Tuesday, December 18, 2012
Run Your First Marathon
For marathons, I prefer to use either a 12- or 16-week training plan. Going shorter than this usually means that runners are not putting in enough miles before the big day, and oftentimes they'll injure themselves when they try to pack too many training miles into too short a period of time. On the flip side of this equation, going longer than 16 weeks can lead to burnout, exhaustion, and a tendency to think, "I still have time..."
I personally feel it is best to target a particular race and then tailor your training schedule to peak on race day. Runner's World has a great race finder, and of course, you can always throw a shout-out on social media for race suggestions. Long story short, there are races year-round and worldwide to suit your tastes and needs!
As for the actual training for the first-time marathoner, here's a few suggestions that have helped me cross the finish line uninjured:
1) Forget about speed when you are preparing a training schedule for your first marathon. There are some runners out there who have gone out and BQ'd their first marathon, but they are firmly in the minority. Most of us mortals are happy to just cross the line the first time. Don't get caught up in time goals; run the first race, see how you feel, and then start thinking about getting faster in subsequent races.
2) Develop a training schedule and do your best to stick to it! I personally employ a four-day/week running schedule, but other people have had success using as little as three days/week. Other people like to run everyday. It's your body, so you know what works best for you. Just make sure you leave plenty of time for recovery, especially after long runs. Proper recovery is probably the most important factor in training without injuries!
3) Semper Gumbi (latin for "Always Flexible!"). One of the biggest mistakes I made when training for my first marathon was to follow my training schedule too rigidly. I ran when I was tired, hurting, or both, and this led me to aggravate injuries and generally not want to run. That turned into lost training time, which ultimately led to a miserable first marathon experience. Missing a run here and there, even a long run, will not derail your marathon efforts. Try not to miss too many, but if you know that you are truly exhausted versus just being lazy, skip a day. Also, kids, spouses, dogs, work, and everything else will be competing for your time; don't alienate the rest of your world just for the sake of running!
4) Eat right and recover hard. Eating healthy can help runners build muscles and better fuel their bodies. Now would be a good time to mention, however, that it is not uncommon for runners to gain weight during marathon training. The extra mileage drives us to want to eat more to replenish what is lost out on the trail. Try to avoid eating whole pizzas (been there), but at the same time don't skimp on your intake. Oh yeah, you also sound way cooler if you start to refer to food as "fuel."
On top of food, make sure that you spend adequate time recovering. Post-long run naps on a weekend afternoon are excellent, and training for a marathon is an excellent excuse to get a massage, or two, or three. Train hard, but play hard too; if all you do is look at running as a series of torture sessions then you'll be less likely to want to put in the work. I like to look at training as down payments to spoil myself (i.e. "I ran 20 miles this morning, I totally deserve a new set of headphones...")
5) Focus on the long runs. In my opinion, the most important part of training is the weekly long run. A marathon, at its core, is a test of your ability to stay on your feet and moving forward for somewhere between two and seven hours. There is no way to fake the funk on this part of the marathon, and you need to get your body ready for running for that long. Start off small and build up; week one run 6-8 miles, week two 7-9, and so on up to 20 miles. The general rule of thumb is to add roughly 10% per week to the distance.
Here's a tip that has worked for me but others may disagree with: Run two 20-mile capstone long runs. Running one sounds easier, obviously, but it has been my experience that two 20-milers work better. For me, the first 20-miler is rough. It's an experience to get through, as opposed to a confidence builder. By the end of the first 20 all I want to do is be done. Running a second 20-miler, however, usually shows me the gains my body has made and my ability to strengthen to a challenge. The second 20-miler is usually stronger, faster, and I arrive at the end feeling like I have another 6.2 miles in my tank. Believe me, it's a nice feeling to show up to the start line of 26.2 miles knowing that you can make the whole distance, as opposed to wondering what your body is going to do to you at mile 20...
So there's my list, in just over 140 characters. Other things: make sure you have good running shoes; consider running with a group if you need extra motivation or if you're the type that actually likes people; check with a certified running coach if you find you are constantly battling injuries. There may be something in your stride that is contributing to recurring issues, and oftentimes a gait analysis by someone who knows what proper form is supposed to look like can help to overcome these issues.
My final tip: cross-train. Ab exercises make your body look great, and they also help to target muscles that can help you to run faster, longer, and stronger. Use low-impact cross-training that gets your whole body involved (swimming comes to mind) to take pressure off of your legs. Or, join a sports league: softball, kickball, flag football, and soccer all use different muscles and get you moving without even realizing that you're exercising!
So there you have it. Train hard, eat right, recover, recover, recover, and have fun. Let me know how you're training goes and make sure to tell me about which races you finish!
ABOUT THIS BLOG
In the course of reading about running I’ve come across many articles that focus on motivation, running form, minimalism, and places and reasons to run. I’ve read stories by people who have accomplished ultra marathons, Ironmans and amazing consecutive day streaks.
What I haven’t found, however, are many articles talking about the rest of us.
By the rest of us I mean people like me. People who enjoy running but who are not built like Kenyan marathoners. People who work full time and then need to convince their spouse of why it’s necessary for them to spend several more hours running. People who can’t explain, when asked directly and honestly, why they exert themselves to the point of exhaustion on a regular basis. People like me will never win a road race, probably not even a local 5K, but constantly enter races anyway.
With this in mind, I’ve developed this blog to talk about the things that are not discussed elsewhere, such as:
- How to know if you’re addicted to ibuprofen
- How to know if you sweat a lot more than normal people
- What to do when you’re in the middle of a 6 mile loop while pushing a running stroller and your child announces that she’s bored and has to pee
My hope is that this blog will entertain, inform, and provide a place where normal people can talk about being runners without feeling inferior or intimidated. Thanks for visiting!