I’m always one for outrageous over the top goals that usually never actually happen. I hate the idea of New Year’s resolutions, but still, like everyone else, I inevitably make them and (usually) inevitably break them.
Those that know me would have cottoned on to the fact that during 2012 I got into ‘running’. In a big way.
Propelling myself forward with velocity became all-consuming obsession. I monitored every aspect of my fledgling running career. Speed, distance, calories in, calories out. I feel I owe my long-suffering friends an apology. They probably endured every kilometre after boring kilometre as my new found obsession began to dominate my social media profiles. Sorry!
When I started running, my initial goal was to improve my parkrun times. I graduated to 10 kilometre races, before doing my first half-marathon in the hills surrounding Adelaide in October 2012 (specifically, the great Mclaren Vale Half). At the time, I couldn’t fathom the idea of running further.
But at the start of 2013, I decided to try my hand at completing the marathon. Specifically, the Gold Coast Airport Marathon held in July. I guess I was driven by a desire to run out the indulgences of my twenties by running an outrageous distance.
In July 2013, about six months after I started my marathon training, I finished the Gold Coast Marathon in a time of 4:00:43. A respectable time for a first tilt at the distance. It hurt, but it was one of the highlights of my life thus far. And I’d like to think it taught me a few things about personal discipline.
Perhaps you’re thinking of running a marathon in 2014. Do you mind if I share with you some insights that I learned during throughout my marathon journey during 2013?
(Be aware, I make a lot of claims here without more than anecdotal evidence. These are the things that worked for me, and I’m sharing personal insights rather than ideas based on any other empirical data or observations.)
You’ll need at least four months, probably a bit more, to get prepared for your marathon.
Obviously take what I say with a grain of salt, but I couldn’t imagine doing my first marathon without a solid base of running and training. Sure, there will be bucketloads of people who can do a marathon off minimal time and training, but I think for the most part that a long lead up would be required for the body to be ready for the strains of the marathon.
Training for a marathon requires consistency.
You will need to run at least three times a week – probably four. You’ll need to run in all weather, and you’ll need to occasionally run fast, slow, short distances and long – VERY LONG – distances.
My program usually composed of the following four-day program.
- Tuesday – speed session (between 7-9 kilometres in an hour long session.)
- Thursday – tempo/threshold session (between 9-12 kilometres in a session with heartrate kept near threshold)
- Saturday – I’d usually do a shorter time trialling type session – like a parkrun.
- Sunday – long run. The most important session of any marathon program. No need to kill yourself on this, but you simply have to get used to running for a long time.
At the start of my program, long runs where about 10-12 kilometres. By the end, I was doing 34 kilometres before the marathon taper.
Occasionally I would do a Monday recovery – a very slow, relaxed 5 kilometre. Mostly to shake the gunk out of the legs from the long run the day before.
For my first marathon, I maxed out at one 70 kilometre week. Usually, the program I had varied between 40 kilometre weeks and 60 kilometre weeks, often dictated by the distance of the long run.
Joining a running group is an excellent idea.
For yonks I was too scared to join a running group.
I didn’t think I’d be fast enough or ‘elite’ enough to participate. But after I joined a local club, one with a specialised marathon program for absolute beginners (specifically, the Intraining Marathon School here in Brisbane – an excellent group for first time marathoners), I soon realised how stupid I had been. I should have joined up years ago.
Sure there was some very VERY good runners in my club, but there was also a lot of people around my ability, of all ages and genders.
The thing about running groups and training for the marathon is that usually there will be people training for your event. This means you can meet up for your long runs, grab a coffee after wards, and keep your running social.
It also acts as a motivator to get out of bed on the weekend and complete your training. I know that when I’m training on my own, I’m more likely to wimp out – and that doesn’t really bode well for a good marathon.
You will probably get injured at some point.
Injury really sucks. I hate it. And it’s particularly annoying when you’re trying to complete a goal like doing a marathon.
But inevitably, you will probably get some kind of injury that will stop you running for days or weeks. Occasionally, it might completely derail your preparations.
In the lead up to my first marathon, I suffered a variety of annoying creaks and setbacks. I had issues with my seemingly perpetual runner’s knee that made my knees basically feel like a concrete grinder. I also got some extensor tendonitis in my right foot, which basically had me on no running for two weeks during a critical part of my training (hot tip: never tie your shoes too tight on your long runs).
These are hard things to deal with but I found that doing some core work, yoga, stretching and getting a sports massage once a month really helped in keeping my muscles loose and in some sort of shape for doing the training.
I think the key thing here is to listen to your body, rest when you need to rest, and if you have to postpone the marathon, you’re better off doing it rather than suffering long-term injuries.
You’ll need the correct gear.
No need to go over the top here, but a solid pair of good running shoes (two pairs preferably) is an absolute must. Go to a reputable athletics store – preferably one that specialises in runners – and get fitted out for a good pair. There’s plenty out there but brands like Asics, Brooks and Mizuno are well known for their quality running shoes.
I’d also recommend perhaps going to a podiatrist to check out your gait before buying a pair as it might reduce the risk of injury and ensures you buy a proper pair of shoes to suit your running style.
I had issues with shin splints before getting orthotics, and once ‘installed’, I’ve never had them again.
A quality GPS watch is a great training tool. I use a Garmin Forerunner 210 but there are heaps on the market. They’re considered more accurate than the various smart phone applications. They’re also much easier to consult during your actual running. The thought of doing interval sessions with a phone strapped to my arm boggles my mind. I’d go nuts.
Other than that – some comfortable clothes, a hat, sunscreen and (if you’re male) something to tape up the ol’ nipples with are all you really need.
Building a base before starting a training program might be a good idea.
I’m currently preparing for my second marathon and I’m struggling a bit. I’ve started a program my coach has made me but a combination of being overseas for work and illness and injury during the past few months have disrupted my usual training. As a result, I’m feeling sluggish on my training runs and having problems meeting the split times.
It’s more than likely because I haven’t really being running consistently during the second half of the year. I’d suggest being able to run about 30 kilometres a week before starting a dedicated training program. I have no evidence to back this other than my own experience and notions, but any program out there probably recommends this as a minimum (if not more).
It doesn’t have to be fast but your body just has to be able to handle that volume.
What to expect on marathon day?
Joy, despair, and an almost overwhelming sense of achievement, plus lessons in self-discipline that may be relevant to nearly all other aspects of your life.
I’ve got a series of random run-related posts on this site, which you are welcome to read through if you can endure them