero mileage.  I had a baby via c-section so I had to take a month off from running.  I started up again mid February and went CRAZY in March.  There is no other way to describe it.  Then notice April and May…


Do you know what happens when your mileage sky rockets (like mine did in March)? You get a stress fracture.  I was diagnosed with a sacral stress fracture the week before the Boston Marathon.  I was forced to stop running and reevaluate my priorities.  My health was way more important than any one race.  My new baby needed me.  I completely rested and took off during the months of April and May and it was not easy mentally to do that.  I knew that if I ever wanted to run well again I needed to train the right way and listen to my body.

When I started walking I had to take it slow and build up a base from basically nothing. Walking was a very humbling experience for me.  I would see runners go by wishing desperately I could join them.  When I finally started jogging I could only do it in short distances.  I remember when could actually run farther than I had to walk.  Gradually over time I was able to jog the full distance without walking.  My body needed time to recover between runs so for the longest time I never ran more than 3 to 4 days a week.  Eventually I was able to increase to five and later to six although often my “6th” day is a cross training day.

If you are overcoming an injury of any kind you learn the meaning of the word patience.  You learn to cross train whether you like it or not.  You learn that there is more to life than running.  Once you are able to run you appreciate it more and you are thankful for every day that you get to do what you love.  I know I do.

I learned so many lessons during and after my Boston Marathon training last year.  It’s been a long road and I am so thankful to be where I am today.  I am excited to see where running will take me but I know that I have to be smart about it and listen to my body.  I know that one day I will get to run in the Boston Marathon (Lord willing, April of 2013!!!) and I will get there by training the right way.

Houston Marathon- January 15, 2011

What are some training errors you have made during a marathon cycle? Were you still able to race? If so, how did it go? If not, how did you cope with taking time off?

22 thoughts on “How NOT to Train for a Marathon

  1. Great write up Tia, you know I know all about this whole mess. Starting from nothing and building back up is the most humbling experience there is. But also, an experience that helps you grow as a runner in ways you might not have had you never got injured in the first place. I definitely take my rest days more seriously now and am all over the xtraining. The best part though? You appreciate running in a whole new way that you never even knew you could. I rejoice every run I go on now, running with a smile on my face because I’m back out there among my people! And when I’m done… I do my “cool down” walk as prescribed by my doc and I don’t even mind. πŸ™‚

    1. Morgan- I thought of you several times while I was writing this!! You KNOW exactly what I mean but even more so. It makes me so happy to see you starting to clock in some miles on Daily Mile. Every time I see one of your workouts on there I am reminded about patience, hard work and dedication.

  2. What a perfect post for me today. I’m not injured – just having to have time off after a long-term viral infection. All I’m allowed to do is walk and once I start running again it will be like an absolute beginner. It’s so encouraging to read about people who’ve done it and who got back to the place where they were before.

    1. Hey Char! I honestly feel much stronger than before. Like Morgan said, you just appreciate it more and I am thankful for every run. Even the bad ones!! : ) I hope you start feeling better soon!

  3. What a fascinating story! It’s amazing how driven we can become. I know that in my third pregnancy, that’s when I decided that when I had my baby I was going to start putting everything out there when I raced. Glad you posted this too, since sometimes we need to be reminded to take a little R & R time.

    1. Yes, being so driven and motivated is usually a good thing but can sometimes backfire- as I had to learn the hard way! Rest and relaxation is definitely underrated!

  4. I loved reading this Tia. Last year I tried to go from 50 to 70 miles in one week…ended up with a strain and not able to run for a bit. Then before that after I tore my hamstring, I kept trying to run on it…big mistake. But all my mistakes and foolishness has taught me something. I’m stronger for it now. πŸ™‚

    1. You are right- we definitely learn from our mistakes!! πŸ™‚ I have also learned so much about base building thanks to many of yours (and others) posts. Hopefully I can build up my mileage (safely) this summer before I start training for NYC.

