Run Your First Marathon. I Dare You.

Beth RunEven 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.

Beth FamilyIntimidation 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:

  1. 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.
  2. Tell everyone you know. You increase your chances of making it to the start line if you make a public commitment about your race.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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!
  7. 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.
  8. Find a running club. Having people to run with, especially on your long runs, make the miles fly by and keeps you honest.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

Beth Run

24 Comments
Nicholle Chandler

April 04, 2011 at 12:51 pm

What an inspiration! I recently decided to get back into running. My longest race in the past was 7.6 miles and I even stopped and walked a bit. I haven’t ran in years. A mile alone might be hard now but this has inspired me!!

Teresa Walker

April 04, 2011 at 1:42 pm

Woo Hoo! GO TEAM! Way to go Beth! I, too trained with Team In Training for my first Half Marathon a month before my 53rd birthday. I have always been active and exercised but never a runner. It was the best decision I ever made. My best friend had passed away in 2009 from blood cancer and we found out in June 2010 my mom had Leukemia. I wanted to help in some way and when I received a flyer from Team In Training, my decision was made. What a great group of people and the coach was so helpful. Everything you need to know about running they will teach you especially how to remain injury free. I plan to eventually to get a marathon under my belt on my 55th birthday and I will definitely be training with Team In Training. GO TEAM!

Alta R

April 04, 2011 at 2:39 pm

Thanks Beth!
I thoroughly enjoyed your article!! Really enjoyed it.

Nereida velazquez

April 04, 2011 at 4:50 pm

Congratulations your story is truly inspirational.

Steph S.

April 05, 2011 at 5:47 am

Awesome! I needed to read a post like yours! I am running the RnR in Savannah this fall with friends but I’ve never run this far. I’m a bit intimidated but ready to take it on! And I hope my hubby and kids can make the trip down, too 🙂 Great tips-thx for sharing!

jean

April 05, 2011 at 5:48 am

Well done, Beth! Very inspiring.

Carol Duffey

April 05, 2011 at 6:12 am

My hat and sneakers go off to you!!!!!!!!
Carol

Amy Cavallaro

April 05, 2011 at 6:22 am

You have inspired me! Like you, I started running at 41. My life has been wife, mom and social worker. My current goal is a 10K in June. But, I’m not finished! Congrats to you and thank you for sharing! You rock!

Carla

April 05, 2011 at 7:14 am

Yay! I’m doing my first marathon with TNT in May. Glad to hear that finishing is possible!! 😉

Nanrunner

April 05, 2011 at 8:26 am

So nice to read such stories. I’m 54 and started running July 2010 for the FIRST time in my life!! I couldn’t run an entire block –but slowing it down and being introduced to Jeff Galloway’s interval running–run -walk-run made sense. How funny that is to me now. I now tend to run 5 min-walk 1 min and repeat till I’m done! I’m doing my first of three half-marathons next Sunday-April 10, 2011! Already registered for another in July and one in Sept! Running is addicting–and what a healthy addiction! (A running group/training group is so motivating, so I urge everyone to find one, or at least find a few running buddies.)

Beth B.

April 05, 2011 at 8:29 am

What a great article; thanks for sharing!

Martha Hartney

April 05, 2011 at 8:31 am

Congratulations Beth! That’s amazing! And how wonderful that you’re willing to share your experience and help others stretch and become more than they ever thought!

You are an inspiration and I’m considering running my first this year too!

MVSS

April 05, 2011 at 10:40 am

Two Thumbs up!!!

Jessica Bellofatto

April 05, 2011 at 10:50 am

love this, Beth. Totally inspiring! I felt the same way when training for my first half marathon a few years back. Every Sunday morning at 8am, no matter what, I ran with a training group. Each week, I would cover my longest distance ever. 8 miles – I had never run that far in my life, then 10 miles, then 11, etc. Every Sunday was a new sense of empowerment and accomplishment leading up to the 1/2 marathon. From there, i decided – half ironman distance triathlon, and now that I have completed several of those, I have my eye on full distance. Your article inspires me that I can set my sights on what seems to be such a daunting goal, and accomplish it, so thank you!

Clair Norman

April 05, 2011 at 10:54 am

Awesome description of what to expect when commiting to this commitment. There is nothing like finishing something. Then there’s another goal, and another, and another. Runner’s are a special breed and you represent all that it takes to cross the finish line. Perserverence. Determination. Heart. Fun.

Shelly

April 05, 2011 at 1:54 pm

I love your popsicle photo!

I remember all those finish line moments when I have achieved something I thought I couldn’t do until I had done it. This Saturday I’m going to see if I can have another one of those moments, crossing the finish line after 50 miles. I doubt I’ll be able to see for all the tears I will be crying but I know that if I make it, there WILL be a smile on my face!

….(and a popsicle in my hand would be nice too ;-))

elizabeth

April 05, 2011 at 1:59 pm

At 55 yrs. young I’ll be running my 5th half marathon in 2 weeks, my ultimate goal is a full marathon before I’m 60!! Yep,, it’ll happen, b/cuz the goal is in site, thank you for your inspiration!!

Lisa Crowther

April 05, 2011 at 2:17 pm

I just wanted to say what an inspiration! I just started running last September due to the Air Force making it a requirement. I have run several 5Ks and ran my first 10K (Cooper River Bridge Run) this past Saturday. I am now going to start training with a coach for my first Half Marathon. I haven’t decided about a marathon though. It is a little daunting, but we’ll see!!! Thanx!

Bubblz

April 05, 2011 at 5:52 pm

Beth is my Hero! As a runner over 40 she inspires me and makes me think and now “know” that I can do anything I set my mind on and work hard for!

Lazy Personal Trainer

April 05, 2011 at 8:27 pm

This post is just what I needed! I’ve recently made the decision to run my first marathon this year and this has excited and motivated me even more. Thank you, Beth, for the honest and helpful and inspiring post!

Colleen Sullivan

April 06, 2011 at 6:40 am

I love this article!!! I felt the same way training for my first marathon with TNT. To know that I am not the only one crying at the end of a race was great, it is such a great sense of accomplishment I would encourage anyone to do it as well.

Brittni

April 06, 2011 at 9:35 pm

I am training to run my first marathon at the end of May and I just lost my first toenail! All part of the price, congrats on your race and thank you writing this inspirational piece!

TheRockinMom

April 08, 2011 at 6:49 am

Thank you for such an inspiring article! I too, am training for my first 10 mile run this May 2011, and I had lost motivation. I am 42 years old and my longest training mileage is 8.8….and believe me, my knees felt every bit of those miles. I started laying off the training thinking that if I injured myself I wouldn’t be able to race at all, then all of a sudden, I just lost focus and interest.

Your article has shocked me back into life! Even though my husband says don’t feel like just because I registered, that I HAVE to do it, I’m with you Beth….no one wants to blow a registration fee. PLUS, I’ve told too many people and already bought the gear! LOL!!!

I’m encouraged by your article that I can, and WILL finish the race!

Klaus-M.

April 11, 2011 at 7:59 pm

Hi, thanks for this great article and congratulations to your marathon. I fully support your tip to hire a coach or you use and online coach like http://www.tricoretraining.com for get the right training for the LONG DISTANCE! Now you’re ready to try your first Ironman! 😉

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