What I learned running my first marathon

By Kayleigh Karutis

I’m not a natural runner.

I tried - a lot - in my teens and 20s to force it, but the fact of the matter is, I’m more naturally built for power-based sports. When I found powerlifting, it felt like home.

Still, I always had an image in my mind as Kayleigh the Runner, capital R, and no matter what sport or goal I’m focused on, running has always been there -- an easy way to clear my head, get a workout in, and most importantly get some fresh air (dreadmills, NO THANK YOU).

When a friend suggested I join her for a half marathon, I signed up enthusiastically, and actually did great by my personal standards. I wanted sub-2 hours, and I got it, and felt great - fit, healthy, and strong.

Shortly after, another friend asked if I’d join her for a marathon. The thought of doing what I just did, twice, back to back, was terrifying, but that image of Kayleigh the Runner kept creeping into my mind, and I signed up for the Vancouver Marathon on May 7. What better way to celebrate 30 years on this earth, right?

I finished my marathon, meeting my goals (1. No walking before the 13 mile mark and only walking at water stations thereafter; 2. Sub-11-minute mile average; 3. Don’t get hurt!) and enjoying the accomplishment of finishing what has easily been the most difficult physical endeavor I’ve ever embarked on. Here are some things I learned.

You can’t do it all. As a typical Type-A, perfectionist, “nothing is ever good enough” person, I was convinced I could continue to train in powerlifting and strength training while also keeping to my marathon training plan.

Reality? Running 30+ miles a week and 13+ miles in one go every weekend, up to two 20 milers as my peak, is no joke. I had to come to terms with the fact that I simply could not keep up my powerlifting to the same degree, and watched sadly as my strength decreased. It took time, but eventually I was able to accept that I’d get my strength back, and that focusing on running for now was what I needed to do to meet my goals.

Difficult things are worth doing. Training for my marathon was one of the most difficult ventures I’ve ever embarked on. My plan lasted 4 months exactly, and involved running 4-5 times a week -- pretty standard. That didn’t make it easy. The fact it was hard, though -- especially once my long runs got to 15+ miles -- made it worth doing. There’s nothing like the feeling of accomplishment of running the farthest you’ve ever ran -- every weekend. Every long run felt impossible, and yet, every weekend… I could go a little bit further.

The post-accomplishment blues is real. After my first powerlifting competition, I felt really bummed, and couldn’t figure out why. After my marathon, I felt the same. After pushing and working so hard for something, coming down off that effort can leave you feeling bummed out and aimless, and it hit me pretty hard. Navigating those feelings isn’t fun, but knowing they’re natural and normal -- and won’t last -- made it easier.

Endurance sports are addictive. At mile 20, my internal dialogue went like this: “This is insane. Why did you do this? Will anyone judge me for quitting? There’s no effing way I’m ever running another one of these. What the hell were you thinking?!”

Cue my google search not even 5 hours after crossing the finish line: “How to set goals for your second marathon” and “Using marathon training to train for a half Ironman.”

I love many sports and activities - yoga, powerlifting, running, cycling, mountain climbing, rock climbing, swimming - all to varying degrees, degrees that change over time and at various phases of my life. But training for a marathon has shown me that there’s really nothing quite like the accomplishment of training and crossing the finish line of an endurance-based event.

Today, I’m enjoying the “Twentysixpointtwo” bracelet my mom got me, and being able to lift and strength train with more energy. But a half-Ironman in August is calling my name, and if I’m honest… I’m pretty stoked to start training.


Kayleigh is a writer living in Denver, CO, with her partner and two dogs. When she's not hiking or climbing in the nearby mountains, she's exploring the West. See more of her adventures on Instagram at@kkarutis.