  5. Hi Tia! What an incredible story. I have been enjoying reading your blog so much – you are truly inspiring!! I had my third baby last year (he turned 1 earlier this month) and returning to running after he was born was a challenge for sure. I had a much smaller (but big for me) goal to run a 10 mile race on my 35th Bday when my baby was not quite 10 weeks old. That gave me about 6 weeks to train. I did it – albeit super slowly – and then not long after that I sprained a ligament in my back while doing squats at the gym. I felt such determination and it all came to a screeching halt. I realized I needed to respect my body’s need for rest and build my mileage more slowly. This week is my peak mileage week for my spring marathon and I am running more miles than I ever have in my life (going to hit about 65) and it is amazing how good I feel – because I have been patient about it.
    Thanks for this post and all the others! So happy to have found your blog! Maybe we will see one another in Boston in 2013!!!

  6. I didn’t know this part of your story! I ran my first full last spring and had some slight shin soreness but ran it anyway. I didn’t take it seriously enough, and even though I rested a bit, it became a stress fracture later that summer. That was the longest time off I’ve had (10 weeks) but we had just moved to Houston and it was August, so it was kind of a nice excuse to stay indoors to cycle and swim. πŸ™‚ Hope you get to Boston in 2013!

  7. Hi Tia!!

    I’ll see you in Boston next year mommy!! healthy & strong! πŸ˜€

    I had my first injury last year after I ran palos verdes marathon in May. I was scheduled to run San Diego R&R in June. I rushed into running to fast after Palos Verdes and had a labral tear in my groin. it was so painful & depressing. bless my hubby’s heart because I was not an easy person to live with for 3 wks! I was in denial of having to bail on San Diego but, I had no choice! Thankfully, the injury was only 3 wks. I know it could’ve been worse! The injury built character and I appreciated my ability soo much when I was able to run pain free again! I also now take one complete day of rest after every marathon now. I ease back into training and listen to my body a lot better. I take rest days without any qualms. I feel like I’m a better runner now because of what happened.

    hope to see you in NYC this year! husb & I are considering taking the trip out there! your training inspires me & I hope to be as fast as you one day!! πŸ™‚

    Pam (

    1. Thanks Pam! You are right about having a patient, supportive husband- it is the best!! I’ve enjoyed keeping up with your training on DM! I’m ready to see your running blog. Let me know when you have it up and going!!

  8. What a great write up. I can’t imagine how hard it much have been to accept that you wouldn’t be running Boston while right on the verge. I absolutely believe that your will be slamming Boston in 2013! The best thing I ever did for myself was to start cross training for my marathon work up. I never knew that I would love biking so much and it keeps me in balance.

  9. This is such a great post!! I have a newly pregnant running acquaintance that I’d like to share this with but am afraid she’ll think I’m being negative. She has high risk pregnancies and won’t be able to run at all these next 8 months. She’s due in September, yet she thinks she’ll be ready for a December marathon. With no base!!! Yikes. Sounds like a recipe for disaster to me, but I am wondering if I should keep my mouth shut.

    1. Oh man!! I am sure there are a few out there who could pull off a marathon 3 months post baby but most likely they continued running through their entire pregnancy so they had a base. I ran throughout my pregnancy (and believe me- it got pretty hard during that last month!) but it still wasn’t enough. The best advice you could give her (or any new runner) is to increase mileage no more than 10-15% each week.

  10. I missed this post somehow….but now that I read it, I read Every Word. Your comeback has been so amazing, Tia, that any advice you have to offer me would be so appreciated.

    When you started tracking mileage again in June, was it only running mileage or was it walking mileage? I have been relegated to the recumbent bike, every other day only, since March 13 with my sacral joint problem. I’m uncertain when I will be able to run again, and really nervous that since this is one of those “loosey-goosey” injuries and not clear-cut, that it will just…keep…hurting no matter what I do.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge