How to Run a Marathon and Finish!

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Being prepared for any race is important. Learn how to run a marathon by following these tried and true tips for training, race day, and post race

This past Saturday, I ran a marathon (it’s been 5-8 years since my last half and full) this past weekend!  I did!  Really!  And I didn’t die… Sunday I did, but not during the race.

I’ve ran 2 marathons, and 5 half marathons!  And I wanted to share with you some of the tips I have learned over the years.  You can apply these to any runs or races.

So, lets get down to business… here are my “How to Run a Marathon Tips”… from a seasoned runner.  (I don’t really think of myself as one, but I’ve been running for over a decade so I guess I can call myself one.)

Training Tips

Find a training program that corresponds with your race day.

How to run a marathon is all in your head!  I’m telling it to you now.  So have that training schedule and stick to it… do not change one thing!  I love the race schedules from Marathon Rookie.  They are great because I only run 4 days a week, and my long runs are on Saturday, which are perfect for my schedule.  Then during the week, I never run more than 6 (for a half) or 8 (for a full) miles during the week.  That means all my runs during the week are less than 1.5 hours is is completely do-able!

Train with 2 pairs of shoes

Now, I do not remember who said this OR where I learned it.  I’m a Physical Therapist Assistant, and love to work with injuries and posture and figuring stuff out.  So I’m not sure if I learned this in school, or from one of my AWESOME therapist mentors, or the web.  The REASON is… during training, you are going to pack a lot of miles in.  Typical shoe insoles, take over 24 hours to “spring back” into position.  Since you’ll be running 4 days a week, pick a pair of “short run” shoes and a pair of “long run” shoes.  This allows the shoe insoles to be ready for you and your next run to support your feet.  Believe me… you’ll need all the support you can get! Another reason you want to train with 2 pairs of shows to train and run a marathon is so they will be worked and worn in during the race.  You DO NOT want to run a race in a new-er pair of shoes.

Another tip is to buy new shoe insoles.  If your shoes are still in good condition,but hurting your feet, new insoles can be the key.  I’ve used insoles for years to increase the miles in my shoes.

Make a goal

You can’t just have a goal to “run a marathon”.  You need a specific goal.  Setting a goal for your race gives you and your mind something to focus on.  For first time marathoners, your only goal should be to “finish”.  WHICH IS A HUGE GOAL!  Just finishing any race is a win.  Some other goals might be a finishing time (which needs to be realistic to what your training runs were).

BOTH races I had the goal to NOT WALK.  A wise man once told me (aka my brother),

“Never stop and walk during a race.  Just keep running.  It doesn’t matter how slow you run, just keep running” -Levi

This has been a great help over the years.  The few times I did stop to walk during a race, I was never able to get back into the running groove and regretted it every time.

It’s all in the head

I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but running really is in the head.  And finishing a marathon, is ALL in the head.

“Your body can do anything, it’s just your brain you have to convince” -Unknown

This is 100% true.  The biggest thing you need to train is your brain.  During training it is important to focus on that finishing line.  You can do this!

The body will do ANYTHING the brain tells it to do.

Take the training one long run at a time. Focus on just completing your long run each week.  Then, then  next week, look at what you did last week, and push yourself further.  Looking too far ahead (like running 26.2 miles when you’ve never ran more than 6) can make you nervous and be daunting.  It will make you want to quit.  Focus on your 8 mile run, then your 10, then your 16, then your 20, then the full marathon, and you will be ready for it.

Research your race

Make sure you have read everything you can find about your race.  Check out the weather on previous races.  Look at the course.  If there is a course elevation map, read that too.  Make sure there are NO SURPRISES.  I looked at a map for one of our races and there was a HUGE hill!  It was much easier to conquire when it came to race day because I knew about and mentally prepared f or it.  If that was a surprise on race day, I know it would have been difficult to finish.  If you have time, drive the race course and see where you’ll be running.

Run with a friend

Running with a friend can keep you committed and help you both out.  Out of my 7 races, I have done 1 by myself… and each race I have had a different running buddy.  Running buddies are AMAZING to keep you on top and help you on those tough run days.

If you are running a race with a buddy, you need to make a commitment to each other.  Commit that you don’t have to stick together the entire race.  This might sound harsh, but for long miles, just slowing down and walking  can be your end and you will never be able to get back running again.

In my first marathon I starting struggling at mile 16 so my uncle went on ahead because he was feeling great.  I overcame it and passed him at the 20 mile mark.  He was at the time struggling, but told me to go on ahead.  I finished the race 15 min ahead of him, and I know, in my head, if I stopped to walk, I would have never finished that race.  Those last 6 miles would have taken me over an hour to walk and I would have regretted it.  Both of us do not regret finishing the race separately.  We both felt we did our best.  If we tried to stick together. It would have been uncomfortable and hard on my body.  When running a marathon it is important to listen to your body.

Race Tips

Think Positive

Remember how I said it is “all in the head”?  It really is.  Think positive.  You can do this, you trained for this, you will finish this race.  Think positive and the brain will follow your thoughts.

“Think positive, be positive and positive things will happen” -Unknown

Expect to feel aches during the race

Your legs WILL feel like cement.  There is no question about it.  So… along the line of positive thinking this is what you tell yourself “My legs are starting to feel like cement blocks.  Yes.  I told you they would.  Great, now that we have met that goal, lets focus on this beautiful scenery”.

