New to running? Don’t run a marathon.
I know you want to. But don’t.
The marathon has become the running Mt. Everest to every new runner. With the amount of hype and advertising that accompanies every large marathon, runners are drawn to them like moths to a flame. They present the ultimate challenge for anyone who is just trying to figure out how far they can go.
But don’t let your eyes get too big for your shoes.
If you are 18 years old and have wings on your feet, then this isn’t about you. But for people out there who are first trying out running, a marathon is most likely far beyond what you should be doing to your body right out of the gate. You want to enjoy your first marathon, not turn it into a tortuous, dreadful experience that you just barely get through, which is where you’ll end up by rushing to get there before you are ready.
The best piece of advice I ever received about running a marathon was: “Respect the distance.” I took this to mean it’s not easy and it will humble you without mercy if you don’t take it seriously. You will run that marathon some day, but driving yourself too far, too fast will only hurt you and destroy that running dream you’ve just found. Here is what I found to be good advice for getting yourself to the marathon, without arriving too early.
- Run. You need to be running for about a year before you begin training for a marathon. Your body needs to adjust to running. Bones, ligaments, tendons, muscles, and your heart, all need to change to adapt to running. Each one of them adapts at a different rate. A year of running, finding your pace, your stride, and your form, will give all of your body time to adjust. Before you start running, talk to your doctor. Running is good but start with making sure all the parts are working first. Then run.
- Listen. There are thousands of runners out there who have a lot of advice. Listen to what they have to say. That doesn’t mean you have to follow all of it, but they will have tips for you that will make your life easier as you increase your mileage. Some people want to feel like they did it without any help from anyone, but they may spend a lot of time backtracking trying to fix problems they could have avoided. There’s more to running than what you will find in books, so ask questions. Where do you stand at the start of the race? How do you tie your shoes so they don’t come undone? How do you drink from a cup and run? How much mileage is too much for shoes? Ask a runner.
- Read. Find a good running book (ask one of those runners from #2). Find a Web site. Join an online running group. Subscribe to a running magazine. There is a lot of information out there about running that is just waiting for you, all you have to do is go find it. Information about food, shoes, clothing, health, training plans, running clubs, technology gadgets, and much more. Which shoes should you wear? What do you eat while running long distance? How much water should you drink? What is gel? Good questions. The answers are out there.
- Plan. Find a good training plan to help guide you through your early running days. There are plans online, in books, in magazines, and other runners have plans. Find one that says “novice” or “beginner.” You are a beginner. And that’s OK. Every runner was at one point. Start right and you will be running for a long time. Start wrong and you will end up hurt and hating running. If you have never run before (or have been pretty sedentary), find a plan that includes walking. You will need to spend some time recovering from the forces of running, and walking will give you time to gain fitness while your body rests.
- Race. I said don’t run a marathon, but that doesn’t mean don’t race. Go race. Start with something local, so you don’t have to go far and get a hotel room. A 5K is a great first race because they are easy to find, don’t take a long time to run, and they bring out a wide variety of runners. They also tend to be well attended with local folk who are out there to support runners like you. Racing will give you a feel for what works for you in a race, like how you keep your target pace while 30 people are jostling all around you. You should have a few races under your belt, especially a half marathon before starting your training for a full marathon. You don’t want your first half-marathon to be in the middle of training. Racing can be very taxing on a body, and marathon training will require more recovery time between long runs.
Patience is not easy when you’ve found something fun and challenging to do. If you want to run a marathon, then start the right way. Get your body ready for the training so that you will arrive prepared on race day, not just barely making it because you pushed too fast through training. The marathon will be there waiting for you, when you are ready. And you will be ready.