Your (smart) Marathon Guide

Source: audible.com

A few months ago I promised to do a detailed piece on the steps to take when you do decide to run your first marathon. See, I’ve always believed it’s a done deal – fait accompli – now it’s only a matter of when (LOL). My last post about this was brief and gave a general sense on how to pursue this momentous event. Here, I’ll describe the steps to take now that you’ve already made the all-important decision on where or which marathon. Hopefully this leaves you fully informed and ready to run.

Steps to running your First 26.2

1. Ensure you are fit and able to run by visiting a doctor & doing a routine physical exam. Make sure to mention your plans so the physician can decide if there are any specific or other tests that you need to do.

2. When you get the OK, start doing small runs..even jogging is fine if you’re totally new to this..and increasing your mileage and pace incrementally. Starting out 4-5 times per week is a good idea depending on where you’re at – with a goal of 1 mile initially if you’re new or 3 miles or so for the runner with some experience but haven’t been running in a while. These runs should be done at an easy pace to gauge your ability and get the body used to running. Subsequent weeks should see an increase in both mileage and pace as you progress. The goal is to get your mind and body used to the idea and fact and to begin racking up some mileage. After about 3-4 weeks of assimilating you are now ready to figure out a marathon training plan.

3. First things first. Devise a plan that works for you, one that takes into account where you’re at and where you’re headed. Many of the popular marathons will offer some type of training assistance either online or locally. Depending on your proximity, you can choose which to take advantage of and be prepared to tweak it to suit your purpose. Most plans run between 16-18 weeks and should be a consideration before registration as you want to give yourself enough time to train.

4. I can never emphasize enough the importance of getting connected. Having some type of support system is fundamental to your training and race success. It doesn’t mean that you have to do every run in a group or with someone but only that you need to be accountable at some point in your training to someone, you need the support, encouragement, trading of information and critique that having others in your corner provide. Therefore, join a running group if only for the support aspect, though you stand to gain much more.

5. Around the 25% mark into your training you should be making headway with your running and should likely be focusing on speed, strength, and endurance. It is smart, at this point, to add some group runs into your training as part of your speed work, as in interval training and tempo runs and as part of your long runs, which should be seeing a small but steady increase in mileage weekly. In my training, I always reserve Saturdays for long runs and do them with friends when possible. I also try to run different routes to keep it interesting.

6. The fear factor, which may exist for new runners, is one that can be overcome by participating in a couple of races midway through training. Signing up for a 10k and half marathon helps you to get a feel for running under race-like conditions, gives you some experience and helps build your confidence. These runs are an opportunity to simulate your race day or as close to it as possible. Additionally, it is smart to try your marathon goal pace or slightly faster given that you won’t be running 26.2 miles just then.

7. In keeping with the last point, you should strive to do at least one simulation run in the last quarter of your training where you mimic your race day routine as close as possible; ie., run in your race day gear, take gels or whatever form of energy and calories you intend to have on d-day and hydrate as planned. Of course this should be a long run and maybe your longest at that. I usually do 20-22 miles.

8. A lot of us believe in carbs. It’s a runner’s primary source of calories and thus energy. I usually start carb-ing up two weeks before race day. However, as a first-time marathoner, it is important to overhaul your diet and nutrition to make sure you’re eating the right foods that will give the energy you need for training as well as enable you to build muscle and maintain a healthy weight. Running can take a lot from the runner, it is only wise to make sure that you are feeding the beast, so to speak. Some foods that power my runs are: whole grain spaghetti, potatoes ( white & sweet), brown rice, Farrow, stews w/beef and beans, ground beef/turkey, salmon, fruits, particularly banana and veggies and other whole grains like oatmeal.

9. I’ve found that protein shakes and/or other sources of energy and muscle boosters can add value to my running, and I often make my own at home using natural ingredients and fresh fruit and whole grains. Oftentimes, I use them pre or post runs, or, as often as I need the boost and depending on how my body feels.

10. Another important element to training is cross training. This has helped me in two main ways: (a) added variety to my workouts and broke up the monotony of running. (b) helped develop: muscle and strength through weight training, aerobic and anaerobic ability through cardio workouts like cycling and dance, and flexibility and strength through yoga. Cross training has always played a significant role when I’m training for marathons as I do it in tandem with my running workouts right from the onset. Other runners may do the odd cross training session or have a planned day per week. I urge you to try different methods and types of exercises and practice what works for you.

11. Getting enough sleep is a deal breaker when it comes to running, especially when it’s down to crunch time – the last 3 weeks before race day. Although, I will say that getting sufficient sleep throughout your training is paramount to having enough energy daily to deliver on your runs and other workouts. It also helps to improve your attitude and perspective and keeps you focused and excited to run.

12. Finally, with two weeks out and marathon day fast approaching, it is necessary to turn down the tempo some. Hard for those of us that are competitive but very necessary. While it maybe included in your training plan, or not, runners adopt a strategy known as tapering. It is the two-week period prior to race day when running is gradually reduced to allow your muscles to rest, relax, and repair themselves. It is done gradually and consists of varying methods but will all include eliminating long runs and reducing mileage and intensity. The idea is to use this period of rest to store up energy by resting well, including sleeping, eating and hydrating well. You can keep active by indulging in shorter, low-intensity workouts.

An aside to running, but something which maybe just as important to some runners who are in it for the from-first-step-to-finish-line experience, is the idea of keeping a log, journal, diary, or blog about running your first marathon. You can log your miles, post pictures of your training and progression, and write tidbits of advice and wisdom you’ve acquired along the way. Some benefits derived from journaling your marathon journey are: (a) You can use it to measure your progression and successes as well as to see where you may have delivered below your expectations. This can serve to motivate you to do better, try harder, or try again, or, it can help you see where your strengths are and what to focus on. (b) You can share your story and experience and use it to inspire or motivate others. (c) Your first marathon is a memorable event. For some it may be  the start of a great deal more, while for others it may be their only one, you won’t want to forget it nor regret having documented some aspect of it.

When all is said and done, you, the runner must find what works best for you. It could be that some of these ideas I’ve noted on here are of some use to you, or you’ll get other advice, or even develop ideas of your own.  That’s great if it’s what works for you. There is no one size that fits all. The successful runner is one who is focused though open, one who is not afraid of stepping up to try new things in the pursuit of what sets his feet on fire. He or she knows that all knowledge is good, though not all knowledge is pertinent. That being said, it is fundamentally important to have a workable training plan, to pay attention to your diet, to get enough sleep and to get connected with other runners. Everything else amounts to a bonus and will help deliver an exceptional marathon experience.

Ready. Set. Go.

 

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