Five MUST-DOs if You are Considering a Marathon

Know in your heart you want to do it. Marathons are as much a mental exercise as a physical one, so it helps to have the emotional commitment right from the get-go. Crossing the finish line requires dedication and discipline, and you’ll have peaks and valleys during the 4-6 month training period.

There will be days when

  • you can barely muster the energy to put one foot in front of the other.
  • it rains or snows when you are supposed to go on a long run.
  • you get soggy, cold or a little too sweaty, all depending on the season.
  • things will hurt and you may be sore, but you will have to run anyway.
  • you may get injured and have to explore alternative training methods.
  • you may need extra support from your spouse, roommates and/or friends.

Though race day is a huge hurdle, but training is the true test. And you may have to cut the crap factor to stay motivated. Here are some great suggestions for sticking to your workout schedule. Set aside adequate time to train.

The time you’ll need to set aside for training will depend upon your base and generally ranges from 4-6 months. On the longer end of the spectrum, if you don’t currently run or exercise much at all, you may need to set aside about 6 months to train adequately. For those already running a bit, even if the mileage is light, a period of 4 months may be all you’ll need. It’s important to increase your mileage gradually, rather than cram too many miles into your week right off the bat, in order to avoid injury. Likewise, if you extend the training schedule out too far, you might get burned out before you go the distance. Pick an event.

Just as you rarely plan a vacation without determining a destination, you shouldn’t start training without selecting a time/location for the marathon. There are a multitude of factors to consider, but a few to get you started include:

Seasonality/weather. Many marathons occur are scheduled in the spring and fall, when the weather is fairly mild (though unexpected highs and lows can occur!). I have found, however, that weather is a big motivator for training. Not only do you have to consider extreme cold, heat and humidity, but the summer season yields more daylight. Depending on where you live and what time of day you like to run, I’d recommend a training season that suits your style, body temperament and exercise preferences.

Terrain. Do you like hills or prefer the flats? Most runners post a faster marathon time on flat terrain, but maybe a fast time is not what you’re after. If you prefer variety in terrain and the challenge of peaks and valleys, pick a race accordingly. Don’t forget about the altitude variation, as thin air may catch up with you after 26 miles!

Crowds. Do you like running alongside throngs of people or prefer solitude. Even if you don’t like tripping and slipping over people at the start of the race, most marathons which draw larger numbers are often strategically planned so that the start doesn’t trip people up.

Home cooking. Do you like to sleep in your own bed before a race, eating a home-made meal that sits well in the tummy? This will make the decision-making easy.

Familiar faces. If you are comforted by a local team of friends and family who greet you at various stops along the route, a smaller marathon may better suit you. Otherwise, they may never find you in the sea of runners.

Cheers. If you get motivated by crowd support, then a larger marathon may be just what you need. I, for one, get chills when I see and hear folks standing on the sidelines cheering loudly for all the runners passing by, with small children giving high fives.

Scenery. Do you enjoy seeing the sights and sounds of a big city? Or prefer the serenity of ocean waves. Little things might make a big difference as you hit the last 10K and run out of steam.

Even if you have never run a single race in your life, you can probably guess what might motivate you under duress! Stay tuned next week as I will reach out to fellow marathon bloggers to get a pulse on their favorite races.

Set a realistic goal. Though it may be difficult to determine exactly how fast or slow you’ll run a marathon if you have never run one before, you’ll probably know if you goal is simply to finish or qualify for Boston.

The elite men runners climb a hill and round a curve near the 1 mile marker of the 112th Boston Marathon in Hopkinton, Mass., on Monday, April 21, 2008. (AP Photo/Greg M. Cooper)

Using your natural pace per mile on a shorter run to estimate your total time for a marathon is a helpful starting point. From there, make the goal as realistic as possible. Though it’s nice to reach for the stars, it’s also rewarding to accomplish what you set out to do. Even if you revise your goal as the training proceeds, an estimated time will guide your training schedule (e.g., length, speed workouts and pace). Buy a great pair of running shoes.

If you are buying your first (or one of your first) pair of running shoes, I highly recommend you seek a specialty store with running expertise to assist you in the selection. I have been blessed with the best running stores in America, from Marathon Sports in Boston to Super Jock n’ Jill in Seattle to Shu’s Idaho Running Company in Boise. Stores like this will often watch you run on a treadmill and suggest shoes accordingly. Some even take a computer animated photo of your foot to find the right brand/type of shoe. These shoe experts are exploring factors such as the arch pattern of your foot and whether or not you pronate. Based on these factors, a shoe with more or less cushion and/or stability will be recommended. Picking a running shoe with the proper amount of support, cushion and comfort will go a long way in keeping you happy and injury-free on the pavement and trails.



Got any helpful hints you’d like to share? I’d love to hear them!

Melinda Hinson