At the beginning of this year, I had set the goal for myself to run a marathon. I had already raced in several 5Ks, a 10K, and trained for (but was too injured to race) a half marathon. So, naturally, the next step was to jump into the great big pool that is the marathon. 26.2 miles of mental and physical toughness and hours on your feet. January 2 was my starting date and for the next 16 weeks I dedicated myself heart and soul to my training schedule, which was a combination of plans from Runner’s World magazine, running blogs, and a name that is synonymous with running, Hal Higdon. Throughout my nearly 4 months of training, I never missed one workout or run, and I came to learn a lot about running, life, nutrition, and fitness:
- Choosing the right race can be just as important as choosing the right training plan. I chose the Lansing Marathon because it’s local (literally right down the street from Michigan State University), and fairly small. Some people like the excitement of running with 15,000 other runners and spectators along every square inch of the route, but it’s all up to you! Also, this was an inaugural race, which can make some people worry, so you may want to look into a more established race like Chicago, Detroit Free Press, or any of the Rock n’ Roll marathons held around the country.
- Do more than just run. Yes, it is important to get all of those miles under your belt/feet, but cross-training and strength training are equally important. I did full-body lifting 2-3 times a week and rode a bike 2 times a week in addition to running 5 days a week.
- If you’re just hoping to finish, then focus more on the time spent on your feet than on the total mileage. I went in with a specific finishing time in mind (which I met!) and so incorporated speed workouts and interval runs into my plan. I also did easy runs twice a week and one long run each week to build endurance.
- Chances are, you won’t be running a full 26.2 miles at once before your race… and that’s OK. The longest training run I had was 21 miles and that’s proof positive that you can do it even if you have never run that distance before. That’s not to say that it won’t be hard, but half of endurance running is the battle going on in your mind. By that time, your mind will have to be stronger than your body to keep you motivated and moving forward.
- Don’t be afraid to walk. I intentionally went into the race with a run/walk plan that I had been following on every training run. Even with walking, I still met my goal time, which just goes to show that you do not have to run the entire way in order to race. Your running muscles will thank and reward you for giving them a little break and letting your walking muscles take over.
- NOTHING new on race day. Clothes, fuel, shoes, water timing, should all ideally by the same on race day as it was in your training. I wore shoes that had a couple hundred miles on them, but still far from needing to be retired and clothes that kept me warm and had been worn before with no problems. I also carried a handheld water bottle with me and brought my own Gatorade G2 mix with me so that I was getting carbs while I run. You will have to ingest calories in some form for a race this long. I have a sensitive stomach, but many other use gels, beans, and chews for energy while running.
- If you can, get family members to come and stand along the 17-20 mile mark. This is when many runners experience what is called “hitting the wall”. The glycogen stores in your body are depleted and muscles are starting to ache. Having a cheerleading team right when you need them will help motivate you to finish up the last few miles. I brought a cell phone with me and sent my family text messages with my mileage so that they knew where I was and when to expect me to cross the finish line.
- Expect the unexpected. No matter what you do or how much you plan, know that there are things that you cannot plan for. Number one being Mother Nature in all her glory. There was intense wind blowing all of the runners back for my race and there’s just nothing you can do to prevent that, so try and train in all conditions: rain, snow, heat, cold.
- It is worth it. I cannot adequately express the emotions that came over me when I finally sprinted across the finish line and received my medal. When you finish, I can only compare it to feeling like you belong to something bigger than yourself, and having both of my parents there to see me finish was the icing on the cake.
If you have ever thought that you can’t complete a marathon, stop thinking that. Start with a 5K, then a 10K, then a half marathon, and then a full marathon. You don’t have to run the entire thing and you don’t have to do it alone. Find a friend or a group of friends and train together. Just remember, don’t ever compare yourself to anyone but yourself. Fast for you may not be fast for someone else, and that’s OK! Only 1% of Americans can say that they are a marathoner, and now so can I.
Ellen Ratliff is a Senior Health Writer at College Lifestyles ™. She is a junior at Michigan State University, majoring in Dietetics with a specialization in Health Promotions. She completed her first marathon in 4:05 and plans on running in several half marathons later this year.