Monday, March 26, 2012

10 tips for completing your first marathon

Well, it has been a over a week since the big day. I am slowly coming out of my post-marathon depression and I have started walking normal again. While training for a marathon is no easy task, there is something about consuming yourself so deeply in something and having it all end in success. It is bittersweet and leaves you wanting more!
I learned so much while training and learned that there are a TON of resources and people out there ready to help anyone that wants to take on training for a marathon. It is amazing to see another runner's face light up when you tell them you are training for your first marathon. They start to rattle off about their first experience and begin to list of their tips for completing. The running community is truly a community that wants to spread the love and the marathon community is always eager to bring in new people. So as a newly inducted member of the marathon community, here are my personal tips for training for your first marathon.
  1. Find a reason-You will need motivation. This is not an easy thing to do and there will be many times that you want to quit. MANY. You will need a reason that is big enough to always bring you back to your training. When work days get long, when life gets in the way, when injuries creep in, when doubt rears its ugly will need to go to that reason time and time again.  Whether your reason be linked to fundraising or a cause that is close to you, or if your reason is that this will be the one thing that you will do for yourself and no one else, find out what that reason is early and remember it.
  2. Listen to your body-There is no perfect training plan for getting ready for a marathon. You can google training plans and find hundreds of them, but those training plans should only be a framework that build into something that works for you. It is impossible for a training plan that you download online to take into consideration your current running base, your fitness level, your strength, your injuries, your schedule, your nutrition, etc. If you listen to your body, it will tell you what is working and what is not. If long runs every weekend are leaving you injured and depleted, maybe you need to switch to interval and strength training.  Your body will tell you what works best. Don't force it to do a training plan that you worked for someone else and don't give up if your body tells you what you are currently doing is not working.
  3. Clean up your diet- Every fitness/running coach I have ever met has told me the same thing, You can't out train your diet. Meaning, don't expect to eat that double cheeseburger, french fries, and large soda and then go run 20 miles the next day. Do some people do it? Absolutely.  But why put your body under more stress then it needs. Running a long distance or pushing yourself through a hard workout takes a lot of energy and you should be using that training time to push yourself as hard as you can. Give your body a break by giving it the fuel it needs to perform at its best.  If you are putting clean, nutritious food in your body, it will thank you by doing what you ask it to you and quite simply, your body will amaze you when you least expect it. (oh, and yes, this may mean skipping out on a happy hour or two...hey, I didn't say this was easy, right?!)
  4. Don't do this alone-I mentioned earlier that the running community is hungry to get you in and running with them! Whether it be joining a running group, getting advice from a trainer, getting consultation for your shoes, or just telling your friends and family what you are doing, getting other people involved will help tremendously! Some advice will stick with you through your entire training plan and others will not, but talking to people about what you are doing and getting their input may make the difference between finishing and not finishing. Why run in bad shoes if there is someone willing to give you free advice on shoes? Why take that 20 mile run alone when you can do it with a group that often has volunteers to provide you water and food? There are so many resources, many of them completely free, that you should take advantage of.
  5. Plan for roadblocks- There will come a time in your training where things don't go the way they should. You may get sick, work may send you out of town, you get injured or life just gets in the way.You have to anticipate this will happen because if/when it does, it will totally throw your training plan off and you will head right to the Internet to search for a race later in the year. While you should honor any serious injury or event that throws your a curve ball, if it is not serious, don't let it derail you. Take the time you need to deal with it, don't fret about losing a few days of training and start all over again when you are ready. Everyone will have roadblocks, it is how you deal with them that determines the finishers. 
  6. Find your zone-You know that feeling where you know you need to go work out, but the couch and TV are just calling your name? Well, that pretty much happens to me every day! But then I start to think about getting into my zone I immediately want to throw on my shoes and get there immediately. Your zone may be a long run outside or hitting the weight room at the gym. My zone was speed training on the treadmill. I have never really liked treadmill workouts, but once I got comfortable doing speed intervals, I found myself loving it. I love putting in my headphones, turning up the music and doing a workout of 8x400 sprints. I love seeing how fast I can push myself and love the side pain I get when I am done. That is when I am in my zone and that is the feeling that gets me in my workout clothes each day. 
  7. Get good gear- One of the great things about running is that you don't need much. Running shouldn't be an expensive hobby, but having the right gear can set apart a good run from a run gone bad. Let's not talk about shoes here because there is big debate about whether shoes are even needed, but I suggest getting a few quick dry tech shirts, a good pair of running pants/shorts that will carry you through long runs and will sit just right, and a hydration belt or camel pak. When you run for prolonged periods of time, the smallest quirk in your clothes will cause you the most irritation.  Avoid cotton and avoid trying to look like you just stepped out of the latest fitness magazine. (Comfort > Appearance!) Be prepared for your clothes to be soaked with sweat and smelling like you just put in some serious hours of work!
  8. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate- I was fortunate to not have trained during the summer when the temperature is high, but I learned the hard way that you still need to hydrate in cold weather. Your body is going to lose a lot of liquid and you have to be very aware of your efforts to replenish it. Dehydration is dangerous and could leave you really sick. If you are thirsty, you have waited too long. You should be carrying a water bottle with you at all times, even during the week when you are not training. Stay away from sugary beverages because water is your best friend during marathon training. Don't ever lose your best friend.
  9. Cross train- If all your do is run, you are only ever working the muscles that move you laterally and never strengthening the muscles that support you being upright for that amount of time.  You will quickly get injured if you are not focusing on getting stronger overall. Lift heavy things, spend some time on a yoga mat, go for swim, do something besides running and do it regularly. Come mile 22 when people are dropping like flies, you will still be running because you put in that extra time to cross train. Trust me, your body will thank you before, during and after your race.
  10. Laugh at yourself- If you take yourself too seriously, this may be the most torturous thing you have ever done. You will screw up, I promise. There will be mistakes and moments of shear embarrassment, but the best thing is that the world goes on and you wake up the next day to start all over again. You will carry on to the next milestone and if you can laugh at the ups and downs on the way, I guarantee that this experience will be one you actually enjoy and remember for the rest of your life. 

Have you ever trained for an endurance event? What are your tips?

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