Stepping Up to Run Your 1st Marathon

With all the marathon talk getting batted around, I figure now’s the best time to dig into the how, why, and which as it relates to embracing your own marathon moment. While this is not a comprehensive guide on the marathon process, from start to finish, it, at the very least, gives the prospective marathon runner an insight into the basics of how to go about planning and preparing for the race event of a lifetime.

Why a marathon?

It’s natural for someone who’ve run at least a dozen marathons to recommend it as a must-do, at-least-once-in-your-life, bucket list event. If for no other reason than that everyone should, at least once in their lifetime, push their perceived limits and embrace the incredible potential they were created with. Only then can one honestly know what he or she is capable of. As most marathon runners know, running a marathon will challenge, empower, inspire, motivate and change you. And not for the reasons you may think, for while the accomplishment of crossing the finish line on marathon day is the crowning achievement – and really is the sum of all your efforts leading up to that moment – it comes second to your dedication to training and the physical, mental, and financial sacrifices you made to get there. It is the tenacity, grit, and courage that has defined your training that will outlive your moment of glory and redefine you as a stronger and better version of yourself.

How do I choose which marathon to run?

It’s the 50,000 dollar question, made so as I’m a big believer that if something’s worth doing it’s worth doing well. So, if you’re in the market for a marathon, I’d suggest a popular one. And because I’m a New Yorker, and well because it’s popular, and famous and all that, I’d recommend the New York City Marathon. However, no worries if it’s outside of your range, I’m sure wherever you are, or somewhere close by, is bound to have one that meets the criteria of being a challenge and providing an enjoyable experience. One of the main reasons for going with a popular marathon for your first is that it provides a few things you will need as a first time marathoner. A popular race will have a lot of hype attached to it. This will overflow into the running and local community, which then encourages and fosters team and community spirit. The new runner needs this support and community for accountability, advice and training. Additionally, a popular race will also boast a certified and well-known course. You can use the information available to prepare and get yourself familiar with the race. By race day you should be comfortable, confident, and ready to run. Lastly, a race that is well-known holds the promise of a memorable event for a few reasons: there’s a very good chance it’ll be a well-executed race, have good crowd, support, great swag, and eats at the finish in addition to cool bling.

From Zero to Hero: preparing for the run of a lifetime

This part actually requires an entire article dedicated to it, but I’ll go ahead here and touch on the key concepts for running your first marathon and follow up with greater detail in a subsequent piece.

Because no one gets up one day and decides to run a marathon right there and then, it means careful thought goes into the planning and execution of such an event. Once the decision is made the runner can join a running club and be privy to their training schedule or adopt a certifiable training plan either through enlisting the expertise of a running coach or following a proven plan (online, from print etc.,) if training solo. Only, beware that enlisting professional help will get you a plan tailored to you while any other plan will have to be adjusted to your abilities and goals. In addition, new marathoners will likely have to change or enhance their diet to accommodate the change to their [active] lifestyle. As such, runners are encouraged to see their physician to assess their health and visit with a nutritionist if necessary to ensure they get the required foods in their diet that will fuel their training. Also, proper and adequate sleep is another key element that comprises a runner’s “diet” and oftentimes requires a concentrated effort to follow through on, this becomes even more critical in the final 3-4 weeks before race day. Additionally, Because of accountability and support factors, training with a group or team is recommended, however solo runners should be sure to get some group runs in to help with speed work and long runs. Just as important is gearing up and making sure to get good trainers and running shoes along with proper running wear. Finally, new runners should, in addition to their training, seek to participate in official races such as 5k’s, 10k’s and half marathons, where those races can be seen as additional training under race-like settings and their official time can be used to gauge progress and track ability and preparedness.

Now that you’ve gleaned just a little of how this momentous occasion goes down, trust me there is so much more tricks and tips to pulling this off in true warrior-like fashion, you can possibly appreciate the impact running a marathon can have on one’s life. It is not far-fetched to believe that it will change you.

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The Thrills of Hills: A Recap of The San Francisco Marathon


