Run Your First Marathon. I Dare You.
Even for Phoenix, Arizona, it was freezing at 5:00 a.m. as I stood shivering in the darkness. Surrounded by 7,000 strangers, I wasn’t exactly alone, but I felt that way. Two hours prior I had left the security and warmth of my family and cozy hotel room to make my way to the start line of the 2009 Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon, my first 26.2 mile race. I had put in my miles, and it was time to trust my training. Only four months ago, I had never run more than six miles at a time, and I had only done that twice in my life. I knew I had come a long way, but questioned if I could go the full marathon distance. After all, my longest training run had only been 20 miles.
Only 20 miles? Since when did I become a person who would put the word “only” in front of 20 miles?
Rewind to September 2008. Minding my own business and with no thought or desire in my mind to run a marathon, I received a postcard in the mail inviting me to join a group called Team in Training. In exchange for coaching and training me towards my first long distance race, I would raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. A good trade off, I thought.
While I had not realized it until that moment, I was desperate for a goal. A measurable achievement. I knew I was a devoted mom and wife and that I made a mean batch of brownies. I knew that I helped children in my role as a social worker and that I rocked as a parent volunteer at my kids’ school. But, how do you measure such successes? In pats on the back, kisses good night and miniscule paychecks? I longed to accomplish something that not many people could do. Something that would require extreme discipline and motivation. Something that would be mine and only mine for the taking.
To most people, running a marathon is right up there with winning the lottery or getting struck by lightening: nearly impossible. Even with the desire to check it off a bucket list or use it as means to get into shape, the thought of running 26.2 miles is ridiculously intimidating.
Intimidation aside, I am here to tell you that if I could start running at the age of 41 and run my first marathon, you can too. Anyone (with their doctor’s blessing) can run this distance if they are willing to take the time to train and are 100 percent committed to the process. For example, I am currently coaching a 50-year-old woman with asthma to run her first marathon. With a 20-week training plan, she is on track to run the Colorado Marathon on May 1, 2011. Will she win the race? No. Will she place in her age group? Probably not. Will she finish and experience one of the proudest accomplishments of her life? Most definitely.
Obviously, marathon training is not for the faint of heart. You will run through wind, rain, searing temperatures and/or snow. You will be on your feet for hours at a time. Towards the end of training, you will feel like you have an unpaid part-time job called marathon training. Your family will beg you to wear non-workout clothes, to talk about something other than running, racing and training, and your toenails might fall off.
It is all worth it. Every toenail lost, every mile run in bad weather, every pit-stained shirt.
Here are 10 tips to getting started:
- Consider hiring a coach. If you are prone to procrastination, need a kick in the pants, or want to be held accountable, consider finding a running coach. You can hire a coach fairly inexpensively if you just have someone create a training plan for you and follow your weekly progress online. Try the Road Runner’s Club of America website (www.RRCA.org) to find a list of certified coaches.
- Tell everyone you know. You increase your chances of making it to the start line if you make a public commitment about your race.
- Don’t wing it. If you don’t use a coach, find a good training plan. When you do, ensure that it starts you where you are fitness-wise. The last thing you want to do is bite off more than you can chew. This could lead to injury.
- Get a good pair of shoes. Go to a local running store and have a free gait analysis. You will be told which shoes are right for you. Plan to spend about $100 on a quality pair.
- Avoid the terrible too’s. Too much, too fast, too soon, Make sure you do not increase speed, frequency or duration more than ten percent per week (example: if you start by running 10 miles per week, increase to no more than 11 miles the next week). This will decrease your chance of injury.
- Register yesterday. This will guarantee you a spot (many races sell out) and will give you the increased motivation to follow through. No one wants to lose a registration fee!
- Don’t worry about speed: The primary goal for your first long distance race is to finish! Since you’ll be doing more mileage than ever before, don’t beat yourself up and worry about your speed. Just get out there and enjoy yourself while ramping up the mileage.
- Find a running club. Having people to run with, especially on your long runs, make the miles fly by and keeps you honest.
- Get some cute running clothes. 4 out of 5 runners agree they run faster and more effortlessly if they like what they are wearing. Okay, I made that up, but wearing clothes you like and feel good in might give you increased motivation and confidence.
- Eat, sleep and drink well. Taking rest days, getting enough sleep at night, eating a nutritious diet and drinking plenty of fluids will be crucial to your running success.
It wasn’t until mile 25 of that first marathon that I let myself truly believe I would complete the race. Tears streamed down my face as I approached the final turn to the finish. I crossed the line in four hours, three minutes. My husband and two children hugged me as they handed me an orange popsicle. Someone placed a medal around my neck. I sat down, dazed. I had done it. And, you can too.