Virtually Unstoppable: What I Learned Training for a Virtual Marathon

Training for and running a marathon takes guts, dedication, consistency, grit, time, mental and physical toughness…the list goes on.

Training for a virtual marathon takes all of that, amplifies it ten-fold, and then cranks up the mental toughness to a level unlike anything you’ve experienced before.

Connor and I had planned on running the Chicago Marathon this year but, like the entire world, our plans changed due to the pandemic. While the race wasn’t officially cancelled until late in the summer, we started our training right on schedule anyway, kicking off an 18-week plan in June which would continue through October. We knew that we wanted—no, needed—to keep running and working toward something this summer. We’re no strangers to long training plans, and without having to commute into NYC daily, we were curious how this “extra time” would impact our training and performance (you know, outside of the obvious, of not having to wake up at 4:15AM to get a 6-mile run in before catching the train to work).

This Sunday, my virtual marathon training experience will come to a close as I journey 26.2 miles as part of the Virtual Marine Corps Marathon. Training has had its ups and downs, just like any other cycle (a few downs are also why I extended the plan by 2 weeks), but overall, it’s been mostly positive and validating of the hard work that’s been put into it.

Here are some things I learned over the past 20 weeks:

It’s cliche AF, but you really are stronger than you think.
There’s nothing like a 16-mile solo run sans headphones and music to really make you think about what you’re doing and why. Long runs tend to do that; they test you physically, yes, but they also flex your mental muscle. The hard work you put in when no one is watching—it’s a mind game that takes as much, if not more, strength and determination than the actual run itself. But when you accomplish what you set out to do, and especially if your own self-doubts crept in at any point, it just goes to show that you can do hard things.

Trust the process and keep showing up: the “Summer Slog” will, in fact, pay off!
What’s your motivation for getting your butt out the door at 6AM to run 8 miles in 80-degree heat and 90% humidity in the middle of July? Summer running in New Jersey will probably destroy you at least once, no matter how seasoned a runner you are; the humidity in this state does not mess around. But this is the grind that will make you a stronger runner and believer in the process.

It is hard to believe until you see it in action, as evidenced this past Sunday by the virtual Marine Corps 10K I crushed (shout out to Brooks Running for the opportunity to run this!). All of those 6+ mile weekday runs through the Jersey summer heat; all of those runs where I felt utterly wilted by the humidity and my legs drained of all energy; all of those miles that challenged my mental resolve (curse the humidity going up this hill!) and physical determination (curse the humidity going up this other hill!)…they will pay off. Trust the process and keep showing up.

Strength training is necessary—and once you discover that and see what it does for your running, you’ll feel like a badass.
Making time for strength training while simultaneously training for a marathon is hard. It may have taken a pandemic for me to finally prioritize strength training and make it a regular part of my training schedule, but better late than never. I have to give full credit to Peloton—ok, I’ll take some credit for showing up consistently and putting in the work. We invested in the bike early in the pandemic and I’ve found that a ride or two per week, plus some 5 to 15-minute strength classes following runs is the sweet spot.

Core work has always been problematic for me (hello, spinal fusion!)—with fused thoracic vertebrae and unfused lumbar vertebrae, let’s just say it can make things a little complicated. I dabbled in a few Peloton core classes with Robin Arzon, their VP of programming and head instructor, and discovered that I can actually do core work effectively and not always with modifications. Robin’s no BS, sweat with swagger style helps inspire me to work my hardest in my own living room. I’ve done at least 2-4 short core classes per week for the last few months, which is by far the most consistent I’ve ever been with strength training. The best part? I can feel the difference when I run now. My core and form both have gotten so much stronger! And yes, it does make me feel like a badass.

A missed run will not ruin your training.
In 20 weeks, how many runs do you think I’ve missed? Ok, I haven’t actually counted, but I’d say it’s in the 8-12 range. I tried to modify a run rather than skip it all together, but if I did skip a run, I didn’t let any guilt slide in. A missed run here and there will not break your training cycle; you will not lose fitness by skipping a day. A few runs in a row, that’s a different story. But some days, your body will tell you its tired—and you need to not only listen to it, but also not fret about the decision.

Invest in a solid pair of shoes and a confidence-boosting outfit.
Never underestimate what a sweet running outfit can do for your mood. It doesn’t guarantee a good run, but even if your run isn’t great, you’ll at least feel good in your outfit of choice, right? My go-to this year has been the Brooks 3″ Chaser Shorts and Spirit Tank. Both are so light and comfortable—and the tank doesn’t stick to you when you sweat!—that I got one of each in pretty much every color. When you know, you know. And as the resident tall girl of this blog, I can tell you that the 3″ shorts are amazing and not too short, even for my gazelle legs.

I’ve been running in Brooks Ghosts for as long as I can remember—it’s a great shoe for mid- to long distances. My training shoe has been the all-black Ghost 12 and my long run shoe (and marathon shoe) is a purple Ghost 12. I’ve tried other styles in the past, but nothing compares to the Ghost. I can’t wait to try out the new Ghost 13 Run Visible shoe that’s sitting in my closet patiently awaiting its turn in the shoe rotation.

Even though I’ve been running for quite a few years now, it never ceases to amaze me how much you continue to learn in the process-—about yourself, about training, about strategy and technique, about the community. While I do have a time goal in mind for Sunday, my main “run with purpose” goal is to just have fun, enjoy the miles, and run happy. Let’s go!

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