Years ago before I got back into running, my husband and I (we were dating at the time) worked in Central Park. On marathon Sunday it was always hectic trying to get into the park to work and then again as we tried to weave our way out of the park. But it was so fun teaching on the ice rink just yards from the final mile of the race. You could hear the helicopters nearing the finish and the cheers as the first wave of runners came through. I would always leave work just as the race was getting into full swing. The air was full of excitement. That marathon took a typically cold city and united everyone with a loving warmness. People who usually walked with their heads down and wouldn’t acknowledge their neighbors flocked to the streets to cheer on strangers.
One year I walked home to my old apartment on the edge of Harlem and wandered to First Avenue to cheer on the runners. I couldn’t stop watching. I was in awe of the fast runners who flew by me and also by the slower ones often in costumes or sporting their home country’s flag. I loved seeing names painted across shirts and hearing people call out those names to push on athletes they had never met and likely never would.
“This is so inspirational,” I told my now husband. I was caught up in the moment but then added that it was something I had absolutely no interest in and would never be one of those people who chose to tackle such a crazy challenge.
That was until I had a great massage and a great conversation! As I have mentioned many times before I have an addiction for packing on miles. A few years ago in the spring I started secretly challenging myself to see how many miles I could do on a Saturday run. It started with 16 miles and then went to 18. When my husband said he was surprised that I didn’t go for 20 I took it as a challenge and did 20 and followed it up with a 23 mile run the following week. Then the summer heat took over and I went back to my usual 10 mile runs.
I ended up with some tight muscles and went to a massage therapist who happened to be a marathon runner himself. As I was telling him about my running he kept emphasizing how awesome the marathon is and how I really owed it to myself to tackle the marathon with all the miles I was already doing. Imagine my husband’s surprise when I came home and told him that my masseuse had convinced me to do a marathon!
So what does it take to do a marathon? There are several things you need to first take into consideration.
How much weekly mileage do you currently average without getting injured? The most ideal situation would have you already running for at least a year and doing about 20-30 miles per week by the time you are ready to get started. It really is important to have a good base built up before you begin your training. This will help in avoiding injuries which are much more likely with this type of training. Although you do not have to use the 5K, 10K, and half marathon build up it can be a great steady progression to prepare for this type of training.
How willing are you to commit to this type of plan? The marathon involves a pretty rigorous regiment. Whether you are doing a beginning or elite training plan you are going to have to commit yourself to this in many different ways. Be honest with yourself. Can you truly give 4-6 days per week to running? If you are going to go forward with this you owe it to yourself to stick to the plan. No one wants to get to the start line and regret skipping training runs and feeling under prepared. Keep in mind that this training lasts for a few months.
Can you manage to take 2-4 hours every weekend to do a long run? Your long run will typically fall on Saturday or Sunday. As I have mentioned before I like doing the Saturday long run for a few reasons. First of all I am already beat from work all week so staying in on Friday and getting some good sleep is never a problem. By getting up early on Saturday and going for my long run I then have all day to rest and refuel. I can still go out for dinner or drinks Saturday evening and then enjoy a restful recovery day on Sunday before the fun starts back up on Monday. However, those training runs get progressively longer and are done at a slower pace so you will need to plan on being out on a path for a few hours at a time. This is the most important part of your training plan so if your schedule doesn’t permit this you need to wait until you are able to carve out the time.
Are you willing to eat healthy and drink lots of water? Marathon training isn’t just about the time spent on your feet. What you put in your body really has a huge impact on how you run, especially on the weekends. Eating lots of healthy food and drinking plenty of water is the only way you are going to get through this thing, hopefully without hurling along the way (although I make no guarantees).
What is your goal? Do you have a time you would like to finish in or do you just simply want to finish? Knowing ahead of time what you want out of the experience will determine how you approach the race. If you have a time goal you might need to add in some speed work. If you are just focusing on finishing you can add in walk breaks and not sweat the speed work, literally.
So if all of this sounds like your version of fun I have a few recommendations to add:
Become a creature of habit. Experiment with your diet and when you find what works stick with it. For example I started out my early Saturday long runs with a few small pancakes. It worked perfectly for a few weeks and then on my 17 mile run I started having some awful stomach pains. I switched to a hollowed out bagel with a thin layer of cream cheese and that did the trick so I stuck with it. The same goes with fuel on the run. Once you find the right fit, stick with it and don’t experiment.
This rule also works with clothes. Find an outfit you like and feel good in (hey a girl has to feel good!) and stick with it. If you find an outfit that feels comfortable on those long runs and doesn’t chafe. Keep wearing that same outfit during your long runs and then wear it again on marathon day to ensure no added worries. I splurged on my orange top from Lululemon because I thought it looked fun and was nice and light.
Alternate your shoes. You don’t want to end up with new shoes on race day but for the next 16-20 weeks you are going to be putting in long mileage. So buy two pairs of the shoe you know will carry you through the race. Alternate them each day for the next few weeks and you will not have to worry about your shoes breaking down before you get to the race. I wrote a letter “A” with a sharpie in one pair and knew which ones to use for different days. It worked out just perfectly. I didn’t have to break down new shoes as my training progressed and the shoes were still sturdy enough to comfortably carry me through to the finish.
Finally, I hope this hasn’t scared you away from a marathon. As a former competitive athlete this was an awesome way for me to see the competitive side of a sport again but as an adult and on my own terms. If you never had the chance to compete in a sport this is an excellent opportunity to delve into the heart of athletic training. You will watch yourself transform both mentally and physically. What seems difficult one week will seem like a cake walk a few weeks later. Your body, your running, and your mindset will all change. The weeks will go by and as you step to the start line you will find yourself a new and stronger person.
Training for and running a marathon is a difficult task and certainly no small feat. But if you have the time and the opportunity to do it I highly encourage you to go for it!