BY MICHELLE MOORE
PHOTOGRAPHY BY SCOTT CUNNINGHAM
So, you’re thinking about running a marathon. Maybe you always wanted to try it – just once. Perhaps you’re connected to a charity with an upcoming event or you’re looking to get in jaw-dropping shape. Whatever the reason, you find yourself teetering on the verge of claiming a goal that takes a mammoth commitment to achieve.
Ironically, you won’t start prepping on the pavement, but rather in front of a mirror – as in, take a hard look at yourself and examine your motives to see if you’ve got what it takes. Lance Armstrong’s strength and conditioning coach and former triathlete, Peter Park, challenges wannabe marathoners with a few questions: Do you have the time and energy to train? Do you have the right mindset? Why do you want to do this? Can you run 30 minutes without stopping? Park says don’t even start marathon training until you can run at a comfortable pace, either outside or on a treadmill, for 30 minutes.
You’re still reading, so I’m assuming you’ve already pulled out your pocket mirror and that person staring back at you has given a clear “Go for it, Mercury.” Now you need to go from a person with a really cool goal to a marathoner crossing the finish line.
Luckily, veteran marathoners are a helpful lot. I tapped into this network and found 60 tips that are THE “best of,” gained through the blisters, fatigue, failures and glories of those whose Asics hit the pavement before you.
FINDING YOUR FOCUS
01. Mental focus is as important as physical training, says Dr. Jeanette Anderson, veteran marathoner and team chiropractor for the 2004 Olympic U.S. Track and Field team in Athens, Greece. A strong head makes for a strong body. Have a great reason for wanting to achieve this goal and remind yourself of it daily.
02. Don’t reduce running a marathon to a line item on your bucket list. If you have a bucket list, get it out right now, scratch off marathon and write in skydiving.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT GOALS
03. Ten-time marathoner Dan Green, from Round Lake Beach, Ill., bets you’re not Kenyan, so you’re not going to win this marathon. Don’t push yourself too hard the first time out. Don’t aim to finish in less than five hours or qualify for the Boston Marathon – just set the goal to complete it. Completion is an amazing accomplishment in its own right.
04. Enjoy the journey. You win by learning interesting things about yourself and your limits.
05. For a life-changing experience, train with a fundraising group suggests Pat Lynch, mentor with Team in Training and president of Business Alignment Strategies. Team in Training’s Columbus chapter, www.teamintraining.org, offers a 16 to 20 week daily training schedule for novice to advanced runners. A noble cause can get you across the starting line and keep you going to the finish. Plus, charity training groups provide structure, excellent training, unbelievable team members and the satisfaction of helping others.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT MARATHON
06. Not all marathons are created equally. Choose the marathon that’s right for you. You live in central Ohio and you are in luck, because Columbus hosts the widely known Columbus Marathon. If you don’t want to travel, this might be the marathon for you. But, you can find a race in the United States every weekend. For example, the More Marathon in New York is perfect for a woman over 40. There’s also the Rock ‘n’ Roll series and the Walt Disney World Marathon. Lots to choose from.
07. Pick an interesting course with solid runner support, suggests Columbus resident Paul Carringer, who has completed 92 marathons including five consecutive New York Marathons. An interesting course keeps your mind off of the grinding work and support helps you make the distance.
08. For extra motivation to commit, veteran marathoner Chuck Kennedy, of www.onthewaytravel.net, recommends making your marathon part of a vacation. Many of the charity training programs pay for your flight and hotel when you meet a certain fundraising minimum.
BEFORE YOU START TO TRAIN
09. Find a running coach or program. Look online, www.ohiorunner.com, or check a local running store such as Fleet Feet Columbus. Fleet Feet has a large marathon training group of over 500 members. For a schedule of local runs, try the Columbus Running Company, www.columbusrunning.com.
10. Even if you have a coach and program, find a team to train with to make you accountable, says Columbus native Bob Rall, a volunteer coach for Team in Training.
11. Mike Dove, with Big Sur International Marathon, has trained more than 1,000 people and advises at least three years of running experience and six months of specific marathon training for a first marathon. It takes a full six months to build endurance, prevent injury and have a great performance.
STRUCTURING YOUR TRAINING
12. Train your brain. Dove starts his training clinics with positive attitude training. Visualize finishing the marathon and receiving the finisher’s medal. Human Powered Racing, www.humanpoweredracing.com, located in Columbus, offers comprehensive mental-preparation coaching.
13. Find a training program or guide. The Sole of Columbus Running Training, www.soleofcolumbusrunning.com is a local training group set up by Second Sole and Columbus Running Company. It offers an 18-week training program, weekly runs, coaching, clinics, on-course support and more. If you are looking for a simple training guide, try marathon legend Hal Higdon’s free training schedule for beginners, intermediate and advanced runners on his Web site at www.HalHigdon.com.
