Saucony 26 Strong: Flying Solo

Marla Brizel, 26, from Chicago, has had a great summer of training, mostly with her running group out of Fleet Feet Sports Chicago. But as the long runs started to get longer, she thought she need to do some training on her own.

“About three weeks ago, I decided to skip my normal Saturday morning group run in favor of a solo 18 miler,” she says. “I love my training group, but I felt that I needed the mental test of tackling my longest run to date by myself. It was difficult at times but I had a great time and the confidence boost was exactly what I needed.”

Marla and her veteran partner, Jason Dement, are part of the Saucony 26 Strong project, a collaboration between Competitor and Saucony that pairs experienced marathon vets with first-timers (“cadets”) as they both train to achieve their marathon goals. Marla and Jason are both training for the Bank of America Chicago Marathon on Oct. 13.

While marathon training for Marla has gone overwhelmingly well with less than a month to go before the big race, she has learned a lot more than she ever expected in the process.

“I didn’t anticipate the emotional toll of training,” she says. “Training for a marathon is a lot like life in general—there will be days where the last thing you want to do is get out there. But there are no shortcuts.

“I’ve always used running as a stress relief tool but I didn’t anticipate how it would force me to work through issues completely unrelated to running,” she says. “I had heard anecdotally that training for a marathon was much like riding a roller coaster, but I didn’t fully appreciate what that meant until I started training myself.”

She also learned about how much work goes into becoming a stronger runner.

“Improvement doesn’t happen overnight,” she says. “This is the first time I’ve put any serious effort into improving my race times and hot summer weather is typically not conducive to major PRs. I’ve learned to have faith over the long haul and that if you keep putting in the work, you will see results in the end. Running is such a mental game and I think I’ve learned how to handle those types of stressors on the run.”

And for her first marathon goal?

“Since this is my first marathon, my only goals are to finish and to have fun,” she says. “Like most other runners, I have a ‘secret’ time goal, but I’m not sharing that because I don’t want the pressure for this race. The satisfaction of doing something that I once regarded as impossible will be plenty reward for my first go at 26.2.”

Read more about Penny, Caroline and the rest of the Saucony 26 Strong team at

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