It is important to know a head of time your feet will kill you and your knees will probably start to hurt to.  Allow yourself to acknowledge that, then turn your thinking to something else.  Plan on aches and pains during the race, and tell your self you knew it was going to happen, then your brain will let you focus on something different.

There’s something about expecting it makes it easier to get over. It’s in the head remember?

Repeat a positive mantra

It works!  Believe me!  I have taken an iPod to listen with me most races, and NEVER use it!  My mantra is “One down, 25 more to go.  You can do this… 2 down 24 more to go, you can do this”.  I know it sounds crazy, but it has worked for me over and over again.  Even on my basic 8-10 mile runs, it works!

Focus on your arms

This is another physical therapy thing.  Your legs will always follow what your arms do.  So when your legs get tired, instead of focusing on how tired they are, focus on pumping your arms.  It’s amazing how your legs will keep moving.  The faster you pump your arms, the faster your legs will go.  Try it out!  So, by focusing on your arms and keeping them pumping will help you during the race, to keep your legs moving… even after your cement feet start to kick in.

Don’t use new clothes

This is very important!  If you want to run a marathon, you need to make sure you wear the proper clothing.  What is the proper clothing?  What ever you wore during training.  My uncle ran a marathon in a t-shirt and basket ball shorts.  Yes.. and he survived because that’s what he trained in.  Running can be a very inexpensive sport, or it can be expensive depending on what you buy and use.  On race day, just make sure you have worn clothing you have used on your long runs.  On your longest training run, try to use what you plan on running the race in.

Start the race slow

This is one of the #1 rules to running a long distance run.  START SLOW!  Don’t let the excitement of the starting line get you running faster than your usual pace, you will regret it in the end.  It’s better to start slower than your usual pace, then let your body pick it’s own pace after 1-3 miles in.

My first marathon, my Uncle and I THOUGHT we were going slow… then I heard a runner beside me tell his partner “we’re doing 8:30 min miles”.  I couldn’t believe it!  We only ever trained and ran 10 min miles and we THOUGHT we were going slower than that even!  We made sure to slow way down… then found our usual pace after the excitement of the start line.  I needed that extra energy at mile 16 and never regretted slowing down.

The excitement of the race makes you feel good and want to run faster, but at mile 10-12, you’ll be wishing you started slower.  It’s always better to pick up speed near the end of the race if you feel like you have it in you, than try to find that energy when you lost it.

Be ready for the wall

Everyone says you hit the wall at mile “21”.  For me, it was mile 16.  But, I was prepared for it.  I told myself it was going to happen, and mentally prepared for it.  That plus my mantra, helped me through it, and in 2 miles I was good as new!

Embrace the hills

Another lesson I learned in high school cross country from my brother.  Think about pumping those arms.  When running up hills, you DON’T want to focus on lengthening your stride… focus on keeping your SAME pace and shortening your stride.

Then, on the way down,  let your legs guide your speed. If it’s faster than normal, don’t hold back, that takes extra energy.  At the bottom of the hill, fall back into your usual pace.

Don’t try new race gels or drinks

My uncle learned the hard way.  He tried a new race gel and was thirsty the rest of the race.  His body was not used to it. Do research on what drinks and gels they will have during the race.  Then, you can use those during your training or pack your own with you during the race.  Make sure you are practicing with them on a few of your long runs to see how your body handles it.

Hydrate during the race

I did not carry any water or energy with me.  I just drank the water and Gatorade provided.  EVERY stop I took something!  It’s important to start hydrating at the start of the race.  I would trade off between water and Gatorade with each station.

Have fun

Last but by far the most important, have fun!  When you run a marathon or even a half it is a GREAT experience!  I remember stories from each race and have never regretted any of them.  (I have regretted not running more).  Look at the scenery.  Get to your race a day a head of time and do some of the fun tourist attractions.  Have a friend go with you.

I’m not going to lie that you will be tired and sore, but enjoy being in the experience while you are doing it.  Be prepared and plan on hitting a wall. Create and practice your mantra to get through it. If you hit a wall say I told you so then get over it.

Post Race Tips

I’ve only got one… but it is the most important thing ever!

I have tried everything from Epsom salts to 15 min ice cold bath (with ice cubes floating in it) to 15 min HOT shower and have NEVER gotten the results as this ONE tip.

Go for a run

WAIT!!! Hear me out!  I KNOW this sounds crazy!

I am not talking about a 3-5 mile run.  No, I am talking about a mile.  A very slow, very long, very painful one mile run.  You will definitely feel like you are walking and all the snails in town are winning… BUT… your body will thank you afterwards.  I promise!

In conclusion

I would like to end with a quote.  It’s at the bottom of Marathon Rookie’s training schedule and has been so powerful and gotten me through many races.

“Now if you are going to win any battle you have to do one thing.  You have to make the mind run the body.  Never let the body tell the mind what to do.  The body will always give up.  It is always tired in the morning, noon, and night.  But the body is never tired if the mind is not tired.” -George S. Patton, U.S. Army General, 1912 Olympian

Being prepared for any race is important. Learn how to run a marathon by following these tried and true tips for training, race day, and post race
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I wanna hear your story!  What race did you do?  How did it go?  Do you have any more tips?

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