TRAINING YOURSELF TO RUN
14. Dove considers the most important run to be the long run, reserved for weekends. It’s defined as any run longer than you’ve ever performed before. Do this every other week and increase over time up to 20 or 24 miles. Increase one or two miles every two weeks. If you start with eight, then two weeks later, complete 10, then 12, etc., up to 20. Do at least two runs of 20 miles or more and do the last long run three weeks before the marathon.
15. Dove suggests the next most important weekly or bi-weekly run is the marathon pace workout, performed on opposite weekends from the long run. Start with four miles and work up to 15 at about four weeks before the marathon at your expected pace.
16. Dove plans weekday runs (the third type of run) as a combination of speed work, easy days and hill work, depending on fitness levels and marathon terrain. He cautions against doing two difficult workouts in a row. Always take an easy day or rest day in between. Typically, each week’s mileage increases as training progresses and every third or fourth week is a “cut-back” or rest week where mileage is less than the week before.
17. The last three weeks before your marathon, taper and rest are essential. That means less mileage with equal or more intensity.
18. There’s no reason to train to 26.2 miles. Veterans train to 20 because during your race, the adrenalin and crowd carry you the remaining 6.2.
19. Don’t cheat on your training, says marathoner Ed Bebee, of IronStrikesIron Creative Communications. You’ll pay big for it later.
20. Train in all different kinds of weather. If it’s rainy and cold outside, run – if it’s hot and sunny, run. The only time you shouldn’t run is during a hail or lighting storm. You are preparing yourself for any weather that might occur on race day.
21. Carringer says learn to run without music. Some people get so hung up on having special music during long runs that they fall apart when their MP3 player stops working in the middle of the race.
22. Don’t overtrain. FrontRunner, www.frcols.com, a walking and running specialty store, offers a variety of heart monitors to ensure you are not pushing your body beyond its limits.
BUILDING MUSCLE CAPACITY AND STRENGTH
23. Stretch before and after each run to prevent injuries. Runner Chuck Kennedy performs daily stretches to increase muscle flexibility. He says hamstrings that can stretch lengthen your stride, making an enormous difference over 26.2 miles.
24. Michael Glatter, NSCA certified personal trainer, recommends you lift weights to supplement your running to retain muscle and increase endurance for those later miles. Running is pushing the body forward with the legs, so having a strong lower body will help you run a marathon with more ease. Add squats, lunges and leg presses to your workout program.
25. If you can afford a regular massage, do it. If not, use a foam roller, which is a poor man’s massage and keeps muscles supple.
26. Work on your core strength. The core stabilizes the pelvis. A weak core leads to posture and hip problems and shin splints. The core includes the entire trunk and glutes and it extends deeper than the superficial “six-pack” muscles. Great core exercises include planks, bridges and stability ball work. Plus, you don’t need a gym to do it. You can do five or six simple exercises in 10 minutes at home.
27. You can’t just run – you must cross-train to prevent injury. Anderson urges runners to consider being chiropractically adjusted, too.
28. Keri Cawthorne, of Iron Mountain Pilates and Movement Ltd., says if you start to feel any pain, back off. Never run through pain. If you are unable to run due to an injury, try pool running as it allows you to continue your cardiovascular routine without inflicting impact on your body.
DESIGNING AN EFFECTIVE NUTRITION PLAN
29. Cawthorne suggests discovering how your body performs by keeping a food diary against which you track your mileage.
30. Clinical nutritionist Stella Metsovas, B.S., C.N., recommends (while training) refraining from all alcohol (even a glass of wine) and limiting coffee and all processed foods.
31. Use long runs to craft your most effective nutrition plan with energy gels, bars or drinks that work for you. Park mentioned FRS energy drink with quercetin, an antioxidant that gives a long-term energy release and the boost you need to get over the wall you hit 20 miles into a marathon.
32. Once you find gels and drinks that work for you, gel and fuel up. Drink often and take energy gels about every 40 minutes or every eight miles.
DOING YOUR HOMEWORK
33. Study the terrain of the race and find out where the drinking stations are located on the course.
34. Have a marathon-day plan, even if it’s just broad strokes. Think about how to pace yourself so you’ll have energy throughout.
PICKING THE RIGHT CLOTHES AND PREPPING YOUR BODY
35. If you put the time and energy into running a marathon, it pays to have the right equipment.
36. Mark Rouse, owner of Runner’s High ‘n Tri in Arlington Heights, Ill., has run over 50 marathons, completed 17 Ironmans and two Ultras and he tells runners to get fit for a technical running shoe. A professional running shoe specialist performs a gait analysis to determine whether you pronate (roll in) or supinate (roll out). Runners who develop an injury either supinate or pronate too severely.
