How Do You Know You’re Ready for a Marathon?

This week I have an amazing guest blogger – Lee Beem who discusses how to know when you’re ready to run a marathon. A link to her blog will be posted soon once it’s live, but in the meantime- enjoy this wonderful post! Thank you Lee 🙂

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You’ve run some shorter races; perhaps even a half marathon and you enjoy chasing some goals. You’ve proven you can put in the work to succeed and you’ve been steadily improving. Perhaps you know someone who is going to start marathon training and want to join in while you have the support.

Why do you want to run a marathon? No matter what your reason, think about what you want to achieve so you can keep it in mind. Stick it on the mirror, tell all your friends, use it as a social media header. Whatever your motivation is to pursue this significant challenge, if you have a reason, it’s a good one.

As training progresses your motivation may change. That’s fine. As long as you stay focused on your goal, you’re going to be fine.

Some of those great ideas we often get surrounded by friends, sipping on cocktails on New Year’s Eve, suddenly don’t seem as appealing by the middle of January when the alarm goes off at 4:30 am so you can go run 20 miles and be home and freshly showered before most of the people in your time zone have brewed their first coffee.  I always say I’m invincible on the couch with a glass of wine; not always so much the next morning suffering through a tempo run.

Are you ready to make a rock solid, quality commitment to see this through? Having a fairly good sense of what your commitment is going to cost you can go a long way. You need to look at your decision as entering into a non-negotiable contract with yourself. Identify your motivation. Commit to it. Stay with it. Live it.
This is not an event.  This is a lifestyle change and if you are prepared for it, you’ll find it so much easier to adapt to the new challenges it will throw at you. You don’t put in the work because you feel like it every time. You stick with it because you made a choice.

So you’ve decided that this is something you want to achieve, but there is that nagging question: Am I ready for this?

After my half marathon in June last year I really wanted to progress to something more challenging and started toying with the idea of going for the big one. But I was worried. How do I know I’m ready?

I was following a local runner I have come to know and admire as she prepared through the brutal Florida summer heat for the Chicago Marathon. I watched her journal closely. At first I was thinking of workouts, paces, hours on the feet and building distance.  As the months went by and the weekly mileage started to pile on, a different side of the story started to emerge. There were peaks and valleys of confidence and doubt. Good days were interrupted by rough days and I saw a new aspect of the training cycle. It’s emotional. It’s psychological. And when your body is tired, you have to deal with all of this.

I’m talking about a very experienced and talented endurance runner. This was not something new for her and it was tough. Did that put me off? Not at all. In fact once I realized that I understood there was more to this than just building stamina and endurance, I felt I was ready to take on the challenge and signed up for my first marathon.

Get ready for your life to change

Run a quick check on how running and training fit into your life right now. You always hear about having a solid base of training.  This is standard and very common recommendation based on preparing your body for the demands of a lot of physical hard work. But it goes beyond that.

Having a good routine makes it easier to just tackle the day’s run as it comes along. Not only will it be easier to adapt to the steady increase in mileage and possibly more frequent run days, but you’ll be less likely to have to wrestle with thoughts of skipping a workout. Having the foundation and framework that supports your new schedule will help you more than I could possibly explain. Once you have established a routine, you are less likely to give in to temptations to skip a workout. It is really hard in the beginning, but if you can stick with it for a few weeks it makes things so much easier when you don’t have to think about if you want to go out and run; you just do it because it’s what you do now.

Make this routine a part of your life, not a chore that has to be done. The way you approach it will have a great impact on how you respond to the daily demands. You learn pretty quickly that taking on a big distance goal like a marathon takes a lot of mental energy and willpower.

It’s also going to make it easier to manage your time during training if you have a basic feel for the demands on your schedule before you officially start your training plan.
The Cost of Time

Marathon training can consume a lot of time that precious few people have readily available. Most of us simply do not have the luxury to abandon all our responsibilities in exchange for a life solely focused on our training.  Accept that there will be a trade-off.  In short, you have to make some sacrifices.

Examine your training plan and see what the peak weekly volume entails. The heaviest portion of the training cycle is usually in the last 6 weeks, excluding the final two weeks which should be tapering to allow recovery before your race. Make sure you choose a plan that is realistic. There are so many free training programs available online and they vary widely in volume. If you can only run three days a week, look for a program that accommodates this. If you can’t run six days a week now, you are unlikely to be able to do so when more is expected of you in a few months time.

