how to run a marathon

Tips for Training for a Marathon

This past Sunday I ran the LA Marathon, a feat I never thought possible for myself, and one I will forever be PSYCHED about.

I wrote a blog about the experience, but I wanted to write another one for anyone who might be considering running a marathon, be it this year, next year or whenever. These are the things I learned both going into the race and on the day itself and I hope they can help you!

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1) Follow a training plan or join a group

Before I started training, the only thing I really knew about marathons was that I eventually had to run 26.2 miles. But as far as breaking it down to manageable increments, I had no idea. I didn’t want to undershoot it and leave me unprepared, or overshoot it and leave me exhausted. So, I enlisted the help of the internet and found this training plan that I followed (as well as I could) and I arrived on race day feeling very prepared.

If you are someone who has trouble getting motivated to follow a plan like this on your own, there are a ton of organizations out there that will give you a community to both encourage you and hold you accountable. If you are in the LA area, check out the LA Leggers, Students Run LA, Movement and LA Road Runners.

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2) Train hills

The LA Marathon is known for its hilly course and let me tell you: the rumors are true!  I was very grateful to have paid extra care in training with hills because I didn’t have any issue with them, but I could tell there were a bunch of runners who weren’t prepared for that element of the course and it zapped their energy.

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3) Mix up your routes

Training for a marathon is a long process. I probably did about 60 training runs, which is actually less than my training plan suggested, but was the best I could do in accordance with my schedule. After the first month or so, I had a list of routes I was familiar with and I would rotate them around. For the most part this was totally fine, but when I started having trouble with my IT Band, I read that one common cause of the tightness is running on the same side of the road too often. Since sidewalks are slanted (even if we don’t notice) we will unknowingly distribute our weight to keep ourselves balanced, which in turn can put extra strain on certain muscles. To prevent this, try to run a variety of routes and sometimes run those routes backwards, or on the opposite side of the street.

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4) Figure out your perfect training diet

There are a lot of articles out there that will tell you the “perfect” thing to eat before and after runs, and many of them contradict themselves. The reason is all of our bodies are different, and as such require different things to perform at the best of their ability. For me, I liked to eat pasta the night before a big run, a protein bar or some toast the morning of, and then a fruit smoothie with some protein powder after. I stayed away from dairy and sugar and I drank lots of water for days leading up to the run and afterward.

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5) Don’t skimp on post run care

Trust me when I say that I know the first thing you want to do after a long run is just sit on the couch. I also think it’s important to note that for the first two months of my training I did. It wasn’t until I started getting to the longer training runs that I realized that just wasn’t going to cut it. I was getting really sore and feeling worn down and frustrated. So, I did research on good post-run routines and then I stuck to them. After every run I made sure to stretch. And then I made myself a protein smoothie, drank water, took a cold shower (it’s as awful as it sounds but it seriously helps with sore muscles, I promise!) and then I relaxed on the couch. If my muscles were still sore, I iced them and took Advil.

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6) Find somewhere to put your phone

I personally do not like wearing any accessories when I run. Not even a fanny pack or those bands that strap on your arm to hold your phone. I am just so particular about the way things feel and I have never been able to find a happy medium for how tight or loose those are. SO, I wore a pair of leggings with pockets down the sides. This allowed me to keep energy gels, snacks, my phone, anything I might need during my run without having to hold them, because as I learned the hard way, anything gets heavy in your hand after an hour or so of running.

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7) Keep yourself hydrated

This was another one I learned the hard way. On my first 15-mile training run, I thought I could just go for it like I’d done on all the runs in the past, assuming that having water waiting for me at the end would be enough. It was not enough. I got so dehydrated and  I was all but convinced I was going to pass out on my walk back to my house. After that, I started planning out my runs in loops. I left a water bottle outside my front door that I would loop back to every five miles or so, and I kept energy gels in my pockets that I would take every hour and a half or so. (If you are a runner that is comfortable running with a water backpack or a water bottle this probably won’t apply to you, but it worked for me and might be something to consider.)

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8) Bring chapstick

When you are out there running for long periods of time, your lips get very dry. I constantly forgot to put on chapstick and I paid for it, both with cracked, dry lips, and sunburned lips. So, if you can, apply a bunch before your run. Also, I’d recommend bringing some with you on race day since you’re going to be out in the sun for so long. There are people who stand on the sidelines with poster boards covered in Vaseline, but I thought that was…kind of gross? It’s really a personal opinion here, if you have no qualms about germs/sweaty hands/melty Vaseline, then go ham on those poster boards. I kept some Chapstick in my pocket and took each poster I saw as a reminder to apply.

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9) Be patient

Training is a long journey. Give yourself time to improve and don’t get down on yourself if that process is slow. Just keep getting out there and keep moving forward.

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10) Listen to your body

There is a fine line between pushing yourself and hurting yourself. Aches and pains are a part of the process, but they shouldn’t all be brushed off as collateral. You know your body, so when it tells you something is wrong, pay attention.

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11) Go for it

Get pumped. Go all in. Believe you can do it and listen to the people around you who believe it too. Let that positivity fuel you. YOU CAN DO THIS!

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12) Push through the wall

In the blog I wrote about my own marathon experience, I talked about hitting the infamous “wall”. It was around mile 21 and I wholeheartedly considered quitting. My self-esteem had plummeted and my body was so tired I wanted to cry, so the thought of having to go five more miles seemed impossible. Prepare yourself for the possibility of this feeling. It is hell, but it is what makes a marathon a marathon. Take a break, breathe in and out, picture yourself at the finish line, and put encouraging words on repeat. I probably muttered, “I can do this” one hundred times after I passed the mile 21 marker, trying to muster up some inspiration from deep inside myself. And though it hurt like hell and seemed like an absolutely ridiculous idea, I started running again, and with each step I let those words sing louder than the doubt. I can do this I can do this I can do this I can do this.

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13) Be proud of yourself

Two days after I ran the marathon, I ordered myself a cake and had the bakery attach at note on top that said: “Never stop believing in yourself.”

There is no shame in being proud of yourself. There is no reason not to celebrate your own accomplishments. You are a badass and it’s most important that you know that. Once you do, you’ll be unstoppable!

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YOU. CAN. DO. THIS.

You can do anything.

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If you’d like some information on marathons happening this year, check out this article.