My Meandering Marathon Update

StuntsA number of readers have asked me to do posts updating them on my marathon training.  I decided to day is a good day for that since I’m now about half-way through the training.  But be warned, I wrote the title after I wrote the piece – this post is pretty self-absorbed and is nothing more than my meandering thoughts from my 14 mile walk today.  If this is your first time on my blog might I recommend this post about the difference between Size Acceptance and Health at Every Size or this post about why it’s ok to be fat to give you a more representative sample of my work.

Otherwise, you’ve been warned, I’ll try to be back tomorrow with something more concise and less about me! Also, please know that this is about me – it’s not a suggestion of how others “should” be, I’m not trying to say that what I’m doing is better or worse than what anyone else is doing, just some of my thoughts as I go on this journey…

So I’m training to walk a marathon, 26.2 miles.  I’m a little over half way through my 20 week training program and tonight was a 14 mile walk. According to the kinds of people who post on forums that were created for the purpose of hating me, this is no kind of achievement because almost anyone can walk 26.2 miles.  Based on the reactions of the people I tell about the marathon that’s just not true.  But even if it is true for everyone else, it’s not for me.  This is hard for me.  Maybe it’s because this requires slow-twitch muscle activity and as a dancer I train for the exact opposite things (explosive movement with short bouts of maximum output).  Maybe it’s because I’m fat. Maybe it’s because I’m short with short legs and take 2 strides to most people’s 1. Maybe it’s because it’s just difficult.

Tonight’s training was absolutely brutal.  I did 12 miles a couple of weeks ago and it was hard but nothing like this.  I started to struggle with blisters and pain about 7 miles in and it didn’t seem like there was any way I could do that distance again to make my full 14 miles. On long walk nights my girlfriend is always by the phone willing to jump in the car and pick me up and for the first time I seriously thought about calling her.  I decided to press on, knowing that I could always call her.

I had walked about 13 miles when I got to 10th street.  I was scheduled to turn left down 10th street, walk a half mile down and a half mile back and then go home.  The thing is that you can see my house from 10th street and I was really struggling.  I thought, I could be home in literally one minute and I’ll have walked 13 miles which is nothing to sneeze at. So I sat down on a bus stop bench and checked in with my body.  “I feel like shit” said my body.  I concurred, but suggested that the question at hand was “are we hurt, or are we injured?”  I ascertained that I was hurt but not injured.  I thought about how far I had come and how little I had left to go.  So I stood up, took a left turn on 10th, blasted Katy Perry’s Roar (don’t judge) and ground that shit out.

I’ve certainly had some people  who took the time to tell me that if I achieve this it is no big deal and I should take no pride in it.  I even had someone tell me that they sincerely hope that I die doing the marathon.  Charming. As always, they can go fuck themselves.  On the other side, I’ve had a bunch of people tell me, in well-meaning and encouraging ways, that I can always drop out of the marathon and switch to registering for the half marathon instead.

These e-mails always make me think about a thing that happens in the dance world.  Some people jump around from division to division based on who they think they can beat.  There are also those who choose which competitions to compete in based on who they think might be there to give them the best chance to win. People are allowed to do this, but it was never for me.

My first year of dance I won Nationals and was forced to move up a division. As I prepared for my first competition of that second year, my coach let me know that there was no way I would win.  A girl who had spent years dancing a division up had taken a year off and dropped down to my division.  I would be dancing all new routines and she would be dancing routines that she had been doing for years, designed to win at a higher level.  I could have switched divisions but I decided that I would rather just do my best and show up for my ass kicking.  When they announced first place I put on my best gracious Southern smile and started clapping for her.  It took a minute to sink in – they had called my name (and I looked like an idiot smiling and clapping.)  That competition remains one of the greatest victories of my life.  Not because I beat that girl, she was perfectly nice, but because I beat that mentality of trying to only compete against someone you think you can beat.  If I had danced and won the age division, I don’t know how I would have felt, but I know if wouldn’t have been like that.

So I finished the 14 miles and I’m having a hard time imagining that in a couple months I could do almost twice that, but that’s what I’m going to try to do.  So while I know that people who suggest that I could just move down to a half marathon are well intentioned and  trying to help, it’s just not necessary.  Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely hate failing.  But I don’t fear it.

What I do fear is regret – I fear switching to an age division and wondering if I could have won the Open title. I fear crossing the finish line of the half marathon and wondering if I could have finished the whole marathon.  So on December 1st I’ll just show up for my ass kicking and that’s that.  It’s going to take me a seriously long time to finish – I purposely chose a race where the aid stations, medical staff and finish line stay open until the last person crosses.  I plan to make it to the finish line to collect my medal and ill-fitting t-shirt.  If I don’t, then they’ll bring the sag wagon to haul me off the course and I’ll experience failure, but not regret.

