Training For Tuesday: Is 70.3 > 26.2?

I have completed 19 years of formal schooling in my 28 years on this earth, and in May I'll have an engineering degree. You'd think a simple inequality like 70.3 > 26.2 would be a no-brainer at this point. For those of you who have the math skills of a 3rd grader, then you can figure out on your own that yes, 70.3 IS greater than 26.2.
Can we take a moment of silence to appreciate how AMAZING it is that I have virtually the same photo of myself finishing two of the biggest firsts of my life?! it? I heard and read so many times leading up to my first half Ironman that a triathlon of this distance is actually easier than running a marathon. I even made sure I attempted a marathon before a half Ironman, because I was sure that if I proved to myself that I could handle 26.2, then I could definitely handle 70.3 (it only took me 2 more marathons and another 1.5 years after that first marathon to actually try out a half Ironman, but that's another story for another day). I could kind of see where they were coming from...even though the HIM is longer in terms of total time and distance, it's broken up into 3 different activities, whereas the marathon is literally one step in front of the other until you reach the finish line. But on the other hand...simple math tells me that 70.3 miles is much longer than 26.2 And taking 6-7 hours to finish is a lot longer than 4-5 hours. Still, as I raced my first 70.3 last Saturday, one of the things that kept my mind occupied was trying to figure out this answer for myself.

Training for 70.3 was much harder for me than marathon training in terms of motivating myself to get out the door and to keep going when I didn't feel like it, because I no longer had my favorite distraction tool to fall back on: music and/or podcasts.

For those not in the know, headphones are expressly prohibited in triathlon (although there is always at least one rule-breaker in every race); it's not the end of the world if you do it, as you just get a 2-minute time penalty added to your time (although you do have to be careful not to break too many rules, because after 3 strikes, you're out). Some running races also ban headphones, and most strongly discourage them for safety reasons and at least make you sign a waiver stating that you will use them at your own risk. I have no problem wearing headphones in a road race (I've never run one where they were completed disallowed), but for some reason, even though a 2-minute time penalty wouldn't kill me, I feel like going headphone-less is just...part of the triathlon experience.

Since I'm someone who uses music as a way to take the focus of a run off the actual running part, I knew that was going to be one of my biggest hurdles to overcome if I was going to do a half Ironman. Sometimes planning what I'm going to listen to on a run is the only thing that gets me excited to put on my shoes, but I didn't have that with half Ironman training. Before I started training for Beach2Battleship, I had completed nearly 10 triathlons over 2 years, so I did have some experience not using headphones, but I still vastly preferred to have them. But once I started HIM, I quit them cold turkey. It was hard to get used to at first, and there were maybe handful or two of times when I HAD to break out the headphones as a last resort. I eventually got used to singing songs in my head to entertain myself, or just zoning out, and by the end, I kind of preferred not having headphones.

Another facet of HIM training that I found significantly harder than marathon training was the volume. I had obviously trained for triathlons previously but had never followed a structured training plan focused solely on triathlon before, and I completely underestimated the time commitment. I will say that I trained a lot more for B2B than my friends did, but I also finished 30+ minutes ahead of them so...there's that.

Training for a marathon is a HUGE time commitment and when I trained for my first one, I definitely felt like my life completely revolved around training. I didn't think I could possibly ever devote more time to training than I did for a marathon...and then I started HIM training and my training time/volume doubled. There were times I actually thought to myself, "I wish I were only marathon training!" Not because marathon training is easy, by any means, but I didn't feel as constantly on the go during marathon training like I did for the HIM. Plus, with marathon training, I actually got a free day during the weekend! Usually I'd use it for some light cross training, but I only had one big focus for the weekend and that was my long run. With HIM, I had a long ride followed by a short run to look forward to on Saturdays, and then on Sundays I turned right around and did a long run (although my longest were 12-13 miles, so not quite in the same ballpark as the marathon long run). I think I adapted pretty well and managed to schedule my weekend activities around my training schedule, but it did wear on me. I could count on one hand the number of times I slept in this summer. I didn't sleep in for the entire month of July and then a little into August. AND during that time I was waking up at 4-5am during some weekdays to work out.

Related to volume of training, the workouts themselves were harder. Even though the longest training workouts for both races are about the same length (3.5-4 hours), I think the marathon training runs are harder because running is hard. On the other hand, although I didn't have to run for more than 2 hours during HIM training, I did have to spend 3-3.5 hours on a bike and then run for a half hour after that, and that wasn't exactly easy either.

