Watching someone else run a marathon can be one of the most inspiring moments for any runner. I experienced this for the first time when I watched my best friend Val run a marathon a week after my wedding. I knew after that day that I just had to do one. Yes, she was in pain and ultimately didn’t run the time she had hoped for, but I was still just amazed and in awe of her. Yesterday, I had the pleasure of watching my brother in law and several friends run their first marathon. It wasn’t just inspiring because he ran a 3:14.59 for his first marathon ever and qualified for Boston with a tenth of a second to spare, but that he had the courage to get to the starting line in front of friends and family and put it all out there. Seeing him at the end struggling to walk and knowing exactly how that feels made me hungry for my next.
Its crazy, I never thought I’d become a marathon junkie. Its long miles and dedicated training for months and months. I thought I’d be content to do a few and mostly run 5K’s and half’s. Strangely enough its seemed to be a good distance for me. So what does it take to successfully run a marathon?
Dedication to the training. This is an absolute must. To complete 26.2 miles you absolutely have to put in the time and the miles. Undertrained, I could probably “get through” 26.2 miles if I had to, but it wouldn’t be fast and it wouldn’t feel good. A 5K or 10K on the other hand, if you have enough natural talent and stay in decent shape, you really can get by with very little training. To build the kind of endurance and speed endurance it takes to run for about 3 hours requires things of your body that its just not ready to do on any given day.
Patience. Both in your actual training and in the marathon itself. You have to train your body gradually to be able to handle the distance. You don’t just go out on day one and run 20 miles. You slowly build up to it. On race day, you have to have the patience to keep your pace in check in the beginning. Everyone feels great the first several miles of a marathon. You’ve been tapering and carb loading and the pace is not too fast to begin with so its easy to “feel great” and think you’re in better shape than you realized and go out way too fast and pay for it later. You need to have patience to go your pace and wait until the very end to see what you’ve got left and really push it.
Courage. Every time you get to that start line you run the risk of something going horribly wrong, not meeting your goals, etc, etc. It takes courage to train for and complete a marathon. Even more so if you tell people your goals out loud.
Healthy Lifestyle. Some people that run many marathons may not agree with that statement. But I stick to my guns in saying that if you want to run a marathon well, you have to embrace a healthy lifestyle. That doesn’t mean completely avoiding all junk and becoming anti-social. But the majority of your diet should be made up of healthy foods that enhance your training. Junk in=junk out. Its as simple as that. And giving your body ample time to rest and recover is very much a part of that equation. You shouldn’t be sleeping 3-4 hours a night while training for a marathon. Your body needs the extra rest to repair tissues and make you stronger. Same with keeping your mental health in check. Training for a marathon can really make you crazy. I’ve experienced it. So its important to make sure you have a strong social circle and spend some time doing things other than running, thinking about running, reading about running, talking about running…etc. Live a full life. Running should be a part of that life, not your whole life.
These are just a few of the things I think you need to have a successful marathon. I think its worth it and have come to enjoy all the craziness that embodies it. Some Saturdays, getting up and running for 2 hours, AGAIN, is the last thing I want to do and all I think about is how jealous I am of those runners that go for a nice little 6 or 8 mile run on Saturday morning and get on with their day. Then when I’m the runner going for those shorter Saturday runs I actually miss the long runs. Not the time they take, but more of the sense of accomplishment you feel after and the peace of mind that comes with a 16 mile run. Its not for everyone, but it sure is for me.