“There’s no way I could ever run a marathon!” Have you ever heard that? Said it? Most people who hear about someone finishing a 26.2 mile race share this response. And some have absolutely no desire to ever try. But maybe you’ve thought, “Man, I’d love to accomplish something like that.” The truth is, unless there are significant health or joint problems, most anyone can train and complete a marathon if they prepare in the right way.
I ran my first marathon at age 33. I started running in 1982, when I was twelve. I was pretty good at it, too. But when I turned 16 and started with part-time jobs, I quit running consistently. In fact, I took about a 15 year break between any races at all. I started back up seriously in 2001 and got much more regular with my training. But even then, I’d never run a race farther than a 10K (6.2 miles). I knew people who’d finished marathons, but always thought “I could never do that.” But then, maybe the greatest motivation ever came up…my older brother ran one. Sibling rivalry is powerful, it turns out, and so I began to consider that maybe I could run one, too.
So I started looking into what it would take to be able to complete what I saw as an epic task. The suggestions below are things I tried, and on December 13th, 2003 I finished the Rocket City Marathon in Huntsville, AL. I’ve done a total of nine marathons, and if you follow the suggestions below, I believe you can join the club of marathon finishers.
1. Make sure you’re healthy.
Before you start training for any distance run (5K, 10K, half-marathon or full), you need to make sure your body can take it. Get a physical if it’s been awhile. Make sure there aren’t any health issues you’re unaware of. Of course, if your only health issues are that you’re out of shape, this will be a great thing for you. If you have joint problems, make sure your doctor feels OK about you running. You can help mild joint issues by taking supplements like glucosamine chondroiten.
2. Get some good shoes.
Running is one of the best fitness programs in terms of cost. Your costs can pretty much be limited to shoes, running clothes, and race entry fees. Sure, there are travel expenses getting to races, but if that’s an issue you can always pick a race near where you live. Go to a running store. NOT a general sporting goods store. Go to one where the owner and employees know running. Getting the proper fit and shoe for your body type and stride issues is essential; it can give you a comfortable run and can help prevent injury.
3. Don’t forget about nutrition.
Running burns a lot of calories (which most of us could use!), and so you need to make sure you’re taking in enough before and during your training runs to keep from crashing. Many books or Runner’s World articles can help give you great ideas for meals, snacks, and during-run nutrition options.
4. Find and commit to a training program.
Don’t plan on running a marathon right after you decide to start training. It takes a good 4 months for someone in relatively good shape to train. Most marathon training programs consist of 16- 18 weeks of steadily building your mileage and endurance. Good programs combine speed work, tempo runs of mid-mileage at a mildly challenging pace, and slow distance runs where you forget about speed and focus on getting your miles in. One excellent place to look is www.halhigdon.com. Hal is a running expert and author of 36 books, including a the best-selling Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide. He has training programs for novice, intermediate, and advanced runners. I strictly followed his Novice 1 program training for my first marathon and felt completely prepared. Runner’s World magazine (also online) has several other good training programs you could try.
5. Consider becoming part of a running group.
Some people enjoy the solitude of running by themselves. It can be a great way to be alone with your thoughts, or to spend time with God. I’ve done a lot of listening to Scripture on my iPod while running. But for me, there’s something very special about the community of a running group. Lots of groups are set up so that regardless of your speed, distance, or general abilities, there are others where you are and you’ll always have someone to run with. Groups can make a long weekend run go a lot faster and less monotonous. Google for local running groups in your area, or ask at a local running store (Fleet Feet is a national chain) if there is one in your area.
6. Choose your race wisely.
There are over 375 marathons in the United States this year, according to www.marathonguide.com. Ranging from less than 50 to over 45,000 entrants, and taking place in all 50 states, there is a marathon for literally any context you could want. For your first race, choose one with a flat course, and maybe in a fun city you’ve been wanting to visit. Having cool stuff to watch during the race is fun, and if can take your mind off the physical toll the race will take. Scenery and enthusiastic crowds can be a great distraction. Most races cost around $100, but there are some that you can do for as little as about $50 if you register early. That may seem like a lot, but it takes a lot to put on a race like this, and when you cross the finish line and someone puts a medal around your neck, you’ll never question the investment.
7. Forget about time; focus on finishing.
One of the biggest mistakes a guy can make is to go out too fast on their first try. You’ve heard people talk about hitting “the wall,” about 18-20 miles into the race…this will happen much more dramatically (and not in a good way) if you push too hard early. Many people who push it end up not being able to finish at all. Your long training runs are a good time to gauge what is a realistic pace for yourself in the race, but your first time out you should consider being conservative. If you’re like most people, once you finish your first marathon you’ll immediately start planning your next one.
If you’ve never run consistently, consider starting with training for a 5K or 10K. Many local running stores or health clubs have “Couch to 5K or 10K” programs to help people develop the discipline of running. Once you feel ready, get out there and start going for the long distance! Feel free to contact me if you want to hear more details about what I’ve learned, or if you have questions about specifics of getting started.