The individual workouts may not have been harder for one more than the other, but the thing that pushed 70.3 training way ahead of marathon training in this category was that nearly every workout counted. In marathon training, running is the primary focus, and although that takes up anywhere from 4-8 hours/week, for me there's always an extra couple hours devoted to cross training (cycling, weights, yoga, etc.). While I do try to stick to my cross training schedule during marathon training, because it does benefit me in the long run, in the back of my head I know that it's complementary to my race goals, and not directly related to them.

In 70.3 training, on the other hand, every workout counts. Every one is either swimming, biking, or running, and the 8-12 hours spent in training during the week doing any of of those three is directly related to what happens on race day. That is super stressful! I think that's what wore on me the most by the end. I didn't feel as much flexibility to take it easy or skip a workout.

Going into B2B, I had a feeling that the race itself was going to be easier than running a marathon. Maybe that was counterintuitive, seeing as the training had been so much more difficult and involved, and I predicted I'd spend at least an hour, maybe two, longer on the 70.3 race course than I ever had on a marathon course, but somehow, the math added up in my head.

Now, I've completed a HIM a lot more recently than I've completed a marathon (10 days vs. 7 months), so this my memory may be slightly distorted, but I remember the marathon being a lot harder. And I had a great marathon the last time I ran one. Perfect weather, perfect pace, perfect everything. It was an amazing day. But I also had a great half Ironman with the same perfect conditions. And even comparing the best possible scenario for both, the marathon was still harder.

My fastest marathon (the last one, 7 months ago) was 4 hours and 17 minutes, and my slowest (a year exactly before the last one) was 4 hours and 57 minutes; my half Ironman time was 5 hours 52 minutes. So I spent 55 minutes longer on the 70.3 course than I had ever previously spent on a 26.2 course, but the 70.3 miles went by so much faster.

I only have one great HIM to compare to 3 marathons (one great, one pretty good, one awful), so maybe I can't fairly compare my feelings during each one. I will say that during each marathon, no matter how well or how badly it went overall, the first half of each one was pretty good and I had no complaints. However, I will also say that, again, no matter how it went overall, I eventually reached a point in each one when things got rough. Eventually I had to start taking walk breaks, or I had to go to the bathroom, or I couldn't breathe, or my mind quit on me and I just did not want to continue. Sometimes I was able to recover and sometimes I wasn't, but at least one of those things has happened in every marathon I've run.

None of those things happened to me during any of my 70.3 miles. I'm not saying I felt gung-ho and excited every second; not by a long shot. I don't know if I've trained my mind better or if it was just a different race experience, but I felt like I was better able to zone out during the times when I started to feel less than thrilled about spending 6 hours of my Saturday swimming, biking, and running. I might not have been continuously happy for the whole race, but I never got to a bad or negative place, mentally or physically.

Marathons have always left me unable to walk properly for at least a few days afterward. Stairs are my biggest enemy the week after a marathon. The day after my last marathon, I almost broke down sobbing because I needed a bottle of wine (this is a judgment-free zone) but Ben had the car and there was absolutely no way I could walk alllllll the way to our neighborhood market - a whopping quarter mile away. That's pretty indicative of how I usually feel immediately following a full marathon.

Somehow I convinced myself that I was going to bounce back immediately after B2B, that I was going to wake up on Sunday morning feeling bright-eyed and bushy-tailed with no soreness to speak of. So, imagine my surprise, when I woke up on Sunday and EVERYTHING hurt. My quads were absolutely trashed, my hips were so stiff...thank goodness for the hardwood floors in the cottage we rented, because I put on some socks and glided around when I needed to move. Stairs were once again a challenge in the days that followed. I was just happy that I didn't have to go out in public until 2 days post-race, so no one had to witness my bracing myself on handrails and wincing in pain with every step.

My muscle soreness was almost nonexistent within a few more days, but it took a lot longer to feel rested up and back to normal again. This is where I suspect a lot of this has to do with getting sick right after the race, but I guess I can't know that for sure. Either way, my body has NOT been able to get enough sleep over the last 10 days. I could seriously sleep all day long and I don't see that ending any time soon. It's been 10 days and even though I feel more normal than I did a week ago, I still don't feel completely like myself. I feel tired in every sense of the word. I'm anxious to get back to my routine but I know my body and my mind are in desperate need of some R&R.

With that said, I may have already run twice in the last week...oops.

In the end, I don't know that I can say for sure which was more difficult. Hands down, half Ironman training was harder than marathon training, but the race itself felt easier than a marathon. Marathons have been historically harder for me on race day, but they're (still tough but relatively) easier to train for and I'm able to get back on my feet sooner. So, I really don't know. If I had to pick one, based on the experience as a whole, I'd probably go with the half Ironman. But my friend who raced with me would say the exact opposite to there's really no consensus on this one! Ultimately, I think they're just...different. That's really not the answer I was looking for during those 5 hours, 52 minutes, and 53 seconds on October 17, but it's the best one I can come up with. I'm not sure that my number of half Ironmans completed will ever surpass my number of marathons completed (considering I'm at 1 and 3, respectively, and am already considering 2 of each next year), but if that ever happens, I'll let you know what changes!


