Training for a marathon is almost always an imperfect process. This time around, I expect Boston to be an interesting 26.2 for me with my emotions, my love for the sport, and my appreciation for the supporters along the route running high. So being prepared mentally and physically is even more important.
I trained for the 2013 Boston Marathon without a true schedule, simply creating a training outline for myself from a page I ripped out of “Runner’s World” magazine. It was great and I loved my Yasso 800’s (created by the running guru himself Bart Yasso), but I didn’t have a set schedule, group, or coach. For the 2013 INGNYC marathon, I chose the NYRR Virtual Training program. It was easy to sign up for, making a $45 commitment that allowed me to choose what day I wanted my long run, what day I wanted “off”, my goal race time, and how intensely I wanted to train. Plus, I GOT A COACH!! Yes, even though it is a virtual program, I have a live coach I can email back and forth with! And that is such a thrill because until last fall, I hadn’t had a coach since 1996.
So here, from my experiences both running with and without a coach, are my 10 tips to successfully train for a marathon.
10 Tips to Training for a Marathon
- Set a Goal and Commit. Make your goal to run the race public and it will help you commit to keeping it. To make it even more attainable, set smaller goals along the way to reinforce your commitment and give yourself some progress markers. For example, sign up for shorter races such as a 10k and a half marathon, and use them to practice pacing and running the second half faster than the first.
- Use a Training Plan. No matter how many races you have or haven’t run, there’s a training plan out there that will help you run smarter and faster. Do some research and pick one to help you train. As I said, I love the NYRR Virtual Training Program. I was introduced to it when I decided to run the 2013 NYC Marathon, and it made a huge difference knowing what I should be focusing on and when. Mentally figuring out what to do to train is exhausting, so when you use a program and it tells you what to, it alleviates that stress and allows you to train smarter and with confidence. For me, it takes the thought out of it. I wake up, and I already know what I’m supposed to be doing that day. It’s like a mental sherpa.
- Make time for the Mileage. Your training plan will give you a great routine to follow, but you have to make time in your schedule to put in the miles. It’s plain and simple. In marathon training, it’s about pounding the pavement so your body is prepared. Being flexible in your days is ok, just get in your weekly miles. It’s easiest for me to dress in my running gear in the mornings, and then work in my run around my daily activities. But put your run on your calendar so it’s a part of your day, it’s harder to make an excuse when it’s scheduled.
- Find a Support System. During a race, you have the crowd and fellow runners to help push you along. But on those cold, tired, or long run days, there’s no one but you out there and that can be hard. Find a few fellow runners willing to join you for all or part of your long runs to help you through. My girlfriends and I do this, and you’ll be amazed at how conversation can kill the pain. Get your family involved in your training by having your kids or husband bike alongside you while you run. Be creative, they can even drive along side, blaring music to keep you motivated the last couple miles.
- Listen to Your Body. If you are injured or sick, don’t just “push through” and do the mileage just because it’s on your training plan. You have to listen to your body and know it’s ok to rest when you needs rest. And don’t go back and try to “make up” mileage or workouts you miss. Let the ones you missed GO and move on, trusting that you needed to miss them to get better and improve your overall health.
- Use Your Race Gear on Long Runs. Don’t make your marathon the first day you try out … anything. Use your gear and strategies on a few runs first. Break in your shoes, make sure your new running shorts don’t chafe, wear your hydration pack to practice drinking while running, eat your gels/goos so you know how your stomach will react. Trust me. It’s better to have a dress rehearsal or two under your belt so all you have to worry about is pushing through when you see mile marker 21 and realize you still have 5 to go.
- Think about When and How you Fuel. Both when and what you eat are important during your training to keep your body fueled and operating in its peak performance shape. You may see the words “peak performance” and say that’s not for me, but when you’re preparing to put your body through 26.2, you have to think like a “pro” athlete. You want to stay in front of the depletion. That for me is a gel every 45 minutes. And I alternate sips of water and gatorade during my training runs because that’s what I try to do at every hydration station, alternate. A few other good things to remember: 1) good nutrition and hydration are also important in helping you prevent injuries throughout your training; and 2) it’s the entire race week that’s really important for your race day fuel, not the night before. So start hydrating and increasing your carbs earlier in the week and stick to a basic and plain meal the night before. You can celebrate with your favorite spicy, heavy, or sweet food after you cross the finish.
- Cross-train. You need to do more than just run to be in peak health, and that’s even more important when you’re putting your body through the pounding of marathon training. So continue to hit the gym. Use weights to build core and back strength, and cross train with low impact workouts like swimming and yoga to give your body a break from the pounding. Use the flex day in your training plan to crosstrain because these low-impact activities will benefit your training more than you know.
- Maintain Your Body Pre- & Post- Run. Use a foam roller or ball BEFORE you head out for a run. It’s different than stretching, so you don’t need to be warm to do it. Roll the IT bands and quads and then of course, those ever tender hamstrings. I talk about mine so much my kids call anything on their thighs their “hammies” lol! I wouldn’t make it without my foam roller. I use it all the time, especially at night before I go to bed. So put on your favorite show, take 15 minutes, and roll out the miles with good pain. And when you’ve finished your run or your gym workout, take a few moments to stretch, focusing again on your quads, hams, glutes and hip flexors. Trust me, your body will thank you.
- Remember Why You’re Running. Make the most of the time you’re dedicating to train. Take the last little bit of each run to be strong and finish on a high note. And every time you have to push through and it’s painful or you don’t want to be there, remind yourself why you’re running. Focus on the finish line and that feeling of accomplishment. It will make your commitment and sacrifice worth it.