March 31, 2015

From Rookie Runner to Marathon Maniac: 4 Tips for Making the Finish Line.

Leah Podollan 2

From a respectful half marathon finish to taking the leap to the Big Apple, this rookie runner wants to share a few lessons learned along the way!

After five half marathons last year, I set out to crack a sub 2:00 hour.

I hired a trainer and started becoming consistently consistent, trading junk miles for fuel efficient mileage. Hills and I became buddies.

I toughened up and sucked it up through rain, mud and wind.

Five months later, I was fired up with adrenaline and determination and ran the Scotiabank Vancouver Half Marathon and smashed all sorts of personal bests: my first five kilometers (3.1 miles) was 24:29 and the first 10 kilometers (6.3 miles) was 49:09.

I finished the 21 kilometers (13.1 miles) at 1:53:39!

Therein lies lesson number one:

Celebrate your victories but don’t get too cocky.

I was thrilled with the results and my Type A personality was plotting to push my limits. If I were to ever run a marathon in my life, logic would dictate that the time to start training was now—why not the iconic New York City Marathon in November?

I made the decision to register at the beginning of July.

My trainer, Leah Goldstein (a world class professional ultra endurance athlete) was happy to hear that I wanted to take my training to a whole new level but at the outset had suggested that I was wanting too much too soon.

I remember her saying I needed to work on my base (I didn’t even have 1,000 kilometers under my training belt yet). Bless her heart, she accepted my challenge and strategized my next five month training agenda.

For the next four months I ran my assigned runs diligently. It’s funny how a half marathon (13.1miles) became a “training” run distance?

Training for a marathon is a lot of work! It demands a lot more of a lot of things:

  • More therapy like long soaks standing waist deep in the lake or ocean to cool my legs after a long run and long Epsom salt baths to soothe the muscles;
  • More sleep and deeper sleeps (and some afternoon catnaps too!);
  • More eating—I’ve never ate so much in my life!  I even had to get up and eat in the middle of the night during nights after a long run!

With less than four weeks until the marathon I ran my last long run.

Major tip to all marathon rookies: know your long run elevations before you run!

I ran a false flat route: 18.5 kilometers (11.5 miles) on a slight incline/returning 18.5 kilometers slightly downhill.

Result: not-so-slight shin splints!

So there I was, a month to the marathon. A physical therapy assessment proved to be awful. I was asked to hop on one foot and could not do it on either foot. I was in a lot more pain than I was willing to admit and it was suggested that I forgo the marathon and take time to heal.

I chose to proceed.

We live in a small town but fortunately it is equipped with state-of-the-art rehabilitation equipment. At my physio clinic there was an AlterG Antigravity treadmill.

I ran the next three weeks practicing active recovery, running at 25% of my body’s weight. It kept my cardio and training in check for the most part—albeit it was an adapted workout to compensate for my injury.

Marathon week was supposed to be tapering, resting and final plans and race day strategies. My final week included a grossly swollen elephant leg (from knee to bottom of my foot) due to an allergy to the Leuko tape.

At six am on race morning, we were bussed to Staten Island for a four hour wait rummaging through cardboard, plastic bags and whatever else we could find to keep us warm (awesome conditions for my dry chest cough). The Sinatra start warmed our souls and for the first 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) I was enjoying myself.  It was the first time I was running on 100% of my body weight in almost a month.  It was a run of crosswinds and headwinds. At the halfway point I was in severe pain and so discouraged that I called my trainer.

Her words were “just keep moving.” I cried and kept moving until the 27 kilometer mark, at which point my mind was going crazy. Here’s a sample of my internal dialogue:

How do I get out of here? Do I just stop and walk off the course? No, you dumbass, you’ve made it this far—just keep moving! How many more miles? Why can’t I calculate? Why can’t I think straight? “Why didn’t I listen to Goldstein back in July?”, “Why the hell am I doing this?”, “Where the hell am I?”, “This fucking sucks!”

I did make it to the finish line, 4:58:27—a far cry from the 3:45 I had set as my goal back in August when that was my training pace. I went from striving to qualify for Boston to just making it across the finish line.


Note: As it turns out I finished and was diagnosed with a stress fracture in my right tibia.

Leah Podollan 1

The finish line of the NYC Marathon: that’s me in the blue cap, crying in pain.

Lesson two: Listen. I did not have a solid base.

I wanted too much too soon. I trained too hard in too short of time. I pushed myself rather than listening to that little voice that knows better and the voices of seasoned veterans. That’s a trait of a Type A—it’s how we roll.

Lesson three: Running is a metaphor for life.

Not every game day is going to be ideal. There are things that happen that are out of our control; they are there to be challenged or pass us by. I chose to challenge it and celebrate the accomplishment without attachment to the actual timed result. This was a process that took many weeks to make peace with.

Lesson four: Acceptance. 

Ego is a wretched thing. Personal fulfillment without attachment to results despite putting yourself out there, being vulnerable and transparent with your goals and expectation is a challenge. I was so frustrated at the finish line. I was an emotional wreck for a few weeks—a post marathon blues pity party. I was disappointed and through it all I needed to shift my focus to acceptance and appreciation for the entire process.

“Everything you wanted to know about yourself you can learn in 26.2 miles.” ~ Lori Culnane

As I sit and reflect on the entire experience I have reconciled that I did what I did because that is who I am.  I’m an “all in” kinda gal. I will forge ahead against the odds; a risk taker of sorts. I finished the marathon because I started it. I finished it for many of the friends whose stories of running challenges and persevering and overcoming adversities have touched my heart and I finished inspired by my trainer and some friends who are quite literally “Marathon Maniacs.”

As a mom, I feel that perseverance through blood, sweat and tears is an important lesson to demonstrate. Furthermore, to put things in context, there are people with far greater challenges who finish––many with far better results. And there are people who cannot run one step. I am the first generation of women in my family to be involved in sport.

My mom died in 2007 after spending the last 10 years of her life in a vegetative state afflicted by MS and my dad is an alcoholic; she had no control over her health and he has sabotaged his. I run in honour of health and the constant reminder that it cannot be taken for granted. I am grateful for every step. Running is an individual sport, but it’s also therapy. I refer to it as meditation in motion. Every step, every trail or road running journey has many lessons and benefits for the heart, mind and soul (and it keeps the ego in check!)

Would I do anything any differently? Hell, no.

This experience has hopefully paved the way for a much smoother second marathon attempt!



Relephant Read: 

Date a Girl Who Runs.


Bonus video!



Author: Leah Podollan

Editor: Renée Picard

Images: author’s own 



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