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46 thoughts on “My Meandering Marathon Update

  1. I’ve noticed a tendency in some places to try to be the ‘big fish in the small pond’ rather than taking the risk (and potentially getting the rewards) of being a ‘small fish in the big pond’.
    I have always (possibly foolishly) aimed high and been unafraid of falling.
    Good luck to you, and I know that no matter what happens on the day, you will have accomplished your goal.

  2. There’s no freaking way I could walk that far. They’d have to carry me home on a stretcher. Good for you for pushing through, even though you do listen to Katy Perry. 😉

  3. With my hip (fine enough for ‘normal’ walking, but tends to go wonky for long walks or running) I’m lucky if I can do 4k without starting to hobble, so 14 miles is just amazing to me. 🙂 You are kicking ass, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. As with any kind of training some days are always harder than others. This 14 was hard, but that doesn’t mean the next 14 will be the same.

  4. I can walk 14 miles fairly easily. I’m a big walker from waaay back.

    But you should see me nearly in tears in a gentle Pilates class. I’ve got tight muscles, weak arms and arthritic shoulders that I’m trying to improve, and just staying the full session and completing the exercises is a big win for me. I doubt I could get through a vigorous dance class.

      1. Ha, thanks for that. No, reallly, you should see how weak I am. Last week I exercised behind a woman 20 years my senior, and she could do everything I couldn’t. Not that I care – only douchebags think this stuff is a competition.

  5. You’re awesome, Ragen. And not only did you walk 14, but you made it through the hardest part: the psychological temptation to quit. By walking while tired you are learning to walk while tired. You are kicking ass. May I suggest double-layer running socks for the blisters? I haven’t had a single one since I started using them.

      1. I used to have trouble with my toes: they would feel like they were on fire if I did anything over 4 or 5 miles. I went to a running store and they put me in a shoe that’s a half size bigger than I thought I was. No more blisters!

        (Also, you are awesome. I wish I could be there to cheer you at the finish line!)

        1. ALSO — I apologize for my unsolicited advice. I’m in an online running club and unsolicited advice is kind of the norm there, but I understand that it can be pretty obnoxious elsewhere. It also seems to be part of marathon culture/distance sport culture. (One race I run actually warns you that there’ll be plenty of unsolicited advice out on the course.) So it’s definitely not a symptom of me thinking you don’t know what you’re doing. I think you have everything under control. I have no doubts. It’s more of a bad habit. You’re very gracious about it.

          1. I don’t know how Ragen feels, but what I see is that you saw something she indicated was a problem and you said, “Hey, I had that problem and here is how I fixed it.” You didn’t say, “You should do it this way,” or “You need to do this differently.” BIG difference, to me. 🙂

      2. Have you tried toe socks ? The kind with individual spots for each toe? Those are what finally helped me stop losing toe nail & be in pain with blisters when I was marathon training.

        I wrote a different comment but I wasn’t logged into WordPress so I don’t think it went through. Thank you so much for sharing your honest journey. You are amazing!! I can tell you not everyone can do it … And the marathons I walked were at least as hard as the one I later ran … The mental training is the key & doing that final mile in your training is HUGE. I had a partner in my training & walking my first marathon so doing it on your own — double amazing!!!!

  6. You are my hero Ragen. You advocate for the fatties of the world, dance, are quick witted and shoot back a sharp comment like that *snaps fingers*, AND are training for a marathon and have succeeded in walking 14 freakin’ miles. I have no doubt you will finish that marathon. I have problems with my hips, back, and legs, and would barely make it 1 mile. Because of your wise words, I have changed my line of thinking about being a fattie. I am me, and while I came to the conclusion a long time ago that if someone doesn’t like the way I look, they can look somewhere else, I now do not beat myself up for being the size I am. You are an inspiration and I am so glad I found your blog! You ROCK!

  7. Source for info below: I’ve completed a marathon. I also apologize for handing out unsolicited advice.

    If you’re following an established, official sort of training schedule then you’ll probably still do fine on the marathon, in spite of your training woes. The training schedule is how it is because it works — caveat for in general and for many or most people. Getting into the longer walks is a tough time, and a longer distance is always painful the first time you do it, even if it’s only a mile further than the last furthest distance.

    Oh I remember the frustration of shorter strides, and how I kept trying to make them longer! Short legs absolutely make a marathon a lot more work.

    At these longer distances you want to make sure you have, besides water or access to it, possibly a Gu packet or something like it.

    Also it might be time for new running shoes. I actually think I got my own second pair of running shoes a little late, a couple weeks before the marathon, and I didn’t feel they were broken in well enough by the time of the marathon (so I wore my old ones for it). When I trained it was considered standard to go through 2 pairs of shoes through training and the marathon.

