It’s Monday, and I will not lie: it’s the third one in a row I have found myself a bit anxious and watching the clock a little too obsessively.
Each of the two since April 15th I have looked at my car or phone clock at exactly 2:49 p.m. – one minute before two homemade bombs entered my life via one of my most-dear passions: running. I’m sure today will be no different. I won’t, however, allow this organic process to change or diminish THIS Monday, now that I know what it is, and why I do it.
Instead, I want to share with you a happy outcropping of Patriot’s Day, as marathon Monday is known as in Boston. Since that day, more people have engaged me in running discussions than I can comprehend – new runners and seasoned alike, people who are mad, sad, but mostly motivated to go 26.2 for both solidarity and a whole host of personal reasons. Can’t blame them – running a marathon can change your life. In fact, I’d rather you WANT it to (for the better).
If you’re considering bringing the 26.2-mile odyssey into your life, then you already know it will take a lot of time, determination, sweat, patience, water, socks, fruits and veggies, anti-chafe product and on and on.
You may also guess that like being an expectant parent for the first time, being a first-time marathoner-in-training elicits a mountain of advice from those on the other side of that particular journey. And that’s part of the appeal – you get to not only accomplish an extremely difficult test of your body’s strength and your mind’s will working together, by doing so, you join an exclusive club – and talk about it for hours on end. Everyone has a say.
Guess what? So do I.
Since I’ve been dispensing opinions and info in such a constant stream lately, I’ve further-crystallized what I feel the real starting point should be when you embark on the marathon road. Sure, you need to find a marathon you want to run and mark off the training time on your calendar, then plunk down the money for a bib. This act alone is both incredibly scary and galvanizing at the same time.
What I’d like to suggest, though, is that before you register, or even hit a website like Running in the U.S.A to target your race, you first set up shop within yourself and your immediate environs.
Training plans can be drawn. Gear can be purchased. Thousands of inspirational pictures and quotes can be sought on the internet to get you stoked and keep you going throughout the 16++ weeks you’re training for this beast. What I’ve got for you is a little list of necessities – none of which cost a dime, and will make a big impact on your success as a marathoner.
Before you train a single mile, get the things on this list, and you’re not only going to succeed, in my opinion, you’re going to OWN your race day. Would you want it any other way?
The right mind. Get your mind prepped properly from the beginning. Yes, the marathon is a hard event. Yes, it needs to be respected and a healthy dose of trepidation is a natural part of that respect. However, if you work to eliminate the word IF as soon as possible in this process, you’re already halfway there. You have guts or you wouldn’t be training for a marathon. You can show yourself you have ENOUGH guts through building yourself into a tough(er) runner through consistent training. You can’t possibly see right now all of the things you’ll build in your mind while you prepare your body. Those are uniquely yours to discover. If you commit, there is no such thing as IF. Go with ‘will‘ and ‘am‘ as much as possible, right away.
Secondly, give yourself the credit you deserve as an athlete. Carry yourself as one at all times. Running, and therefore marathoning, isn’t about how fast you are, no matter what some may try to influence you to believe. You don’t have to reach some number or weight or knowledge level to be a ‘real marathoner.’ You’ll earn your card at the finish line, sure, that’s why you’re doing this. But you are no less a runner because you haven’t yet crossed the finish line. It’s about your effort and determination. Remember, what the mind believes, the body achieves. Believe it as though it’s only a matter of time until you are a marathon runner, because that’s what it can be.
Also, all this means no monkey-marathoner-mind allowed: don’t tell yourself you’ll get the right gear and shoes after you nail your first 15-miler, Don’t eat a horrendous diet because you intend this to be your only 26.2 – a bucket-list race – not cool. Marathon success allows no room for this kind of thinking. Respect what you do and what it takes to do it. Don’t let anyone, least of all yourself, diminish it.
The right team. If you are going to order your life around this marathon goal (and make no mistake, that’s what you will have to do), build a great team to support you. Even a single person will do (you+just one other = a team), and quality trumps quantity here. Now, before you select your team, you need to think carefully about whom to choose and why. (This is dependent on your personality and only you can figure it out in the end, and it may take some trial and error.)
A well-meaning friend who competes with and challenges you in your existing relationship might seem like the perfect presence, someone who will surely motivate you with tough love. This can backfire if you don’t know how you’ll respond in this new marathon training environment, and you may not (always) respond well during this long span of training time. A friend who is naturally competitive may also introduce stresses you don’t need, especially if this marathon-thing opens up your life like a flower (and it probably will), and he or she isn’t seeing things as quite so rosey in his/her life.
