by Cassie Bjork in Training Tips, image by Benoît Ferradini

Mastering the Marathon

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Whether you signed up on a whim, have taken that step after years of consideration, or are still tossing the idea around: you are in the right place. As most marathoners will tell you, the marathon is about so much more than the actual race—it’s about the journey.

The months of training: waking up at the crack of dawn, pushing when you don’t think you can push anymore and sacrificing social activities and sleep. A lot of things need to be considered while you are training for a marathon (or at least thinking of it.) Although I didn’t take all of these factors into consideration when training for my first marathon, it’s my hope that you do.

Weigh out the pros and cons

Realize that you are going to need to give up some things. You are also going to need to spend some money—and not just on the race entry fee. Although running is a “minimalist” sport (I like to tell people it’s great because the only “equipment” you really need is a good pair of shoes,) there are additional items that may benefit you throughout your training. These things can provide you comfort and keep your body safe. I’m not going to mention the luxurious items like a GPS watch or five-finger shoes, but I’ll mention a few. First and foremost, you need to invest in a quality pair of shoes. Other items that may be helpful include clothing specifically designed for running : socks, sports tape, a foam roller, a few ice packs and a painkiller (such as ibuprofen.)

Invest in a good pair of shoes (or two)

I can speak from experience that bad running shoes will result in pre-mature wear and added pain. One rainy morning of a 10K race, in an attempt of not ruining my “good shoes”— I grabbed an old pair from the rack and suffered from lower back pain for an entire week. A different time, I purchased a so-so pair of shoes from the clearance rack at a sporting goods store, and struggled through 15 miles of bloody, heel cutting pain on one of my marathon training runs. Experts say that quality shoes are the best thing runners can invest in. If you can’t financially afford to invest in a quality pair of shoes, I wouldn’t recommend running a marathon. And when you buy new ones, I recommend being fitted for a pair at a specialty running store, as everyone’s feet vary.

Choose a training plan

Do some research. Decide how much time you can realistically put into training. I shopped around for quite some time, until I decided that Hal Higdon’s Novice 2 plan was appropriate for my first marathon—and it was free. I chose this plan based on my running abilities at the time, along with the fact that running four days a week was feasible for me (some plans require more and some less.) For most training plans you’re able to print out the mileage schedule for free—or pay a fee for day-by-day advice. There are a lot of great resources if you need them, but for myself, having the mileage written on my calendar is enough motivation to do it. You know yourself better than anyone, so decide what is right for you.

Be open minded

I did things I never thought I’d do. I skipped social events that I’d normally attend, spent $40 on a piece of foam (which ended up being a lifesaver,) and bought a goofy-looking pair of five-finger shoes (to work my muscles differently on some of the shorter runs.) I also bought glucosamine supplements (which I swore I’d never take until I was 30…) Be open minded.

Listen to your body

Although there are many benefits to following a training plan, most of them will tell you to, above all, listen to your own body and do what’s right for you. There’s definitely something to be said about pushing through the difficult times, and that’s one of the biggest accomplishments of finishing a marathon. However, it’s just as important to rest, and if your body is telling you something other than your training plan, it’d be wise to listen. I was thankful to not get injured until a few weeks after the marathon, and that was when I truly learned the importance of rest. I knew that if I wanted to complete another, it would be necessary for me to give my body the rest it was asking for. So, listen to your body and take care of yourself both mentally and physically. Get your sleep. Eat healthy (see a dietitian to help you with this, if needed.)  Take some downtime.

Practice how you plan to race

Every time. There’s a reason why the classic runner’s rule is “Never try anything new on race day.” Try different fueling strategies during your training and test your pre-run meals ahead of time so you can be confident on race day. One thing I would have done differently during my first marathon is to NOT stop at so many of the water stops. During my training, I didn’t hydrate at all unless I was running over 13 miles. The marathon already offered water at mile 3 and every other mile thereafter. I’d really recommend testing different hydration regimens during training and sticking to this on raceday (unless of course, you are thirsty! Then it goes back to listening to your body.)

Set a realistic goal

If it’s your very first marathon, it’s perfectly fine for your goal to be as simple as finishing. This in itself is something that many people never accomplish! Once you have your first marathon completed, and if you choose to run a second, your goal may then be to beat your first time. And on your third, your goal may be to beat your time from the second. Notice the pattern…!

Toss a race or two into your training plan

This was one of my favorite parts of marathon training. Sometimes we can get so fixed on logging in our miles that signing up for a race can be overlooked. Just the act of being in the racing mindset can be what you need to keep your training alive. I ran a 10K and  a 20-miler during my marathon training, and am signed up for a 10-miler and a half marathon for my second time around. Racing provides an environment that is unique in itself—the excitement of other runners and the “real” opportunity to practice your pre-race and post-race regimen.

All in all, embrace the journey! Race day will be rewarding in itself, so be sure to cherish the moments and runs that lead up to it. I guarantee you will learn a lot about yourself as you stay in tune with your body and mind throughout your training. Good luck!

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