So, why did you sign up to run 26.2 miles?
I’ll bet you’re scared thinking about having to run just 14 miles. Or 17. Or 20. You’ve never run more than 13.1, so why do you think you can do this?
You know you like a challenge. You know you can accomplish a goal if you put in the work. You know you love that half marathon finish line feeling, so the marathon has to be even better. You know that it won’t be easy and not everyone can do it, but good things come from hard things.
I know you’re going to have a few freak outs. You’re going to question why you signed up. You’re going to regret staying in on some Friday nights as a 21 year old. You’re going to doubt you’ll ever be able to run for 4 hours. But guess what? It’s worth it. And here’s some advice to help you get there.
Take it one day at a time
THIS is probably the most valuable thing I learned. If you start looking at your September mileage and your 40+ mile week in week one, you’re going to feel a little intimidated. Just look at the week you’re in. You can look ahead to your upcoming long run, but don’t start thinking ahead to the 20 miler. Run the miles you should today. And do the same tomorrow. Take it one day at a time.
Don’t be scared
You’re allowed to feel a little nervous. This is new. This is a challenge. But do not be fearful. What are you really scared of? Scared you’ll run farther than ever before? Scared you’ll like it? Or scared you won’t? Fear can be hindering and I promise there’s really nothing to be afraid of.
Celebrate every new distance personal best
I want you to be proud of every single long run. Be proud of each new “farthest run” your Garmin chimes in to show you. Getting to that marathon start line isn’t about one huge run or one great week of training. It’s about a collection of efforts day in and day out for months at a time. That takes dedication. And you deserve to celebrate every hour of hard work you put in. Treat yourself to that post-run latte. Go buy a new running outfit when you reach over 13 miles. Celebrate yourself.
Get enough sleep
If you want to have the energy to run for hours you’re going to need to be well rested. I get it – you’re 21 and feel like you can sleep when you’re dead, but sleep is more important than you think. Sleep helps your muscles recover. You need it. Some days will be harder than others, but try to prioritize sleep as much as you do the actual runs – it’s all part of training.
Set an attainable goal
You don’t know how you will feel at mile 20. You don’t know if you’ll hit the wall. And you’ve never run a marathon before so why set a time goal? I strongly believe that the only goal for a first marathon should be to finish feeling good. I get that you could estimate a finishing time based on your half marathon time, but this is a very different distance. Finishing should be the goal. There shouldn’t be any disappointment in your finishing time. We can talk time goals after you’re on your second full training cycle.
Find your jams
You’re going to have some quiet solo runs, so you’ll want something motivating playing in your ears. For long runs, check out Rich Roll’s podcast. Time will fly by listening to inspiring stories. For speed workouts? Find your pump up songs. And anything you find that gives you the feels. The “I want this playing as I cross the finish line” thing? Start adding those songs to your race playlist. I know you won’t forget Dog Days Are Over by Florence and the Machine, Stronger by Kelly Clarkson, or Schoolin’ Life by Beyoncé.
This one is tough, but try. Don’t think about calories in/calories out. If you burn 1500+ calories in a run, you need to refuel your body. And not with junk. Don’t get home, eat some pretzels and think that’s enough. Don’t skip a meal just because you know you’ll be drinking that night. Your body is working hard to achieve a goal for you, so help it out. Treat it well. Fuel up with substantial meals – that includes the night before your long run. Put some effort into your meal. If you feel lightheaded while running, think about why. You can’t expect to run for hours on an empty stomach. Have some toast before you head out. Bring your Clif Bloks to eat every 30 minutes throughout your run. You might not think you need them, but you do. And you’ll need to get your stomach used to them. It’s okay to not have this all down your first time around, but you love what your body can accomplish, so treat it with respect. And here’s a spoiler: by marathon three you’ll have no shame in your post-run breakfast game.
Don’t skip your cross training
I know you love to run and that’s all you make time for, but trust me on this: you need to cross train. Bike occasionally. Try yoga. Do your hip exercises. Lift some weights. Skimping on this area will catch up to you. So, be smart. You’ll help prevent injuries if you dedicate some time to some other exercises besides running.
Focus on hydration
This sounds a little silly, but you should practice your water intake. With half marathon training you haven’t needed that much water – an occasional stop at a water fountain wasn’t a big deal. But with marathon training, you’ll want to carry water on you. Get a water belt. Drink before you’re thirsty. Get your body used to taking in fluids while you’re moving. This is a crucial part of a marathon. And if you really want to look like a pro? Get some paper cups and practice drinking out of them while doing a slow jog (maybe somewhere without a lot of visibility since people will probably judge you). Drinking out of a cup while moving really does take some practice. Bend it and take small sips. Yes, some will end up on you, but that isn’t the worst thing. One little practice session and I’ll bet people won’t peg you for a first timer.
Find your support system
Guess what? When you tell people you’re training for a marathon, they might think you’re a little crazy. You’ll get a lot of responses like “Oh wow I can’t even run one mile” or “Be careful you don’t want to destroy your knees.” Everyone has their own opinion and that’s okay, but you’ll want to surround yourself with people who support you, even if they don’t get it. You’ll want your friends to be willing to stay in with you some Friday nights or for your boyfriend to show up at 5 AM to watch your race. You’ll feel more motivated if you have supportive people to vent to. Positive, supportive people matter more than you know. You won’t be the runner you are without their support. And don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone and join a team later on. Supportive people who understand your crazy love of running are the best kind of friends (and you’re going to find some absolutely amazing ones).
Dedicate each mile to a person
When it comes to race day you’ll appreciate having some distractions. Take in the crowd. Feel grateful for every step you’re taking. And think about what it took to get you there. The week before the marathon I want you to think about everyone that played a part in your journey. Take out a piece of paper and label it 1-26. Write down the name of a person that helped you get to where you are for each number. Memorize it. And while you’re running that specific mile: dedicate it to them. Thank them. Think of them. It will help the race fly by. How cool is it that you have that many supportive people in your life? You’re lucky. And that last 0.2? That’s for you.
Trust your training
Through all of this I want you to have faith in yourself. Trust your body. Trust your hard work. You will be able to do this. You work hard for months so you can be prepared come race day. You’ll be prepared. Try to remain relaxed through training and trust the plan. Not every run will go how you want it to. Not every week will be perfect. You might miss a few days of training. You might skip a long run. THAT IS OKAY. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Marathon training is a learning process (that never changes whether it’s your first or your tenth). So, learn. Learn what works. Learn what doesn’t. But always always trust in yourself. You have to.
Right now you do not know how much of an impact this journey and this race will have on you. I know you’re thinking you’ll be a one and done kind of girl. You think you can cross 26.2 miles off your bucket list and move on. It’s okay to think that way. It’s okay if that’s what you decide. But I’ll let you in on a little secret: you’re a marathoner at heart. This is your distance. You and marathons have a lot ahead of you. New personal bests, new destinations, new lessons learned. No marathon is the same. No training cycle is the same. So remember that as you work through your first one. You and the marathon? You’re about to have a lifelong relationship.
I dare you to train for a marathon and not have it change your life.