  8. Kudos to you because walking 26.2 miles is a big yet accomplishable feat! Especially since you have what sounds like an achievable training schedule. I have been participating in one of those 10,000 step pedometer challenges and I average 5 km (sorry Canadian, approximately 3 miles) in a day. And I got the bright idea to do a cross country 5 km/3 mile walk and it just about killed me. Throughout the walk, I kept thinking, “I don’t want to be last, I don’t want to be last” but that really doesn’t matter. What mattered was I finished despite falling and hurting my knee and shin, I completed the distance in 1 hour and 2 minutes which usually takes me a day to complete and I supported a great cause. My goal for next year is to get under an hour which is totally achievable!

    1. You forgot to tag yourself for notification of follow-up, didn’t you? LOL – I’ve done that before, too. 😀

  9. I just want to say that I don’t think this was meandering, or self absorbed. I think it was inspirational and honest. I am so impressed with your motivation. I believe I could walk a marathon if I were motivated to do so, but I just can’t seem to make myself want it that bad. How do you make yourself WANT to exercise? I will walk the treadmill after work … for a couple days even weeks, but then I just don’t want to anymore. I will take the kids to the park and run around with them.. for a couple of days, even weeks but then I don’t want to anymore. Where does the motivation go? How do I get to a place where I can bound up the stairs instead of skulk? I wish you could bottle the kind of motivation you have and sell it. I would be first in line.

  10. Add me to the list of people who found this post inspiring. And the idea that walking a marathon isn’t any sort of accomplishment or that anyone can do it is BULLSHIT. If that were the case, you would see people walking marathons all the time!

    I did a 3-day, 60 mile walk about ten years ago, with the longest day being just over 20 miles. I trained hard for this event and it was still all I could do to finish. I will say the experience got better once I learned about blister prevention instead of blister management. I’m sure you’re already all over this, but just in case, carry blister pads or second skin with you when you walk and slap some on as soon as you feel a hot spot. It seriously made all the difference in the world to me. Changing your socks midway through a long walk can help, too.

    Good luck!!! You got this! 🙂

  11. You are my hero! I agree: do not quit. Do not step down. You will finish, and if they have to cart you off, make them cross the finish line with you first!

  12. I’d love to see some of the haters walk fourteen miles in one day, let alone 26.2! No accomplishment, my Aunt Fanny… and I really did have an Aunt Fanny, well, Aunty Fan, who would have joined me in spitting in their metaphorical eyes with gusto and precision.

    Of course it’s easier to be the big fish in the small pond than the small fish in the big pond. It’s not fun to lose. But if you do that, how do you ever know what you can accomplish if you would just push yourself? I have a strong tendency to take that lazy route. It does not always serve me well.

    So you keep right on pushing yourself. We know you’re smart enough that you’ll figure it out if this isn’t going to work. None of us would think any less of you if you did decide to drop back to the half marathon, of course. But I think we all admire the fact that you’re going to push yourself that little bit harder and go for the whole enchilada.

    Great. Now I want enchiladas for breakfast. And all I have in the fridge is leftover pot roast. Damn.

  13. Congrats on the 14! You are halfway there… good job so far… today’s another day. Anything past 14 is gravy from now on. You have inspired me to dig deep and finish restructuring my crawl stroke for my open water swim in July 2014. I keep running into things as I deconstruct!!! have a great day!

  14. Great post — not self-absorbed at all.

    It made me think about the fact that “no pain, no gain” probably only really works in the mental sense — the self-doubt is probably much harder to push through than blisters, and you’re an inspiration for doing it!

  15. “So I stood up, took a left turn on 10th, blasted Katy Perry’s Roar (don’t judge) and ground that shit out.” You sure are inspiring! I’m struggling to slog through jogging half that distance these days.

  16. For what it’s worth, my friends and I did several walk-a-thons for muscular dystrophy in the 70s. 20 miles if you finished. Not all of us did, though we were active, pre-cable TV, teens. Those who did finish had serious blisters and refused to budge from either bed or couch the next day. I think the only one of us who wasn’t miserable was a state-ranked cross country runner.

    In other words, you rock!

  17. You are awesome, not for what you do, but for who you are. Just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate this blog and all I have learned from you, it, and all who read and comment.

  18. I know you don’t do this to BE an inspiration, but you ARE an inspiration. I love that you took stock to say, “Am I hurt? Am I injured?” First of, I never really thought about the fact that there might be a difference between those two. Now I know that there is! But beyond that, you took CARE of yourself. I’m so bad at that right now, but I’m getting better, and having folks model for me what that looks like is incredibly valuable, Ragen. Thank you.

  19. I think it is good to let other folks in on your thoughts once in awhile. I got laid off from my job a couple weeks ago, and I’m struggling with the thought of having to find another (I have social anxiety, and even with medication, interviews make it spike pretty badly).

    This post is rather timely for me as the mental blocks are my biggest problem. Getting to see someone deal with their own mental blocks helps.