Be realistic.  Those hours add up quickly and the world around you won’t stop to give you time out. You have to make time

For me, making that time that means getting up at 4:30 am. For you, it could mean skipping your time out on the couch after dinner to go for a run. Try and figure out where you are going to make the time and think carefully about what factors might threaten your plan in your day to day life. Address potential problems as soon as you spot them. Don’t wait for them to keep you from a workout, stewing in guilt.

When we think about training for a running event, it’s easy to overlook some of the other vital aspects of training. If your Friday run schedule gives you a 60 minute run, you need a whole lot more than 60 minutes in your diary. It takes time to get ready. You may need to eat something before you get going. This will vary depending on you, the type of run, duration and time of day.

You need to warm up. Set aside another 10 minutes to get your muscles and tendons primed for the day’s workout.

When you’re finished your run, you need to stretch and cool down.  Don’t forget to factor in a place for this, too.  I can guarantee you that you will not get through any training program without countless days where your body hurts. Tight hamstrings, tender tendons and stiff quads are but a few.  Your body is begging for some recovery work, too. Foam rollers are one of the more popular ways to work out knots and tightness from aching muscles. You don’t necessarily have to do this immediately after your workout, but you will need at least a couple of sessions a week to give all the aches some love.  Again, this means more time out of your day.

You aren’t just running more. Don’t be surprised to see your eating habits, tastes and even aversions to certain foods start to change.

The more time I spent working on my fitness and strength, the more I noticed my body signaling the need for tweaks in my eating habits. Small snacks more regularly through the day work for me. Some of my meal portions got smaller. I avoid certain foods before a long run.

I have to make more time to prepare snack sized portions and have them conveniently available. I prepare almost all of my meals from scratch and it takes time. As the demands on your body increase, meeting its needs are going to draw more of your attention and inevitably, the cost of time is usually involved. Plan ahead to make life as convenient as possible.

Now you’re spending more time running. You’re putting in a few more hours a week focusing on healthy eating, but by 9 pm you can barely keep your eyes open. You need more sleep.

When you’re working yourself harder physically, you are going to need more rest. There may be times you have to skip that late night movie or staying out with friends so that you can get up early the next morning. Many runners have to get that long run in on the weekend. That means you forfeit your late night on either Friday or Saturday. Of course, you can have both and pay for it the next morning.

Make sure recovery and adequate sleep are a priority. You can push yourself through a run after four hours of sleep last night. You might be able to do it again tomorrow. But it will catch up with you and it will affect your training. More importantly, lack of sleep affects your mind, leaving you open to negative thoughts and you will learn very quickly that your brain needs more training than your body does. Don’t make it harder on yourself. Get some sleep.

It’s Going to Cost You More Than a Race Entry Fee

Yes, it is expensive. Running in itself is a very affordable sport. Training for a long distance event?  Not so much.

You register for your marathon, pay the registration and sign up fees and you’re done, right?  No, not really.  In fact, far from it.

Be ready to burn through shoes at a much faster rate if you have not been doing a lot of running up to this point. That means your socks are going to wear out. Seasons will change and the clothes you wore in week one are impractical for week twelve.

You can’t run 26 miles on empty. Your body simple does not have the capacityto hold that kind of fuel in reserve for so long. Have you tried different ways of fueling? This is trial and error and what works for me might be a complete disaster for you. Experimenting with different products to top up energy on the go with combinations of gels, chews, electrolytes and sport drinks cost money. You may be lucky and have no problems ingesting anything during a run, but your body does strange things when you are on the move for lengthy periods of time and if you find a product doesn’t agree with you, it lies in the kitchen untouched and you order something else instead. My suggestion would be to see if the brand you want to try offers a trial or sample pack before you drop $25 on a case of Double Chocolate flavored Gu gels.

You get back from your first 14 mile run and try to work out why you feel so awful for the rest of the day and then learn that you were probably just dehydrated. Suddenly drinking 24 ounces of Gatorade before you set out just didn’t carry you through the way it did for a seven miler last month. Now it’s time to start searching for some form of handheld or waist fitting hydration belt so you can carry your own water with you.

There will be things you may never have needed before and suddenly you have to buy a yoga mat, a foam roller, some sports tape for that tendon that doesn’t like it when you log so many back to back runs. And all the cool kids are wearing compression socks and you want some, too.

The list goes on and each of us will have different needs and preferences, but accept that you are going to have recurring costs to support your devotion to reach your goal.  Keep that credit card handy.

