Thursday, December 15, 2011

So you want to run a marathon?

When I first considered running a marathon, even I thought I was crazy. After running my first half marathon with barely a year of solid running under my belt and virtually no training plan in place, I was lucky to still be standing. Still, I had caught the bug and within a month of that first 13.1 mile endeavor I began training for my first marathon. Little did I know I would be doing three in just 2 months time.

All that to say that I have learned a few things along the way and I've been wanting to do a post about it for those of you out there who are like me... thinking that running 26.2 miles is impossible. Well not anymore! It's definitely hard... but not impossible.

These are a few tips that I have learned along the way.
First things first:
1. Be sure you have a baseline fitness level. If you can run more than 3-5 miles non-stop you are ready to begin marathon training. I would highly recommend that you see your physician before starting any vigorous training regimen though, especially one as taxing as marathon running. Most people say that a full year of regular running is good to start out with. I had been running very regularly for about 7 months before I began my marathon training but I got away with it by choosing a very gradual, 7 month training plan that didn't push my limits. Listen to your body and trust your instincts. You will know whats right for you.

2. Choose the right training plan! I can't emphasize this enough. If you are incredibly fit and have been running races for a while... sure, maybe 12 weeks is the perfect amount of time for marathon training. For the rest of us... not so much. I am here to tell you that this one thing can make all the difference. I am not a natural-born runner. I am short and stalky and I run slower than a turtle in quicksand (for most running standards). Seriously I run 10-14 minute miles depending on the distance I run. The only time I broke a 6 hour marathon time was during my training run. That being said... I still was able to run 3 marathons in two months and I did it with virtually no injuries at all. I completely credit it to the training plan I chose. If you want tips on finding the running plan that's right for you check out, or

3. Have a reason to run. Set a goal. Find a friend to run with. Do anything and everything to remember why you want to do this because trust me... when you are on mile 18 of your long run and your feet feel like anchors and your legs feel like they will break with another step... you need to have something to hold onto to keep moving, especially during training. Either that or you need a person to hold onto (literally or not) to remind you that you can and  actually do want to finish 26.2 miles.

4. Run each long run as if it is your race. There are many facets to marathon training. The obvious ones are that you build endurance, gain muscle and mental stamina to finish the race. The other parts of training are that you're getting out all the kinks BEFORE you actually run the race... that way race day is as smooth and painless as possible. Try out different routines, different pre-run meals, snacks, energy drinks, clothing, shoes, music, etc. All of those little details will make running so much better and your race that much easier. Once you find out what works DO NOT change it (unless of course it stops working). Especially do not change it on race day. Don't go buy new shoes or socks the day before, just stick to what works.

5. Invest in some good gear! The right gear can make all the difference. Some good compression pants/shorts are a worthy investment. A reliable GPS watch is a must in my book. Garmin and Timex both make some great products and it doesn't need to be fancy but being able to track your split times and distance are key to making sure you are on track with your training. Cytomax makes a great electrolyte drink and GU gels were my favorite mid-run fuel snack. Try out different things during training but make sure you are well stocked on race day. During one of my races the aid stations ran out of water and electrolytes.... it was a good thing I had my own water bottle and cytomax powder on me or I would have died after mile 10. Keep a few band aids in your pocket as well... you never know when those might come in handy. ;)

6. Choose the right race. Before you decide when and where to run your first marathon, remember to keep a few things in mind. What is the course like? Are there a lot of hills or is it flat? Is it trail or is it pavement or both? What is the climate like? What time of year will it be? Try to pick a place that is most similar to where you will be doing the majority of your training runs. If possible try not to make your first race one that you will have to travel long distances for. If you do travel, be sure to allow your self ample time to rest before race day.

7. Prepare for race day. Before each race I run, whether short or long, I have a routine. If I am doing a large race that has an expo I always make sure and set out all my gear before I head to the expo. That way if I am missing anything I can pick it up there instead of finding out at 10pm after all the stores are closed. If possible I try to drive to the start line so I won't be navigating completely new territory on race morning. Study the course map and familiarize yourself with the terrain. Go to bed early but don't worry if you hardly sleep at all the night before. Most people don't. As long as you've slept well that week you should be fine. Nerves and adrenaline will carry you on race day. Stop drinking water approximately 30 minutes before race start... that way you can avoid the huge port-a-potty lines at the start line. Get to the start early! Nothing is more disruptive to race day than being the last person to cross the start line.

8. Get a good support system. Marathon training will take over your life. It will suck away your free time and eventually your schedule and mental energy will be fully invested into this endeavor. Rally those around you to help. Warn your family and friends of what you are doing... explain that you will need a little grace during this time. You will probably feel tired and worn out at times and having people who will understand and maybe even offer to help you out when things get tough can be invaluable. Remember that not everyone will understand what you are doing... find people who do and lean on them when things get rough.

9. Last but not least... Have Fun! Marathons are tough.... there is a reason such a few percentage of people will ever actually accomplish one in their lifetime. Running a marathon was one of the most challenging things I have ever done but it was also one of the proudest moments of my life. Remember to smile and breathe and enjoy the moment. When you finish and that medal is hanging around your neck, it will all be worth it.

And if you are truly crazy awesome like me, you can take that medal and wear it every where you go for the next week, showing everyone just who you are... a marathon runner!

My newest addition to the Bling wall... the triple crown medal for completing three rock 'n roll races this year. :)


  1. Wow! It takes incredible dedication and self-discipline to train for and run in marathons, and your tips are great. Congratulations to you for finishing the race(s)!

  2. Yay running!! I totally agree - the right (or wrong) training plan can totally make or break your running experience!

  3. you are amazing- so so impressive!

  4. Thanks for the tips! These look great. I just finished my first half, and like you, I'm not a natural runner, but I'm looking into preparing for a full marathon. Not sure if I want to attempt it during nursing school though... :)

  5. Wow! Love that medal, eh. Your tips are quite so helpful. Specifically, I agree that when running on a marathon and even on doing things daily, we must know first our reasons for doing so. Having fun is an added bonus for the passion to run. :)

    Thanks for sharing,
    Peny@Mother Robin Lim: 2011 CNN Hero of the Year