Ok, so you know you want to do a marathon, you know you are going to have to mix in some weekly runs with some long runs on the weekends, so now what? If you haven’t already, pick your race. The best choice for a first time race is whatever is local…in my opinion. You eliminate all the travel logistics this way. I guess there are arguments on both sides for doing a big or small race. My favorite races I’ve done have been small, but then you get no crowd support. It doesn’t matter too much though, but I wouldn’t do the really big ones like Chicago or New York for a first timer. This is a great time of the year to select something to do in the fall. You have the next 4 weeks or so to make your plan and then starting in May or June your training will start. I think fall races are great because it will keep you motivated during the hot summer and you won’t be tempted to cut runs short.
Ok, so once you’ve got your race, start on your plan. There are a million plans online and in books. I always piece together parts of a few different plans. Chances are just about everything is pretty similar, so look at a few and piece together what you think will work for you in your life. An example: Most plans for experienced marathoners call for a midweek run of 12-15 miles. I don’t do this. I just don’t have that kind of time. I can do up to about 10 miles before work and that’s it. So I take that out of the plan I make for myself. Another example: my main training partner, Mark, wrote me a schedule once based on the RRCA coaching class he had just taken. It called for a lot of 4 mile runs. I ended up taking them out because I would rather run a little longer. That’s just what I prefer. Plan about 16-20 weeks of training, and count backwards from your marathon date. Plan on 3 20 + milers as a minimum. I do this assuming at least one won’t happen due to life getting in the way at some point. That way you have at least 2. Your last 20+ miler is about 2-3 weeks out from your goal race. I also will typically have a couple of weekends where I drop the mileage back a bit to recover some. I have tried to just wing it and throw a couple 20 milers in, but I found I am much better with a schedule. I am not super strict, but the long runs at least are laid out for the entire duration of the training cycle. I do not keep any type of running log, but that’s just me. I just make a list of the long run dates and how much mileage to do. I find that being too rigid with schedules just leads me into frustration when I am not able to keep on the schedule…but once again, that’s just me. Some things to think about as you plan your schedule: is your goal race hilly? You might schedule some long hill runs. Are you someone who does run/ walk to get your miles in? You might plan a day of just power walking to really work on the pace. And don’t ever plan a long run when you are out of town. Just move your schedule around. You are pretty unlikely to get in a long run if you are on a vacation or work trip.
So once you’ve got a flexible schedule you are ready. At first, it should seem pretty doable. A good schedule will have you hardly noticing you are increasing and getting better at running long. That’s why I say to give yourself plenty of time.
Ok, here are my don’ts: Don’t pay for a plan. There are a ton of free plans online, and I see no reason to pay a “coach” just to email you a pre made, cookie cutter plan. If you pay for someone to give you feedback, run in their group, etc, that’s different. But I really think it’s a rip off for someone to email you something you can get for free. Don’t freak out if right now you are saying something like “10 miles just about killed me today, how will I ever run 26?” You will…believe in your training and don’t take short cuts and it will work. Don’t fall victim to feeling insecure because you know other people are doing more. I am a low mileage runner. It works for me. I have friends who do over 100 miles a week. It works for them but it wouldn’t for me. Just work with what you have time wise and don’t come up with an unrealistic plan for you. Also, sometime others may schedule a lot more than you in the beginning and either burn out or get injured. If you plan something realistic for you life you are much more likely to see it through.
Oh and a big “do”…Do read about other’s race successes. Example: when I ran my one and only 100 miler, I looked up a ton of race reports online where the runner had success. If someone’s report was full of gloom about being miserable while running, I quit reading it. I was so scared of the distance I needed positive stories only. My brain was good enough at thinking up bad scenarios, and I needed to counter that by reading lots of stories of regular people who did it, and finished smiling.
Ok…once again, please let me know if any of this is helpful or if I need to expand on anything. I am curious if anyone will find a single thing I said useful…
Ok…speech therapy is about over. Then off to work, and then Operation Move with a 26.2 mile grand finale commences.