Support from family and friends

Do your friends and family support your quest to pursue your goal? If they do, you are in a really good place.  Your obsession with running, moments of panic and self-doubt, need for reassurance and desire to share the excitement of your successes are going to impact the people closest to you.

Your training is going to have an effect on the time and energy you have to spend with them. Do they understand? If not, do they accept it and support you?

Your family members don’t have to understand running. Trust me, over the course of your training, they will learn a lot about it, regardless of whether they are interested or not.  You are going to talk about it.

The good news is that all they need to understand is what you are trying to achieve and what it means to you. The rest will come. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but having a network of people on board to help you through the difficult phases will be like gold to you.

Do not under estimate the value of those who love you just because they don’t know what a negative split is. My daughter hasn’t a clue what Yasso 800’s are, but she faithfully asks me every day if I had a good run and when I say yes, her face lights up because she knows I’m happy.  When I tell her it didn’t go as well as I had hoped, she has learned that I am not upset about it. I am just grateful that she thought to ask. My husband is not a runner, but he is incredibly well versed in all kinds of running jargon that didn’t make any sense to him not so long ago. He is not invested in running, but he is invested in me and he is my greatest source of encouragement, comfort and motivation. I could not possibly try to put a price on that and what it means to me.

Having some non-runners in your support group mix can actually be refreshing. Support comes in many different forms. Take whatever you can. You’ll need it.

Mind wars: Get ready for battle

Your mind is going to play games with you. I know people who have run many marathons and even longer distances. The doubts and anxiety don’t seem to disappear. You just learn to cope with them better and channel the negative energy into an attitude fuel source.

Be prepared that there are going to be mini cycles within your training cycle. You will feel great for a few weeks and then suddenly everything feels like a slog. This is normal. This does not mean you can’t achieve your goal. It does not mean you are failing in your training; it’s a sign that you are stepping up a notch in the learning experience.

Training the body is so much easier than keeping negative thoughts at bay. Our brains automatically want to hit the circuit breaker and get us to quit as soon as we are uncomfortable.

Have you ever been out for a run and it feels like everything is so hard? How can it be that you rocked the fifth consecutive run with ease just a few days ago and today something shorter and easier makes you feel like your effort level is off the charts? I have lost count of how many times that has happened. But then, occasionally something happens during that run. Something else catches my attention. My thoughts are diverted to something I’m thinking about. Or perhaps I end up running alongside another runner and chatting and I forget about the pain and it all feels easy again. What happened? Did my body recover?

Well, possibly. Maybe my body wasn’t as exhausted as I thought it was. Perhaps it was my mind that really wasn’t in the mood for this workout and a bit of distraction helped. Some of these things are a mystery. You just have to move forward, give it your best effort and move on.

The marathon training cycle is typically a fairly long one. Average plans run between 16 and 20 weeks, unless you’re already well trained off the back of another event when you start your program.

It is unreasonable to think that nothing will go wrong in four or five months. It’s just too much time for nothing to happen. You might catch a cold, there could be a family emergency or bad weather. Something is going to get in the way of a few of your workouts.  Guess what? It won’t hurt you if your training as a whole is fairly solid. Rationalizing this to yourself at the time is not so easy.  It’s amazing how you can stay in bed one morning because you just don’t feel like going out to run can be easier than having an external factor outside your control stop you from doing it. You have to learn to see the bigger picture and understand that one great run won’t make your race and one bad one won’t break it.

Preparing yourself to adapt to coping with the unexpected will serve you well. The notion of marathon training taking you down a journey of self-discovery and making you a better person sounds beautifully poetic, but it does something else. It builds character. You learn that you have a great degree of power over your attitude and the way you approach things that have no relation to running whatsoever. It will test you and you will second guess yourself, but you will push through it and realize that you are capable of so much more than you ever imagined.

Can you train for and complete a marathon? Most probably, absolutely. Yes.  Is this a good time to start? You are the best person qualified to make that decision and you will know when it’s right for you. You will never be completely sure. I sometimes think I became ready when I just committed and started to train.

My advice to you would be that when you commit to it, don’t waiver.

Throw yourself into it, and believe in yourself. You are more capable than you realize on a good day. Keep that with you on the days that don’t go quite as planned.

You will come through the other side shining. And don’t forget to enjoy the experience. Somehow when you get through it all, those tough days start to fade and move aside for a wonderful sense of achievement as you realize that what started out with the question: “Do you really think I could?” has brought you to where you are now able to say, “I did.”

 Lee Beem

Carefree Runner

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