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15 Essential Tips to Pursing your First Marathon

Written by: T.J. Murphy
Posted: Wednesday, 16 January 2008
(1 vote)
In her new book, Run Your First Marathon,Grete Waitz, nine-time winner of the New York City marathon, points out one of the wonderful draws of the marathon. ďNo matter who we are,Ē she writes, ďat some point we are all first-time marathoners. All of us share that. Thatís the beauty of the race ó Olympians and all-comers share the same event.Ē

There is one vast difference between the first-time marathoner and the experienced veteran: The first-timer may think he or she can run the 26.2-mile distance but doesnít know it. When I ran my first marathon in 1989, although I had carefully prepared according to a standard marathon training plan, I didnít believe I could do it until I got beyond the 24-mile point and still felt intact. When the finish line passed beneath my feet, I could sense my brain processing a new belief and erasing an old one. I realized something deep down didnít believe I could run 26.2 miles. Finishing the Big Sur marathon had proved otherwise. It was, at that point, the most powerful experience in my life. All sorts of imagined limits began to melt away.

The problem with running 26.2 miles, all at once, is how a blinding number of small details come into play. The following 15 tips are designed to help you avoid many of the usual pitfalls that plague beginner runners making their first attempt at what is considered the classic challenge of endurance sports.

1. If you are new to running and new to the marathon, consider committing yourself to at least one year of the running lifestyle. Iíve known people who have taken up group training programs that promise to see you cross the finish line in as little as 12 weeks, despite little or no exercise background. A participant may stop smoking (for example), do the group workouts, barely survive the race (walking much of it), then, within an hour of finishing, pull out a fresh pack of smokes. Itís all over. Sports psychologist Dr. Denis Waitley has stated it takes a minimum of a year to truly ingrain a new habit, and a fitness lifestyle is worth this amount of time. So plan your marathon within the scope of the year, or at the end of it, and make being a runner a year-round project that envelopes the race.

2. Get a thorough checkup before you begin. Youíve likely heard this suggestion as often as youíve heard flight attendants talk to you about seatbelts, but itís incredibly important. Even if youíre in reasonably good shape, training for a marathon is a stressful process. Tell your doctor what you plan to do and have him or her check you out to make certain itís safe to proceed.

3. If youíre battling obesity, consult with a dietitian, a doctor and a coach. Itís great that you want to burn off a lot of weight, weight that could render severe harm to your health and well-being. However, you may need to take a cautious preliminary journey before you begin a marathon program. The stress on joints, for one thing, is a complication obesity has in regards to running. Never fear, though, because ultimately a long, smart mix of dieting and exercise can prepare your body to successfully conquer a marathon training plan and accompanying race. Check out specific coach/doctor/dietician services, like www.trismarter.com, which can give you access to thorough evaluations of your diet and can prescribe a safe path toward life as an endurance athlete.

4.Use a quality training plan. Get a good coach if you can afford it, or join a local running club and talk to the coach about your marathon goal. In fact, many running clubs organize group training plans and workouts around nearby marathons. Failing a coach, the bookstore is loaded with excellent books on the marathon. As referenced previously, Run Your First Marathon, Grete Waitzís new book (Skyhorse Publishing, $17.95) is one of the newest volumes to hit the shelves. Waitz lays out a plan that will take you from gentle run/walks to the completing the marathon distance.

5. As you begin your training, make yourself accountable. This tip is for the aspiring marathoner who has trouble with procrastination. Procrastination and marathon training do not go hand in hand. Running a marathon isnít like a final exam: You canít cram for it. Being ready for a marathon requires you to slowly, consistently and thoroughly prepare your body for the race. The week before your race should be a taper week, meaning you cut back mileage by a ton and save up energy for the race. So if you do tend toward procrastination, a coach is almost a necessity. Or a training partner with whom you meet for major workouts (like long runs). Essentially, you need to have someone expecting you to show up and get the primary training taken care of, week after week.

6. Make nutrition an integral part of your program. Six-time Hawaii Ironman World Champion Mark Allen has said he believes nutrition is the weak link when it comes to the training programs of many endurance athletes. Allen believes that intertwining intelligent training with an intelligent, nutritious diet is key not only for overall health, but also for performance. Spend time around a lot of runners, and more than once youíll hear that the reason they like running is: ďI can eat whatever I want.Ē True, marathon training can burn off the worst of junk food diets, but ultimately youíll be making a sacrifice. You donít see F15 pilots fueling their jets with moonshine. Consider your body a high-octane machine, and feed it the good stuff: plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fish make a wise start.