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Marathon Tips from a First Timer

Posted Nov 07 2012 9:15pm

Hey there! I’m Anne and I write about marathon training – or since Oct. 28, about post-marathon slothfulness – at Riled Up Runner .


When Ashley first asked me to contribute a post to her fabulous guest series, I was still a few weeks out from my inaugural marathon and therefore woefully unqualified to impart any advice on running 26.2 miles. But now that I’ve been a successful marathoner for, um, a full week, I’m clearly an expert. You should probably take everything I write as science.*


To be honest, running is a relatively new pastime for me, and one I only considered in a last ditch effort to regain a sense of control after finding myself on New Year’s Day 2011 self-conscious, discouraged and 30 pounds overweight. Let me paint a picture for you: the vast majority of my exercise during the previous 25 years had consisted of sprints to the fridge during Food Network commercial breaks. But since anything seems possible during the first week of January, I somehow allowed myself to be talked into registering for the Philadelphia Broad Street 10-mile Run that May with a group of much healthier friends. Not wanting to come in last place, I manned up, actually trained and – after five months of a slow and steady ramp up – crossed the finish line 10 minutes faster than I’d expected and with the most intoxicating runner’s high imaginable. As my favorite fictional character Forrest Gump said, “From that day on, if I was going somewhere, I was running!”

Despite my instantaneous obsession with mid-distance racing, at the time, I wouldn’t have told you a marathon was in the cards for me. Ten miles was rough – I remember thinking – how do some runners do that twice and then add on an extra 10K to boot? So I put the idea of running 26.2 out of my mind and focused instead on 5Ks and 10Ks and the occasional half marathon. I was down to my ideal weight, I was loving the post-race euphoria and I was content.

And then New Year’s Day 2012 rolled around and suddenly, I needed a new resolution. And I really didn’t want it to be flossing. Enter Marine Corps Marathon 2012.

I selected the Marine Corps Marathon in DC for a lot of reasons – my family’s extensive naval history, the prospect of meeting my gorgeous marine soul mate on the race course (spoiler alert: no such luck) and the fact that I could avoid the lottery and secure myself guaranteed entry by running a Marine Corps 10K in March.


So I registered, trained, puffy-painted a shirt with my name on it and – I still can’t believe it – finished my first marathon last week at a surprise 3:51:51 clip. I’d been targeting a just-barely-sub-4:00, but the thrill of the event and the roar of the crowds and the promise of a lot of deliciously empty calories at the finish line lit a fire under my feet and kept me feeling strong for the entire 26.2-mile loop.


Now I think we’ve established here that I’m no expert in running, but I have picked up a few tips along the way that I wish someone had told me before I began marathon training. So in no particular order, I bring you Anne’s list of tips I wish someone had told me before I began marathon training. (Really rolls off the tongue, huh?)

Take your training seriously, but not at the expense of your social life. Marathon training, like most things in life, is all about balance and moderation. Yes, you need to do all your long runs. Yes, you should complete your weekly speed work. Yes, you have to sleep 7+ hours a night, eat well most days and keep the race at the back of your mind all training cycle long. But that doesn’t mean you have to give up the occasional happy hour, or even the occasional all-nighter, during those four months of discipline. Might I have broken 3:50 if I hadn’t danced until the sun came up at a friend’s apartment a few weeks before race day? Maybe. But would I be the well-rounded 90s-dance-party-afficianado I am today? Probably not. I’ll be the first to admit you’re going to have to make some sacrifices in your life to be a great runner, but you also sometimes have to make sacrifices in your running to have a great life. Moderation in all things, including moderation.

Train with friends sometimes, but enjoy your alone time, too. Running with friends is a wonderful way to mix your social life with your training schedule, plus post-run mimosas are way more socially acceptable when you’re not drinking them alone. But while friends can encourage you to run faster and run farther, I think there’s something equally rejuvenating about running solo. Most week days, I head out to Central Park sans-music, sans-Garmin, sans-everything and enjoy some peaceful miles with no sound except that of my steady breathing and my feet hitting the pavement. Sure, there’ll be plenty to look at come race day, but when you find yourself in a crowd-free section of the marathon course with no running buddy around to inspire you, you’ll be glad you have experience running with only No. 1.

Take pictures of your feet before you begin training. Seriously. Why did no one tell me this? While I never claimed to have foot-model-caliber paws before, now that they’re a calloused, toenail-free mess, I suddenly wish I’d paid them more respect pre-2011.

Stretch. I don’t do this, but I’ve heard it’s good for you.

Puffy paint a shirt with your name on it for race day. I’m partial to puffy paint, but you could also use Sharpies or fabric paint or iron-on decals. Either way, don’t even think about toeing the starting line without having your given name broadcast across your bosom. I can’t tell you enough how much the random spectators calling out my name kept me going during those final miles of the Marine Corps Marathon. With every single “Go Anne!,” I grinned – oh fine, and usually teared up – and found the motivation I needed to keep plowing through.

And on that note: go watch local races you’re not participating in and cheer on your friends – or random strangers with their names on their shirts (see above). Part of the fun of running is being a member of a vibrant running community, and never is that sense of camaraderie more apparent than on the sidelines of a race. Volunteer to distribute water if that’s your thing, or just wake up early to clap and holler from the sidelines. What goes around comes around, and cheering on your fellow athletes is unquestionably good karma. One word of caution though: if you’re going to make a sign for the New York City Marathon just hours before Bloomberg decides to cancel it, probably best not to make it so topical it won’t be funny come NYC 2013.


Ah well. Live and learn, right?

Good luck with your training, everyone, and if you ever find yourself in need of a running buddy in New York City, you know where to find me! (ShakeShack, probably.)

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