Consider it a safe bet to take running advice from a guy who ran his first marathon the year Ronald Reagan took office, Sting was lead singer for the Police and gas cost $1.35 per gallon. In other words, I’ve been at it for a while.
Running is a primal instinct that most of us began shortly after we balanced ourselves against the coffee table. As it turns out, all runners have been at it longer than they think. It’s not complicated. At its essence, running is plodding one foot in front of the other. Yet, more than a few people have approached me over the years and claimed they were intimidated to enter a marathon. Well, let me put your minds at ease.
I’m not going to inundate you with a barrage of complex statistics and data. I won’t preach to you about how many miles-per-week to run, how often to do speed work, or whether you should incorporate hill training into your program. If you are serious, you’ve done your homework and, chances are, that’s one of the reasons you are intimidated. All the hype surrounding the marathon is enough to intimidate a competent runner with the best intentions.
Now here is the reality scoop for first-time marathoners. The first thing you should do is separate the hype from the race day experience. Start by looking up last year’s results from the race you plan to enter. Marathonguide.com has the most extensive database of marathon results I’ve found. Chances are hundreds, maybe even thousands or tens of thousands, ran the race. Then notice that all of the runners didn’t finish in under three hours. In fact, in 2010 more than one-third of the thirty-six thousand-plus finishers in the Chicago Marathon, the second largest in the nation, finished in over five hours. Not that that should be your goal pace, but it puts things into perspective.
Second, when you arrive at the starting line on race day, remind yourself that most of your fellow-marathoners are recreational runners and weekend warriors with full-time jobs, family obligations, school and so on—people just like you. Many will be nervous, all will be smiling, and when the gun goes off they will all plod one foot in front of the other. You will be in good company.
Third, adrenalin will start to build when you join the crowd of runners before the race. Look around, mingle and make small talk. If you’re an introvert, tune in your iPod, say a mantra, meditate, or just listen to the blaring music and pre-race announcements. The adrenalin rush and camaraderie with fellow-runners are those intangible factors that will propel you into the double-digit miles.
Fourth, feed off of the spectators and fans that always line the course screaming encouragement. Some fans come to cheer for a family member or friend, but many are drawn by the fascination that human beings willingly subject themselves to a 26.2-mile pounding, or just want to join the party atmosphere. Regardless their motivation, fans will be screaming and cheering all the way to the finish line. Oftentimes, a fan will scream something, or some random character will catch your attention and get you through a particular tough point in the race.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not out to trivialize the effort it takes to run a marathon. A 26.2-mile race is a grueling test of physical conditioning and mental tenacity. The one axiom that summarizes the nature of a marathon is, “Twenty miles of hope and six miles of truth.” Conditioning should get you through the first twenty miles, and the final six miles you will learn more about yourself than you had at any other time in your life. But take heart, you will have plenty of company. Training, diet and recovery are essential, but if you’ve done your work and trained, you will cross the finish line. And when you do, the trepidation you had before the race began will be gone forever. Trust me.