    I kind of want to do the big fish in a small pond route right now, but I am going to talk to a friend of mine about the kind of work she does to see if I would be interested in it or not, and maybe get some ideas of how to get a job in that field.

  20. I’m sorry people aren’t supportive of this. It’s awesome and I LOVE that you are going for something hard. Yes!

    Working out is a great place to just go for it. If you “fail,” that only means you found the boundary to keep pushing at. Of course you should go for it and have a blast and be proud that you did this. It’s awesome!

    Why don’t people just stop raining on other people’s parades? If walking around the block is hard for someone, then their working to walk around the block is an achievement and they deserve praise, not the other stuff people dish out.

    I love that you are doing this and sharing it with us. Thank you! And keep going! You are going to kick this marathon’s butt!

  21. You’re pushing yourself to do something that’s difficult for you, so who gives a flying fig at a rolling donut what the haters think? It’s not about them, it’s about you, your committment, and pushing your limits. Which probably is what really ticks them off, because it’s not about them.

    Some years ago, I was in a national park and was looking up at where a difficult hike ended. I knew I couldn’t do that hike at the time, but I thought “you know, I’ll bet if I trained for it in advance, I could do that”. It took a couple more years before I was in a place where I could make it happen, but I did – and it’s a hike that not everyone completes for various reasons. Sure, there were people along the route for whom it was no big deal, but it didn’t matter – it was huge to me.

    So I really enjoyed this post, seeing the mindset, and cheering you on to accomplish something you really want. I hope you’re inspired to write more now and again. (Not that I don’t enjoy your regular posts too!)

  22. I’m 30, 5’4″, weigh 260 pounds, and I do Irish dancing. That being said, I also have to walk to my son’s school to pick him up. I drag a wagon so that he doesn’t have to walk home. It’s also about a mile and a three quarters. I have to stop and rest at least once on both legs of the trip, with a long rest in between there and back again. You did 14 miles. FOURTEEN! Color me way impressed!

    1. No judgement or disrespect intended, just curious why you don’t want your son to walk? My experience was that walking with my kids was much more interactive than stroller or wagoning with them. On the other hand, I got more aerobic exercise when I was pushing or pulling them…

  23. Today I registered for my first 10K. I’ll be walking it because I busted my right ankle 15 years ago and still have the hardware, so running is a bad idea unless zombies are chasing me or something. 🙂 And I have to say that YOU inspired me (at least in part) to give it a go. Thanks for that and congratulations on your amazing progress!

  24. “are we hurt, or are we injured?” deserves a post all of its own. Its so important. Knowing my own body well enough to make that distinction takes effort, patience, and mindfulness. And this doesn’t just apply to physical effort.

  25. You may have thought this was all about you, but the “Are we hurt or are we injured?” is an important lesson to get out there, as well as, ” I plan to make it to the finish line to collect my medal and ill-fitting t-shirt. If I don’t, then they’ll bring the sag wagon to haul me off the course and I’ll experience failure, but not regret.” – an important life lesson to hear for anyone of any body size. I have a daughter who is *terrified* of failure to the point of social anxiety. I would do anything to help her get more of that attitude.

  26. HOORAY FOR YOU . . . AGAIN, Ragen! You write in such a positive manner and you take on all comers with the same great insight you wrote with today! At one point in my life I was able to walk 5 miles with no problem, but at the time, it was truly what saved my life! Lately – like the past 2 years – I have dealt with disease and conditions that often make walking through my house or out to my mailbox seem like a mile! I yearn to be able to walk as much as I want again, but I always seem to come up with a ‘good’ excuse. Thanks for the inspiration! You have truly ‘hit my button’ and I’m feeling motivated!

  27. Congrats for pushing through! For most people it’s normal to have good training sessions and bad training sessions. It seems you pushed through a not-so-good session and that willpower deserves a lot of respect. I’m sure you’ll finish the marathon, I’ll definitely keep my fingers crossed for you on December 1st!

    now for unsolicited advice: I also had problems with getting blisters on my feet, my strategy is putting a good amount rich body lotion on my feet before I go, it can be in fact so much it gets a bit onto the socks. What also seems to work for the long sessions is wearing socks that are not fresh from the laundry but have been already worn 1 or 2 times (I know, sounds gross, probably is, but for me that’s a reasonable prize for running blister-free).

  28. It’s said on many avenues of the internet: haters gonna hate. Still true here. I congratulate you on completing the 14 mile walk and I’ll send you boatloads of positive thought and energy as you press on to your marathon goal!

    The thought that kept going through my mind though, as I read this, are those who will read this post, who will still say that you’re fat because you don’t exercise, and then will try to validate this by saying “walking 14 miles isn’t really an exercise”.


    You can lead an idiot to logic, but you can’t make him think.

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