  1. Awwww...! I wish I could go back in time and bring post-marathon you that bottle of wine. I was definitely sore after my first (and only) half, but nothing on that scale. So I'll just have to imagine it. I love hearing about your experiences, but, while they leave me feeling inspired, I still have no desire to try it! But I'm glad you're getting what you want out of it!

  2. Interesting! I haven't yet caught the HIM bug. I don't know if it's the swimming or just how daunting in seems, but I don't think I'm cut out for it! I'll have a half or full marathon any day!

  3. Need a bottle of wine - yes, yes, and yes. No one really prepared me for how sore I would feel after the marathon. Like, days of soreness, and then days of general fatigue. And, oh yea, a little tendonitis to boot. Fun! I'm just glad it's happening now, where I have time to rest and recover, and the weather & holidays are making me feel like I should be doing more of that anyway. Bring on the holidays!

  4. I'm so happy you found peace in training without headphones! That was always such a pride of mine when I ran because no music meant all the me-time I could ever ask for on the long runs. 70.3 > 26.2 but when you really do the math between your marathons and HIM's alone 148.9 is a pretty massive distance.

  5. I lol'ed for real when I read "because running is hard". I think you should get major high fives for training for any of the above. Regardless of the distance and training, they both take insane dedication and motivation and you have both of those in abundance ! Congrats again on your HIM !!!

  6. headphones for such along race-I am not sure i could do that. I ran my 1st half without music earlier this month and it wasn't as bad as i thought it would be only because I had some great conversations going on during the race that I could ease drop on-lol!! Way to go for getting over that hump.....that is super impressive!

    Well 70.3 and 26.6 in super impressive to me too actually! You are amazing! Way to go!

  7. Running a distance without headphones for me would be so tough! I would get inside my head a lot more and that is a dangerous place when I am running! haha! I cant begin to imagine how sore and trashed your body must have felt after the tri! My hips hurt after a 2-3 mile run!

  8. bahahaha at the wine. that sucks. i'm happy you got to a point of preferring to be headphone less. i really do prefer it as well.
    2 of each next year?! woah. i would be super interested to see how your next marathon goes, now that you've done your 70.3.

  9. Oh my word, girlfriend. YOU are an inspiration. I have a marathon and a HIM on my list and I'm thinking it needs to be soon as I am getting up their in age and right now my husband and I don't have any kids. I really appreciate you listing everything out, it gave me a ton of food for though.

  10. I definitely agree with the no-headphones comments! It was a tough adjustment for me as well when I shifted from marathons back to tri-training, and like you I just plain went cold turkey for a while. Now I've found a balance of both worlds. I can't recall whether my HIM races have felt harder than my marathons, because really both felt hard. I do think the two IM's I've done have been harder than the 50 mile run I did, which I guess is a similar comparison. But without a doubt triathlon training is harder (in my mind) than marathon training because, as you mentioned, every workout counts, and the higher training volume overall.

    Happy recovery to you!

  11. "the marathon is literally one step in front of the other until you reach the finish line." So I'm at the point in this week where every little thing is likely to set me off (don't let me check the weather again until Saturday...) and I'm ashamed to admit that my heart skipped a beat just at this sentence alone. WTF. Anyway, less self-centered comments to follow...

    That you can run even for 10 minutes without headphones is amazing to me. I have a weird fear of it, and it has more to do with the deep, dark places my mind can go sometimes and I'm afraid of being 30+minutes from home without an audio distraction to pull me out of where I might end up. I only know of one road race (Broad Street Run 10-miler in Philly) that completely disallows headphones... I kinda want to run it, kinda think the headphones would be a dealbreaker for me?

    I know how much my life felt ruled by running these past few months, so I can't even imagine adding two more disciplines to the mix. You really are Wonder Woman, you know?

    Also, what marathon other than Big Sur is (possibly) on tap for next year?? Tell me tell me! Even though the m-word is actually terrifying me right now and I really shouldn't have read this post until next Monday.

  12. i havent caught the HIM bug yet but it is definitely something I want to do at some point. we will see!

  13. This was an interesting read! I haven't thought about this yet (I'm thinking 70.3 in 2017 for me) steps Jennifer. Next year I'll include more sprints (possibly an Oly), get stronger on the bike, and really want a marathon PR. Have you heard of people doing 70.3 + marathon... can't imagine (and I don't plan on doing that in 2017).