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The Ugly Part Of Marathon Training No One Talks About

My status following 19 glorious miles. It was good times, but that floor felt so nice.

Update: Caitlyn completed the Boston Marathon as planned, running 3:47 and crying with every emotion at the finish line. 

Recently, I’ve learned to agree with a post about the selfie all runners should take by Kelly Roberts. Since the social world seems to be made of roses and sunshine 24/7, it’s high time someone gets real and talks about how they really feel. While I definitely participate by posting my running and social life best-of moments (there’s about a 90/10 split on that right now), Kelly made a valid point in suggesting that runners as a whole fail to acknowledge enough the grossest part of training; that’s the walls, the bonks, the tears, the doubts, the I-quits, the this-sucks and the binging on ice cream instead of the protein-packed jet fuel you were supposed to eat for dinner.

I’ve spent a few weeks mulling over just how much I wanted to write about my own Boston training. I wanted to paint that rosy picture and weave it into some inspirational takeaway for other runners, because most of my training has been like that—pretty damn inspirational. I’ve really had a ball with it, and it’s been seriously life-changing for me. But the part that I failed to remember (or maybe selectively chose to forget) about my first marathon was the ugly side of training—the side where it’s dark, messy and, for me, ridden with colitis fouls. So before you X out of this article or blow past my latest Instagram post or roll your eyes at my next Facebook update screaming that BOSTON IS ALMOST HERE, I’m here to tell you this:

When you feel like crap in your training, you’re 100 percent, totally, completely not alone in that, because I feel like crap sometimes too.

Related: How To Deal With A Motivational Slump

This doesn’t mean I ignore the highs or discount the excellent miles that have been run over the past three months. And that doesn’t mean I won’t take responsibility for any mistakes I’ve made in fueling or resting that might have caused this momentary lapse in loving the run. This just means I don’t feel 100 percent 100 percent of the time, and not only is that okay, but it’s also part of the game. Like you, I’ve fallen victim to the thumb scroll, thinking everyone else’s running life is flawless and beautiful, that I’m doing it wrong and I’m just this lame human who can’t handle life. How come they can bounce back so quickly? How the hell are they running that fast? Why don’t they have to crap their pants every time their watch beeps to 10 miles? The list goes on, then you start to question your own training, thinking you should have done something different. I’ve had all of those thoughts too—let’s just call it the good ol’ taper tantrum and all the self-doubt that comes with it.

I had a great 19-miler on Saturday, but did you know I stopped at mile 7 because I literally thought I was going to crap my pants? I spent 10 minutes loitering by the public restrooms just to make sure everything was “done.” And then after I pushed through 3 miles of cramps—the price I ALWAYS pay when stopping for any reason mid-run—everything was fine again. Does that happen to everyone else? I have no idea—probably sometimes, but I’m not seeing it on their Instagram feeds. Or what about the fact that I did a 10-miler last week and just blew off the speed portion because I was too exhausted? True story. The mindset of “no post, no truth,” is so toxic, especially during that vulnerable state of training where you want to appear tough, but all you really want is someone to say, “You are not alone. I’ve been there too,” as you hug your favorite pillow and swear off running forever. Social media is great for motivation when you take it for just that, but since when is any human immune to their own insecurities all of the time?

Related: How Social Media Killed My Run

So why write this? Well, to 1) let those runners who had a crappy day know that they are not alone, and it’s normal, despite what your #runchat feed may tell you and to 2) share three things that always help drag me out of a temporary funk and stay focused on the goal ahead:

1. Forgive yourself. I promise you with much confidence that if you need to skip a run, a cross-training session or whatever else, you’re not going to blow up your entire plan. The hardest part about ditching a workout is silencing those voices that convince you that you’re the biggest failure in the world. I’ll tell you what ruins races: confusing, forgetting or ignoring the difference between needing and wanting rest. I am not suggesting you skip half of your workouts, but if you’re having a rock-bottom day and need to rest, rest. The world will not end—I’ve tested that already. It’s still spinning, and Boston is still happening.

2. Take the negative and make it a positive. Be all about the “but”—”I had a crappy run, BUT tomorrow is my favorite workout.” “I had to slow down, BUT I did nail race pace on the final mile.” “I didn’t eat the best yesterday, BUT today I’m making this delicious dish for dinner.” There’s always a “but.”

3. Prioritize you. For me, a person with no kids and a boyfriend who is just as committed to his goals as I am mine, it’s pretty easy to be selfish and do me. (Also, it should be noted that I am in constant awe of the mother-runners who get both jobs done every single day. You’re amazing.) Check in with yourself in the morning and at night and ask what you really, truly need in that moment. Not for the week, not for tomorrow, not when you think you have more time—when do you need for today, right now? Then make it happen with the time that you have.

If there’s anyone who keeps it super real, it’s Stephanie Bruce. Her post on winning the Cardiff Kook 10K weeks back is definitely a shocker, but not for reasons you might think. It makes you feel human to know that someone of her caliber is also, well, human. While you read that, I would like to say: Your last, next or current run might suck, BUT there’s always another one waiting to kick ass.

Caitlyn Pilkington

Caitlyn Pilkington

Caitlyn Pilkington is the web editor for Women's Running. She started running competitively in 2001 and has completed three marathons and tons of half marathons. Her proudest moment as a runner was crossing the finish line of her first marathon in 3:29, qualifying for the 2016 Boston Marathon.