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I’ve heard it said often enough, “Learn to love hills, they’ll make you a stronger runner.” After last Sunday’s run, I believe it. It’s hard to know when you register for a race online what you’re really signing up for? You can’t know, not with any degree of certainty, what you’re getting into – the run of a lifetime or the challenge of a lifetime? You can only research the course, maybe suss out a few runners who have done it before and get some feedback, but really just hope and pray for the best. I suppose that’s what makes it challenging and exciting to begin with – the unknown factor, the anticipation of discovery – in the end, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The San Francisco Marathon (SF Marathon) was a dream hills course, that is, if you ever have such dreams or nightmares. Lol. Truthfully, I wouldn’t describe it in nightmare terms because despite the hilly terrain, I enjoyed it and thought it was quite scenic and interesting. My favorite part of the course was running on the golden gate bridge (big thrill)..about three miles out from the Bay area into Marin and back to the tune of perfect San Francisco-type weather, overcast and drizzly with a cool breeze. I was in my element at tempo pace with a slight incline to relatively flat run in the company of thousands of runners and spectators lining the bridge; a perfect run setting if there ever was one, if only it could have stayed that way. But it was San Francisco, you would think I didn’t know it as I really didn’t expect it to be quite as hilly; suffice to say my expectations were surpassed. I especially wasn’t thrilled with the downhill portions of the race as it was hell on my lower back and butt cheeks but on the other hand, the variance kept the race interesting. What I knew of the law of gravity kept me sane and pushing forward on the hills and if you know anything about running downhill, then you know the momentum pretty much carries you; only there needs to be some sort of control to your running, which was the hard part, since there was no traction.
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Running along the bay area was another thrill. Starting from around mile 3 to 6, it was beautiful, cool, and calm around 6am looking out over the bay to the boats as they floated on the still water. The heavy fog surrounding us like a cocoon made as if to seclude us in a space where only running existed. One could feel the immense hush settling over us as we dug in and psyched ourselves for what lay ahead. Of course nothing in my training on those very miniscule hills (in comparison anyway) in Central Park, New York could have prepared me for what must have been mountains (or so it seemed at the time) I had to run. However, it was encouraging to see the locals running with slightly less effort, it gives me hope that mastering those hills is possible after all; I only have to incorporate it into my training. Only, right.
In hindsight, I should have made more of an effort to tame my pace in the first half, and to be fair I tried, but with the early ups and downs and stronger muscles to play with, pushing it kind of just happened and I was able to keep up a more or less steady 8:15 min p/mile. It was the steady decline of mile 13 that saw my decrease in pace which just about summed up the rest of the race. Getting past the historic residential areas and closer to the city provided a bit of a reprieve in terms of a flatter landscape and difference in scenery but it was a case of too little too late, as I was already heading toward a 3:50 finish. Not much that could have been done at that point and not for a lack of anything not provided on the course.
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The 31st running of the SF marathon ran pretty smoothly. Lots of fluid and energy gels strategically placed along the course made sure we were ready to take on the hills right up to the finish line. Crossing under the merciful covering of an overcast sky was a blessing I did not take for granted, for San Francisco’s glorious sunshine soon appeared as if out of no where. Boy was I grateful to have finished and was especially heartened to see the streams of runners that kept pouring in despite the damnable heat. 27,000 runners found their strong last Sunday, which I think speaks a lot to what determination, perseverance and the right attitude can do when coupled with a runner on a mission. That said, it’s a course I’d love to run again; maybe I’m a sucker for punishment after all.
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Deconstructing The Marathon

how-to-run-a-marathon-finish-it-and-live-to-tell-the-taleEver wondered why 26.2 miles is the standard by which most runners measure their ability? What is it about this race that captures our imagination and incites a ridiculous passion within that causes to us to defy everyday expectation? Why do we seek to stretch ourselves beyond average human endurance to achieve a moment of glory to which we come back to time and time again?

I submit it is the intrinsic desire of every person, runner and non-runner alike, to matter; to live a life of meaning where what we do matters to someone in some way. It gives our lives purpose and direction and motivates us to put our best foot forward in spite of the challenges we face. The Marathon for many runners is a benchmark by which we judge our performance, our competitiveness and even certain aspects of our character such as perseverance and tenacity. Often, it becomes “The Challenge” that is the driving force behind our careers, our passion, our purpose and/or our life’s mission.

Running, I’ve always maintained, is a natural ability that we are all born with, some more so than others. While the advent of time and the changes in pop culture have surely impacted our desires, it has no more made a runner of you than it has me. We’ve always ran to some degree, some are just no longer satisfied with the average 6-13 miles. For most of us who’ve honed and sharpened our skills, a half marathon is no longer enough to satiate our hunger for more challenge, more adventure, more competition – even if we’re competing with ourselves. It’s now a warm up. Mind you, it didn’t start out that way. We have graduated to a secure place in our running from 5 mile short runs to 10 mile tempo runs to 13-15 mile training runs to 18-20 mile long runs to where 26.2 is now “The Run.”

Running a marathon is a dream, goal or, bucket list event for many runners. The actual race however, is no easy feat. No one gets up one day and decides to run a marathon, it involves lots of training and racing prior to “The Run.” While it is a challenge; hardwork, sacrifice, commitment, and perseverance, it is doable. As is often said, the man with a plan can. This is true for many things but it is especially so for running a marathon. A plan is needed for training and for race day. In previous posts I have discussed both butI want to reiterate how important it is to have a race strategy. Obviously, we cannot know exactly what will go down on that day but knowing how you intend to tackle the challenge it is will make for a better run.

The Marathon is easier run in parts. By this I mean that it appears more doable if it’s broken up into segments. The first 5 miles is pretty easy running -nothing we haven’t done time and again – running at a steady easy pace, it can be looked at as your warm up. Miles 6 through 12 takes us into training mode, we have been here; it’s comfortable and so we can up the ante some bringing us up to miles 13-18. Here is where we begin to feel our leg muscles working, pushing, reaching, stretching. Every part is now working in unison; legs pounding, arms pumping, in and out we breathe taking us further and a tad bit faster through to miles 19 through 24. Here the challenge is real to focus on the finish line, the medal, that moment of glory over the pressure to slack off and ease up just a little. Muscles are oftentimes screaming at this point because its breaking down. All the extra cross strength training comes into play here to give the extra push fueling those muscles and propelling you forward into the final leg. The final 2.6 miles is strictly mental. Pain, discomfort, exhaustion exists somewhere on the periphery of reality, one that is filled with the sounds of cheers and shouts of encouragement. You dig in for that reserve of strength and speed that was awaiting this moment.. here it comes.. You can see it now, taste it even, the roar of the crowds give wings to your feet and you’re in. You did it. Aside from the chunk of metal hanging around your neck, take a breath and a minute to absorb it all. This, right here, is why you’ll be back soon.

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