37. Buy technical socks. Cotton absorbs moisture, becomes stiff and causes blisters. Technical socks transfer moisture, fit better and help prevent blisters that can wreck a race and even force you to quit.
38. Never wear cotton. It absorbs moisture and doesn’t release it, making your clothes heavy and making you chafe. The new technical fibers (Cool Max, PolyPro) keep your core temperature even and transfer moisture away from the skin and into the air.
39. Ladies, keep the girls riding high with a good sports bra.
40. Never wear anything new the day of the marathon. Don’t go to the expo and load up on new clothes or shoes. If you want to buy new gear, great, but wear it another time, not on race day.
41. Layer your clothing. In larger races you may wait a long time before you start, so you’ll want to make sure you start warm.
42. Dr. Brooke Jackson, board certified dermatologist, founder of the Skin Wellness Center of Chicago and eight-time marathon finisher, suggests you liberally apply Aquaphor, Vaseline or Body Glide to any area that rubs (yes, toes and nipples) to avoid chaffing or irritation.
43. Runners have an increased risk of cataracts, so wear sunglasses to protect your eyes.
44. Remove makeup before running and wash your face as soon as possible to minimize bacterial overload and acne breakouts. Hold your acne meds or anti-aging products a day or two before to minimize sun sensitivity.
45. Apply SPF 30 to 45 proof sunblock from your cheeks down to avoid getting it in your eyes.
46. For sore knees and feet, try KinkEase, www.suffernomore.com, developed by pain specialist Dr. David Klein. Klein says to apply it to the entire foot and ankle and to the back and front of the knee. It enhances performance by reducing the pain that inhibits it.
THE NIGHT BEFORE THE MARATHON
47. While you don’t want to have a marathon before your marathon, Anderson says you may have sex the night before and that it might even help you sleep.
48. Have your clothes, shoes, bib number, tights and socks completely laid out.
49. Columbus runner Gary Moneysmith, who qualified for the Boston Marathon, suggests you file your toenails down with an emery board, not clippers. Smooth and comfortable is better.
DURING THE MARATHON
50. Do NOT rely on GPS devices. They are notoriously wrong.
51. Carringer says to hydrate. Carry water when you run and go past the first water table at each water station. Most first-time marathoners go to the very first table they see, so lots of the runners are crammed into a small space trying to get a cup of water. Tables further along have few runners. Go to those. And, when you do stop for water, don’t actually stop moving or you’ll be run over and possibly hurt. Learn to grab a cup, crimp it and drink on the run.
52. Carringer also says a pace group can be fun to join, but stay behind the pacer. Pace team leaders are hired for their ability to stay on a per-mile pace for over 26 miles.
53. Moneysmith says to expect to be emotional. You are putting your body through an extreme mental and physical challenge. It’s normal for your emotions to run high.
54. Know when to say when. Some days we have it and some days we don’t. If you get into the run and it is just not working for you, live to run another day. Slow down or even drop out and save yourself. There is a marathon somewhere every weekend.
55. If you do finish, finish strong. If you’re not a fast runner, you’ll be finishing with people who are walking across the finish line. Save some strength for the end. Even if you had to walk from mile 20 to mile 25, kick yourself back into gear for the sprint to the finish. The crowd goes wild when they see a runner among the walkers.
56. Celebrate AFTER the finish. Many runners try to “high five” everyone on the course and that lasts for about five miles, then all of that extra effort hits home. Wait until you cross the finish line to make a big deal of the run.
AFTER YOU HAVE CROSSED THE FINISH LINE
57. Tom DeKornfield, five-time Boston Marathon finisher, says after the race, keep moving. Don’t sit down. Walk for two to three miles.
58. DeKornfield recommends eating a lot of protein (eggs, coldwater fish) to rebuild your muscles.
59. Get a good massage. There may be a small cash outlay for this, but make sure that you have a masseuse who knows sports massage and it will be worth the cost.
60. Get back to running right away. You can stay in shape, not have to get back in shape again, which is a much tougher proposition.
Ultimately, while putting together these tips, I found there were more marathoners in Columbus than I imagined and I found there was a real brother/sisterhood among them. Armed with the above suggestions, the moment you connect through one of the Web sites or running stores to the network developed here, you’ll have everything you could possibly need to start training. Remember, the Columbus Marathon is Sunday, Oct. 18, and it draws runners from across the country. If you haven’t been training for months, for the sake of performance, endurance and injury prevention, you probably don’t have time to run it this year, but you could aim for the Walt Disney World Marathon in Orlando in January. Godspeed, you future marathoner, and in the spirit of Bear Bryant, remember, it’s not the will to win that matters – everyone has that – it’s the will to prepare to win that matters the most.
Share your marathon tips and tricks by commenting on this article.