So you want to run a marathon?

You want to run a marathon. 26.22 miles. 42.20 kilometers. It sounds crazy, but you want the motivation and thrill of being able to accomplish the seemingly impossible, and also would love to get in shape.

I’ve only ran one marathon so far in my running career, but here’s some tips from what I’ve learned about it.

How can you get there? Before I get into the actual training, here are some questions you should ask yourself:

  1. Do you have time? You have to stick to a very rigid schedule and (depending on your physical condition) have running take a good part of your time for the months leading up to the race. My longest runs were taking nearly 3.5 hours, and I purposely scheduled them on days where taking a nap the rest of the day wouldn’t be a problem. This was on top of the 90 minute runs I scheduled on other days of the week.
  2. Can you already run? I was already running 10 miles comfortably three times a week when I was considering to run a marathon. I also completed two half marathons already by the time I registered for mine. My personal belief is that if you can run 6 miles comfortably three times a week, a marathon should be doable in a couple months of strenuous training to minimize injury. You’ll also be accustomed to your running gear as well.
  3. Do you personally think you can do it? It’s not all about being physically able to run one. Marathons take perseverance and mental willpower. There will be days when you get up and just want to sleep in rather than go on your long run. Your motivation for running one, whatever that may be, must be strong enough to weather days when you just plain don’t want to do it.

That said, if you believe you can do it and are ready, your training plan will vary widely from mine and others. It must consist of some sort of long run in the weekend and some shorter training runs throughout the week, along with a 3 week long taper. However, there are some basic tips you should follow:

Training Tips

  1. Never run 1-2 miles more than your maximum. Start off with your known max, not what you think your max is, and schedule that as your long run. Increase it by 1-2 miles if you believe you can each long run. Training run mileage should increase as you increase your long runs. This is to prevent injury and slowly expose yourself to long runs.For example, my known max was 16 miles at the time, so I first worked my way up to 16, then increased it by 1-2 miles every weekend up until I hit the 20 mile mark. Which brings me to…
  2. Max out at 20 miles about a month before race day. This seemingly goes against the idea of training. If I’m going to run 26.22 miles, shouldn’t I run more than that so race day will be easier? This mentality is true for all races up to the half marathon. After 20 miles, your body is so susceptible to injury that recovery will take too long, leaving you to fall behind in training. Even ultramarathoners training for a 50K (31.07 miles) will max out at 20 miles.
  3. Carbohydrates are your friend. Carbs are a runner’s fuel. Make sure before your runs, especially long ones, to carb load beforehand. That means pasta, rice, beans, etc. are all good. During long runs and race day, you will want to bring some type of sugar to keep you going and to avoid the wall.What’s the wall you ask? Your body contains a certain amount of glycogen, which are the components used to fuel your body. Sometime after the 17th mile, your body will run out of glycogen, and will resort to your body’s fat storage to burn fuel (similar to ketosis!). Fat cells, however, take longer to become available to burn, and won’t be ready in time during your run. To avoid this as long as you can, you fuel yourself with sugar along the way. I highly recommend Jolly Ranchers or any type of hard candy, since they will provide a steady source of sugar as you run. I calculated about one Jolly Rancher per 2 miles, so I bring about 3-4 of them and starting taking them after the 12th mile for my long runs.

Race Expo and Race Day

  1. Don’t spend too much time walking around the day before. If you have to decide between sitting or walking, sit. Take it easy the day before, and run at most a mile if you feel nervous. You don’t want all that effort to go to waste because you decided to walk around or sightsee.
  2. Set a realistic standard. If you’ve been running 9 minute miles consistently for your long run, expect your marathon time to be at the very fastest a little under 4 hours. You won’t all of a sudden have a miraculous boost in energy and be able to run 26.2 miles in record time.
  3. Load up on carbs and water the week and day before. Shift your diet to a high carb one the days leading up to the race, and hydrate yourself several days in advance. Taking a big gulp of water (or as Michael Scott did, Fettuccini Alfredo) right before a marathon is too much, too late.
  4. No new surprises. Been running with the same shoes the last couple months? Run in those. Been running in cotton shirts and shorts? Run in those. Don’t do anything different the day of the race. Even the smallest change can lead to chafing, blisters, or even injury. That said, you’ll want to train in a diverse amount of weather conditions.
  5. Run your second half faster than your first (aka the negative split). The old rule of thumb for marathoners is: each minute too fast in the first half will cost you four minutes in the second half. Plus, there’s no better feeling than passing someone on your 23rd mile.

After the Race

  1. Eat anything you want. I burned about 4000 calories from running the marathon, so I ate two Chipotle burritos and a large Starbucks Caramel Frappuccino, then a long afternoon nap before a big dinner. Guilt free.
  2. You will feel pain for the next couple of days, so run whenever you feel like it. This requires no explanation.

That’s pretty much my entire experience from running my marathon, and I’m sure there’s more training tips and schedules you can find online. I hope this helps your training success. Good luck, and happy running!

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