A veteran runner and marathoner sounds like a great choice, too, no? I agree – but use this team member with restraint. Every runner’s different; every runner is also opinionated. You need to find your own path in so many ways on this journey, so include a veteran on your team if you can, but keep your boundaries and personal filters as far as to how you do things during your training time.
There are many different workouts to accomplish the same training effect on your body, and there are many ways to set up your life so that you can reach said training effect. The veteran runner may also prompt you to compare yourself with him or her more than you should. Comparison is a thorny aspect of this marathoning biz – one that I work to diminish both internally and with runners I coach. It’s a bad habit that can quickly become pervasive in your running life and not in a good way. At all.
Like I said, boundaries are key between you and any other runner you associate with. Unless this person is a coach you are entrusting to guide you through this process – make your own way while learning to glean the best advice from those who’ve been there. Toss the rest. That’s the art.
In my eyes, the perfect team member accepts you and your ability to make decisions, and listens and cheers you on without judging or directing. This person doesn’t have to be another runner; in fact, my own best team members are non-runners. One of my children, for example (the other runs).
Speaking of family, you will of course brief yours on your plans, and I find that by offering your fam small opportunities to contribute to your training, you can give them a great sense of purpose.
My daughter, Alexa, for instance, is in charge of snatching naughty snacks from my hands, should my evil twin impulsively grab something that isn’t marathon nom-approved. She also picks out my race mantras, with incredible effectiveness, somehow (“this is the time” was my main Boston mantra, furnished by Miss Thang, herself).
Lots of chances exist to help you choose the best shoe and tank colors, to make you smoothies after your long runs (my son’s specialty), color signs for race day or be in charge of putting your shoes by the door each night so you can find them in the pre-dawn fumbling preceding a summer long run. If you don’t set your expectations for empathy or even sympathy too high with your family and instead get them involved in small ways, I find you can nurture some seriously valuable team member material under your own roof.
The right organizational system. Determine ahead of time how you will structure your time day-to-day. I’m not talking about your training plan here – your plan contains the details of what you will be doing during your training time. Figure out ‘plan a’ and ‘plan b’ training days and times down to the hour. Things often don’t go as planned for a host of reasons, but if you have back-up time slots for workouts, you’ll feel much more confident right from the beginning.
Also part of the system is your house: thoroughly clean your fridge and organize your kitchen and bedroom closets and drawers prior to starting a marathon training plan. Keep the right foods, vitamins and gear in easy reach and if at all possible, make your training tools – water bottle, shoes, watch – visible in the areas you most frequently go around your house. In your closet, toss any ill-fitting, dumpy and/or ugly clothing. Wear only clothing that makes you feel good, happy and strong at all times. If you lose weight and have to revamp your wardrobe later in the training cycle, sobeit, but reinforce your athlete status by looking and feeling your best in your clothes at all times.
Finally, clear away any books and magazines that negatively reinforce what you’re doing. For example, if you feel you’re overweight for a marathoner and you’re staring smack at Vogue every time you enter your living room, that’s not going to do good things for your morale. Instead, organize your healthy, positive and inspiring reads, obviously including your training references, in that space instead. Visible. Ready. Just like you.
The right data – and analysis. As you go through the training cycle, things will change. Probably lots of things – your body, your sleep habits, your outlook – even the way you motivate yourself to get out there on your runs. So will your training paces and maybe even your body composition.
So much change! So overwhelming! Wait: this is a good thing. Make it a better thing by keeping track of it.
Of course, keep a training log – going with date/day, time of workout, duration/pace, which shoes you wore and conditions are great and merit recording for obvious reasons. But taking it a step farther and journaling a short entry about how you felt pre, during and post-run or race can, in my opinion, shed valuable light on what drives you at different times during your training.
Keeping track of these things helps you avoid injury, improve your training processes and you also get to know your inner athlete – your mind – both on the run and the rest of the day, as well. We don’t ‘run and done’ in this business. If you haven’t already in your running life, you will find yourself thinking about your training at the oddest times. And often.
As if the training weren’t a behemoth to begin with, now I’ve gone and given you even more work to do. Do these things first, however, and I swear you’ll be a happy runner with great stories to tell about the completion of your first marathon.
Vets: what would you add to this prep list for setting up your mental and physical house for success? What piece(s) of advice were most golden when you were new to the marathoning world? Share below!