This Essay article is part of a Narcity Media series. The views expressed are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Narcity Media.
Running a marathon is really hard. That's something that's super clear from the first day.
But, there are countless other aspects to preparing for —and running — a marathon that people simply don't tell you about until you've experienced them yourself.
And, I got a whole lot of that after I trained for, and eventually completed, the Toronto Marathon on May 1, 2022.
For those who don't know, a marathon is 42.2 km of running.
For me, it took about 5 hours and 12 minutes on a track in Toronto that snaked and looped all the way from Yonge and Sheppard in Toronto, along the waterfront before eventually ending at the Canadian Exhibition Grounds.
While training, I learned a whole lot about my body, my mind, my life and just how much running for over three hours a week can suck. A lot of which you don't learn about until you're already knee-deep in intense endurance training.
During my time practicing for the race, I learned how important food is, the pain of running in the freezing cold and much, much more.
So, here are the things that I wish somebody had told me (before it was too late).
Food becomes way more fun
The post-marathon lunch spread.
One of the best parts of running for dozens, or even hundreds, of kilometres in a few months is food.
When you've burned 2,500 calories on a weekend run, you can polish off a burger, fries and have half a pint of ice cream for dessert with no qualms.
Having the ability to eat, almost, whatever you want is maybe the best part about running long distances. You can just chow down guilt free and that feels awesome.
You need to train, no matter the weather
When your race is on May 1, you need to start training all the way in January. And anyone that's lived through January in Toronto knows how unpleasant it is to be outside.
Now try running in that bitter cold and wind. Yeah, it was not fun.
I actually skipped tons of runs due to the conditions outside throughout January and February. I didn't have ice spikes or other snow running gear and I didn't want to risk slipping and falling.
But, on race day, I definitely felt all of those race days I shouldn't have played hooky on.
There's more to running than just running
Me and my friend right before the finish line.
While making sure you have the proper cardio ability is obviously super important, there are other parts of your body that need training.
If you don't want any painful injuries or major setbacks in your training plan, you should start doing strength and flexibility exercises. If you don't, you'll end up like me.
Just a week before the big day, I could hardly run five kilometres without feeling knee pain.
The culprit was not properly stretching and caring for my muscles enough over the last four months.
While it didn't stop me from competing the race, it really, REALLY sucked to run for over five hours on a painful knee.
Food is not always fun
The flip side of that is that you really begin to understand just how important food and fuel is when you're doing that much activity. You need to make sure you eat the right foods before and during a race.
For me, marathon training meant running 15 kilometers, sucking down a strange fruit flavoured goo, and then going for 10 km more.
If you don't refuel properly, you could end up like me when I thought I was horrifically sick and needed to go to the hospital after a 20 km run.
Turns out I just needed some electrolytes and a milkshake.
Do it with friends
Me, my partner and friend at the start line.
My favourite part about the marathon was that I had roped my partner and my best friend into doing it with me, so I was able to share the process with people close to me.
We had a marathon group chat where we talked and joked about our training, along with setting up challenges and following each other on the fitness app Strava.
It also meant that on the day of, I had buddies undergoing the same ordeal as me.
It felt really amazing to finish the race with my months-long running partners and to celebrate all together at the finish line after a grueling race.
Say goodbye to your free time
Okay, this might seem obvious to you, but I was under the impression that if I trained properly, I would still have time for other things in my life.
But, boy, was I wrong.
Not only is the training physically exhausting, but it takes up nearly all of your free time. Want to go out on Friday? Well, just remember that you need to be up at 8 a.m. the next day, ready to run a half marathon.
Want to just sit and relax watching a show after work? Psyche! You gotta run eight kilometers bucko. Oh and it's raining!
And that's just the training. The day-of is a whole new level hardness, but when you're done …
You will feel amazing
All three of us at the finish line.
The sense of accomplishment is really like no other.
While I did walk a lot of the race, had terrible pains in all my joints, and had a whole lot of deep emotional conversations in my head throughout the race, when it was all said and done, it felt great.
It really taught me that age old cliche: you can really do anything you set your mind to.
On a whim, I decided to sign up for a marathon six months before, and there I was, in the freezing cold rain, having propelled myself a whole dang marathon.
Good job, me.