As Spring is in its full Chicago bloom and the weather has been more consistently warmer, persons are beginning to realize that if they plan on running a marathon this Autumn, now is the time to figure out a plan. I’d like to take the time to talk to first-time marathoners who have decided to take the plunge.
The first time I decided to run a marathon I had no idea if I could run that far. Also, how was I even going to train for it? Would it kill me? It felt like a step off into the unknown.
I understand you anxiety and the feeling of, “What did I just sign up for?!” Let me first reassure you, if you dedicate yourself, keep some semblance of discipline about your life, you can do it. I’ve done it. A good number of people of all shapes, sizes, and ages have done it. As long as your doctor says you can, you can.
Nothing below is meant to scare you out of running a marathon. It’s an amazing accomplishment that is very much achievable. However, I want you to go into training with your eyes wide open. When I say, “Anyone can run a marathon.”, what I really mean is “Anyone who is able to take on the challenge of marathon training can run a marathon.” The marathon is much more about training. The actual race is the icing on the cake.
Talk to your doctor
The first thing you should do is talk to your health care provider. If you have any health concerns that effect your life, you really should have that conversation.
Find a training group
Next, find thee a marathon training group, like Chicago Endurance Sports (full disclosure: I am a coach for their marathon program). There is nothing like group training to keep you motivated, and share your triumphs and fears with. Some training groups have experienced coaches that will help and guide you through your training. Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to ask coaches the “dumb” questions. We are there to help you understand the joy and science of running.
Soon, half of your friends will be fellow runners. I can’t tell you how many persons have told me that if it were not for group training, they would have never kept with it. Including me.
Your time commitment
Training for your first marathon is a commitment that will creep into almost every other part of your life. Take this at face value. Marathon training takes significant time dedicated to training. If the rest of your life is already full with can’t miss commitments. Your marathon goals will suffer. You may have to temper your aspirations, or even reevaluate if running the marathon is right for you. It is not just the running time commitment. It is is the time it takes to cross-train, proper stretching, preparation for running, showering, sleep. A one-hour run on your schedule for a Monday may actually be a 2 plus hour commitment when you factor in getting ready before, and stretching & showering after the run. You must be willing to give up a significant portion of your free time five or six days a week. Sleep is so important to successful marathon training. Many persons who feel “over-trained” and fatigued are really just sleep deprived. Those late Friday nights out with friends will be consequential to your training.
Be dedicated and consistent
If you can’t stick to your training plan, your marathon goals will suffer. Occasional missed workouts won’t ruin you plan. It’s okay to be sick, work an occasional late day at the office, or not get a good nights sleep once in a while. However, if it keeps happening week after week during training, your workout schedule (and goals) need reevaluation. This is where a coach is your best friend. Not everyone’s schedule is able to support your “perfect world” capabilities. This includes me. My life choices do not support an legitimate attempt at training up for a successful Boston qualifying race. I accept that. Begrudgingly, but it’s my reality.
We all lead busy lives. And that’s okay.
When injuries happen
Injuries occasionally occur. If it happens to you, it is imperative to talk to a health care provider right away. It could be something treatable in the course of your marathon training, or it may mean you have to put your marathon goal off to another time. Don’t assume anything. Professional help will answer these questions better than anyone else.
Purchases to expect
You need to get the right equipment. Running equipment is more than shoes. But shoes are probably the most important. Invest in getting properly fitted for shoes at a running specialty shoe store. Make sure your shoe fitter knows you are training for a marathon. Training in old shoes, or shoes not made for marathon training will cause injury. Period. Along with shoes, other things you will need are non-cotton socks, underwear, shorts, and shirts. Cotton soaks up sweat and wet cotton will cause severe chaffing in places you didn’t even know existed. Even with proper running attire, you will still need a chaffing deterrent product such as RunGuard or BodyGlide (examples; not endorsements). Cotton’s sweat retention charcteristics also cause a more humid environment around your skin and you will sweat even more. This effects your hydration requirements.
Women will also want to get properly fitted for a sports bra. A running specialty store can help with this. You will also want to make an investment in some handheld bottle or belt for hydration/nutrition for your long runs. Marathon training has a lot of long runs (go figure!).
Alcohol is not a hydration or re-hydration plan. If you are a person who drinks alcohol socially, you may have to reconsider your beverages of choice. Alcohol will negatively effect your training. In my experience, even drinking a moderate amount effects my training for a few days. If you continue to moderately drink throughout your training, you may have to reconsider your training plan and race goals. An occasional celebratory glass or two is fine, as long as you give yourself enough time before your next scheduled run.
What’s on the menu
If you take your training seriously, you should begin watching what you eat. If you have a fast food diet, you will need to change your meal choices. Likewise, there is a popular myth out there that since you are running so many miles, you will be able to eat anything you want because you’ll burn it all off running. Well, that’s not entirely true. Many people gain weight during marathon training. Some of it may be muscle gain, but some may be due to not having a proper diet. For me, I definitely pay attention to what I eat during training (and down cycles too). Since everyone’s needs are different, the best thing you can do is consult a registered dietician to work with you to come up with a plan that is right for you.
Dieting while training
I am not a registered dietician. In my coaching experience, it is my opinion that for the vast majority of persons, dieting and endurance training do not mix well and may cause unwanted permanent changes in your body. See http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/02/health/biggest-loser-weight-loss.html and http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/oby.21538/full. Again, the best thing you can do is talk to a registered dietician if you have dual goals of losing weight and running a marathon.
I have a family and a full time job. Know that all of the time you will be spending training will have an effect too, especially on your family. I encourage you to sit down and discuss your training plan and recruit their support if you have not already done so. Family first.
There are so many more things to talk about. I’ve tried to point out some of the more common misunderstood or underestimated items I see in first-time marathoners. Not all of these may apply to you, and that is a good thing.
Most of all, enjoy the journey during your training. Savor changes you’ll make both inward and outward, the new friendships, and commitments you keep with yourself. The race is a victory lap of all you accomplished during training. HAVE FUN!