Crazy? Well, yeah, maybe. But you’re in good company, because most runners are a little bit crazy. We like it that way. Adds a little spice to your life. And, trust me, plenty of friends and family members will be happy to tell you that you ARE crazy when you spill the beans and tell them with a straight face that you are training for a marathon. So, just get used to it; embrace it, even. Repeat after me: “Crazy is good.”
So, how does one go about this major transition/transformation? In one word: PLANNING. Planning is the key. Remember the old saying “Failure to plan is like planning to fail?” There’s a lot of truth behind it.
Step one: get your head in the right place. Ask yourself if you are ready to commit anywhere from 16-20 weeks of your free time toward this awesome goal. If you are, then move on to the next step. Yes, it will be time consuming, but it will also be very worth it.
If you’re going to train for a marathon, it’s best to come to terms with the fact that there will be pain involved. There will be days where you are sore, cranky, tight, tired, and doubting your decision. Just know that those days will happen, accept it, and move on.
There will also be days where you feel invincible, unstoppable, and just plain bada$$. Those days rock. There will be days where your runs are like floating on air, and days where you feel like you’re running with brick shoes. Here in crazy-land, that’s what we call “normal.”
A coach once told me that on your hardest days of training, you will make your biggest gains; so don’t give up and don’t give in. I have remembered that saying and it bubbles up to the surface on the days I can’t seem to get myself to take the first step of my run. Take the goods and the bads with a grain of salt, remain humble, and remember to stay focused on your long term goal: to finish 26.2 miles.
So, how do you overcome the mental challenge itself? What do you do on those days where you just can’t seem to talk yourself into your scheduled run?
Well, it’s been said that running a marathon is more mental than physical, and I believe there is some truth to that. On those tough days, what has worked for me (and a few of my running buddies) in the past has been to play “Let’s Make a Deal “ with yourself. I commit to 1 mile. That’s it, 1 mile. I will run one, and if I still feel like my head’s not in it, I can stop.
Funny thing is, after all of these years, I cannot remember one time that I have stopped. Ever. Bottom line; just get out there and get started. Once you start, your body will remember how much it loves to move, and everything else will take care of itself.
Ok, mental stuff aside, let’s talk about the physical part of it. Once again, planning is key.
Step 2: Schedule. I am a firm believer in planning out as much of your program as you can. What race do you have your eye on? What is the date? Do you have enough time to properly prepare? What days of the week will do your training runs? What day will be your long run?
There are lots of options. Some people like to run almost every day. Others prefer to run every other day or 3 times a week. You have to do what you, and only you, are comfortable with. If your body is telling you that running 2 days back to back hurts, there’s a reason. Don’t do it. There will be some trial and error here, especially if you’ve never trained for anything before. Find your happy place, and stay there as much as you can.
Actually scheduling your runs on your calendar really helps, too. Treat it like a dentist appointment. Set a reminder and stick to it. If you’re a morning person, do it first thing if you can. Then you won’t spend all day asking yourself “will I, or won’t I”. Just get it done. If you like to unwind after work with a run, do it then and shed all of the stress and pressures of the day so you can sleep with an open heart and relaxed mind. On your busiest days, maybe it’s best not to schedule a run….frustration avoided.
You should also consider what time of day the race will be. If it’s first thing in the morning (most are), train your body to like to run in the morning. If it’s at night….well, you get my point. Also consider environmental conditions. We will talk more about this as the weeks go on, but if you’re running somewhere where it may be extremely hot or cold, you will need to try to recreate those conditions as well.
Side note: if you’re a mom, have a Plan B and Plan C for your schedule. Trust me on this.
Step 3: Now, the meat of it all; finding a training plan. Oh, they are out there. All over the place. You can google it and come up with many options. Some are free, others aren’t. I suggest asking a friend what plan they used and if they liked it. Word of mouth is a good place to start. You do not have to stick with a plan 100%, you can miss a couple of runs here and there. But what you’re really looking for is a plan that will take your mileage up gradually, while also working in recovery weeks. Typically, you go up in mileage for 2 or 3 weeks, then you have a nice little recovery week with lower mileage before you ramp up again.
Side note: DO NOT skip over the recovery week. This is a terrible mistake. The tendency of some runners is to keep increasing their mileage; the thinking being that more is better. As a physical therapist, I will tell you that is NOT true. Work and rest are not opposites; they are synergists. One plays off of the other. You build up your miles, then you give your body time to adapt during recovery. If you never take the time to let your body catch up, it will not recover and grow stronger. Instead, you just waste all of that good training and wind up with a nagging injury that might take you out of the game for weeks.
Here are a couple of suggestions to start you on your quest for a plan (these are frequently used and many runners attest to their reliability for getting you to the finish line) : Hal Higdon or Jeff Galloway. The nice thing is, they also offer a little variety in their plans. You can pick novice, intermediate, or personal best plans.
Step 4: Ok, you’ve picked a goal race. You’ve picked a plan that works for you. You have your calendar laid out. Great. Now, what if you’ve never raced before?
I don’t recommend just showing up on race day for the marathon without doing at least one race prior. I think it’s a good idea to get a couple of races under your belt first. I like to suggest “graduating” races where you start with a 2 miler or 5K, and work yourself up to a 10K. It’s good to have actual race experience, because race day is so different from training. You’re not running alone on the trails or roads, you will be elbow to elbow with a lot of strangers. We will cover race conditions as we get closer to the race, but it’s good to plan a couple of smaller races while you have your calendar out in front of you.
Running a few races ahead of time also helps you with other issues that you might not consider: fueling, what to wear, what to eat the day before and that morning, and how sore you are after a race effort.
NOTE: It’s not necessary to run a ½ marathon before you run a full, however you will need to get in some good, long runs to prepare. It’s also not necessary or recommended to run 26 miles during training. Your body won’t have time to recover before your actual race. Most programs will take you to 20 miles and leave it at that. Twenty is fine; you’re going to have to trust me on this one. Your 20 miles will happen a few weeks before the actual race; then, your body will have time to recover and rebuild from it. So, trust the plan and don’t try to move that 20 miler around on your calendar.
Like I stated above, most plans will take you up in mileage for 2-3 weeks, and then you will have a recovery week. Believe me, this works. Recovery is the MOST important thing during marathon training. If you have to miss a run, knock one of the shorter ones off of your schedule. Keep the middle and long distance runs on, since these are key.
As we go through the next 16 weeks preparing for long distance racing, we will continue to cover topics that will help you along the way. Stick with me; let’s get this done together. Run happy.
Amy is a marathoner and triathlete, a mother of four, an Exercise Physiologist and a Physical Therapist. She lives with her husband, Dan (also a marathoner and triathlete), in Lewis Center.