There are people who were born to run and then there are the rest of us. Many use the marathon on their bucket list of challenges to accomplish. If you are someone who is a true running novice, welcome. Running is something that once you get the hang of, it will get a hold of you. If you take the right steps and don’t try to go out and run a marathon right out the gate, it may be something that is less challenging and more life affirming.
The key to training for a marathon is to set realistic goals, be patient, and know that nothing that is worthwhile is ever easy. If you keep a positive outlook, push through the hard times, and know that every day is a new running experience, you will be sailing across that finish line saying “I did it” in no time.
There are rules to training for the beginner that many will not tell you. The problem is that articles are not truly written for the beginner, they are written for a runner who wants to take it to the next level. If you are going from couch to pavement, these are the most realistic and useful rules for you to follow. The real skinny...this is a true “beginners” guide.
Set realistic goals
The key to staying on track and not getting discouraged is all in your goal setting and perspective. If you look at each run with the attitude that “at least I did it” then you won’t ever disappoint yourself. The problem that most beginners have is that they overestimate how difficult a marathon is, and they put too much pressure on themselves to advance quickly. Even the most seasoned athlete among us, if you aren’t a runner, will find a marathon to be the most challenging thing they will ever do. Increases your mileage slowly, and if you need to cut back, don’t look at it as a failure, look at it as a pause, and you won’t get discouraged. If you shoot for a weekly goal instead of a daily one, you will be more patient with yourself for those days that you just “can’t do it”.
Don’t get obsessed
Just like a diet if you sacrifice too much, or put too much emphasis on running a marathon, the net gain is going to be tarnished. Running a marathon should not be a punishment, it should be an accomplishment. If you have never been a runner before, don’t think that just because your mind has become one, your body will automatically follow suit. You don’t have to stop your world to train for a marathon, the best thing to do is to incorporate marathon training reasonably into your life. Don’t be rigid, or sacrifice those things you love.
Listen to your body
If your body is telling "No, not today," listen to what it is saying. The body was designed to send signals to the brain when it is overworked, injured, or is likely going to be injured. If you wake up in the morning, and your legs are aching, and you just can’t fathom a run, then take the day off. So many marathon beginners push themselves because they have a goal and negate what their body is telling them. That can lead to you being on the injured list more than on the road. Running is an experience that combines brain and body. If you aren’t letting them talk to one another and listening to what they are saying, you are missing out on the best part of the experience.
If you didn’t know how to fix a computer, you wouldn’t take it apart and try to do it yourself. The same is true of running. Just because you have feet, and you know how they are supposed to hit the pavement, that does not mean that you are qualified to train yourself. Any great athlete looks to those more experienced in their sport for help. Hiring a trainer can benefit in lots of ways.
First, they can examine your mechanics and ensure that you aren’t running in a way that will lead to injury. Second, they know how to take the running process apart and work on the individual mechanics of it to weight train and work on those areas that need strengthening. Keeping you motivated, they will also keep you off of the bench from injury. It is okay to ask for help, in fact, working with someone who is enthusiastic will often help you stay focused, confident, and excited to achieve your goals.
Try the 5k first
If you are going to throw all the time into training, you may want to make sure that a marathon is really what you are looking for. A marathon is a lofty and wonderful goal to shoot for, but make sure that it is for you. Find local races along the way in your training where you can start small and build. You may find that there is another event that will challenge you in other ways. Maybe you will find that the 5k is your thing. Then you can challenge yourself to run it faster and better. You never know, if you are too focused on a big prize, sometimes you don’t see the little ones that bring you much more joy.
Running a marathon is a goal specifically because it isn’t something that just anyone can do. It takes a lot of commitment, a positive attitude, and a lot of patience. Just listen to your body, be kind to it, take the time necessary, and whether it takes you a year, or a decade, if you really want it, it will happen.