Thinking about walking or running a marathon or already signed up for your first 26.2? Perhaps the Portland Marathon? There’s a lot of information to be digested, many miles to be logged, and a whole bunch of fun to be had before crossing the finish line, but ultimately, it would be nice to kick some butt, right? Beyond the basics such as proper nutrition, hydration, sleep and stress management tactics, there are a few details for the cautious few who may wish to look beyond ‘just finishing’ their first marathon to the realm of ‘performing like a champion.’ Try out these suggestions to help you to decide what category you may fall into:
List your reasons: There are good reasons why you committed yourself to walking or running 26.2 miles, and when you hit that proverbial wall, which may happen at any point during the race but more likely as you approach miles 17-20, you’re going to start forgetting those reasons. When fatigue, exhaustion, pain, and frustration set in, you’ll fixate on the negative and feel as if you need to stop running or face imminent death. This is the time to start listing those reasons, mantra-like, in a big way. Phrases such as ‘My kids need a strong, healthy parent,’ or ‘I need to overcome my illness’ embody some of the reasons why people find themselves at the starting line of a marathon. When you hit mile 19 and need more than a cup of water or gummy bear to fuel your fire, start expressing your unique reasons for being on that marathon course louder than mewling your weaknesses, either in your head or shouting to the rooftops, and keep it up until the next wave of euphoria arrives to propel you faster and farther towards your goal.
Clean up your ‘food friend’ list: You’re going to run faster, farther, longer and feel better while you’re doing it if your body composition is in balance. What you eat while you train and during your marathon affects your performance level, whether you feel you have body fat to lose, are maintaining your current fat-to-muscle ratio, or you need gain some muscle to get yourself over that finish line. Rather than approach your training diet as one of deprivation, imagine keeping your ‘best friend’ foods and eliminating foods that may seem friendly but are really just weighing you down. For example, let’s say cheese has played a significant role in your life and you literally feel heartsick when you think about letting it go. Life without cheese would absolutely suck and you know it. Bread, on the other hand, has made you feel sick and out of control on one too many occasions, and even though it promises a good time you know it’s a bittersweet party, emphasis on the bitter. Keep the cheese, lose the bread, and then add tomatoes, prosciutto and a sprinkling of olive oil and sea salt. Eat just enough to feel happy. Every time you start to feel deprived focus on that best friend food and know that you are getting just what you need to nourish your fit, fantastic self.
Cross train across the body: When you find something you love, it’s easy to go overboard with it. Running, running, you love running all the time… kind of exhausting just thinking about it. To avoid an obsessive-compulsive relationship with running and to prevent overuse injuries, cross train in a way that looks nothing like running and requires you to move your appendages across the midline of your body. Biking, using an elliptical, and walking are commonly used as cross-training methods, but these activities involve the same type of forward and backward movement required for running. Take yourself out of your comfort zone and move your body from side-to-side, up, down, and all around to give walking and running muscles a break. The human body functions multi-dimensionally, yet it is easy to become mired in a two-dimensional rut whereby myriad muscle groups that support the ‘main achievers’ are neglected and become too weak to perform the supportive work they are designed for. Moving beyond ‘robot’ mode into more dynamic planes injects life and energy into overdone movement patterns and leads to optimal performance. Dancing, kickboxing, yoga, and tennis are examples of activities that bear little resemblance to running but work to strengthen and lengthen the body from all angles, thus enhancing your ability to run and run and run with a deeper passion and appreciation for your sport.
Run harder, differently: The ultimate goal is that your marathon pace will be faster than your standard, run-of-the-mill training pace. In addition to all the hard work you put in to prepare for your marathon, you’ll have the benefit of race-day adrenaline, massive crowds of supporters, live entertainment and the imminence of a victory to claim; however, that race-day boost won’t put you in the league you desire if you haven’t incorporated some training runs into your program that provide a unique challenge unrelated to what you’ll encounter on your marathon course. For a total of two workouts, once a week run faster than your marathon pace and on another, non-consecutive day, take on a technical challenge such as hills, rocky terrain, or sand. For example, on Monday, run ten, 1-minute sprint intervals, whereby your pace is 120% of your marathon pace. On Wednesday or Thursday of that same week, run up a rocky trail or devise a route that includes more uphill than down – whatever may be a healthy departure from what you’ll be running during your marathon. Mixing in faster speeds and differing terrain elements and hill grades as you run provide just the right challenges to keep you mentally and physically sharper than those runners who train at or below the standard curve of adaptation, which is why you’ll see a higher than average percentage of triathletes training in places like Boulder, CO, where the air is thin and the mountains are steep. Take a note from the elites and go harder, differently when you train to make it easier to go harder when you run your marathon.
Love your course: You’re going to be spending a lot of time on your marathon course so you might as well get to know it and love it. At the very least go online and research the specific details of the course – terrain, temperature, crowd support, live entertainment, goodie bag offering, etc., and get excited about that 26.2 miles. Go a step beyond and run parts of the course throughout your training, memorizing landmarks and scenery that may be soothing distractions when discomfort sets in; imagine yourself on race day, gliding along your marathon course with grace and precision, welcoming each turn and twist as one more benchmark towards your final victory. Emotional connection to your marathon course adds another dimension to your experience that will pick up the slack when your physical and mental resources dip low, so keep your heart open to the marathon lovefest that awaits you.
There is so much more to a marathon than walking or running, but the very essence of a marathon is the movement forward towards the finish line. How you approach your training and the level of performance you aspire to achieve throughout your race are deeply personal and there are no two ways exactly alike to guarantee success; however, if you are interested in doing your best, at your own level with your personal priorities in mind, train like the champion you are to move with the knowledge that the miles are secondary to the overall journey you’ve embarked upon to improve your quality of life. It may not be the easiest way to train, but it is the only option that will lead you in the direction towards optimal health and vitality.