When I decided I wanted to run a marathon it was last October and I was only slightly enamored with the idea. Knowing that I might get serious about it, I continued to run through November and December but only put in 9-12 miles a week, maybe a little more on warmer days. By the end of December I had committed myself to the March 1st marathon and my running friend and I decided we would officialy start training January 3rd.
The only problem was that the training plan we picked out was a 16-week plan and we had nine weeks to prepare. Although you might not consider that as something that went right in the process, my point is that we found a training plan, adapted it to work for our schedules, and stuck to it. I wrote in my calendar the mileage that needed to be completed each day so that it was a constant reminder to me of what I needed to do. If I ran more or less on any given day, I would edit the mileage in my planner so I could adjust accordingly on the next run. The night before any run I would double check the weather as well as my route so that I would be prepared for what the next morning would entail. I don’t think there is any way I could have successfully completed a marathon if I just ran willy nilly leading up to the race.
It makes perfect sense that in order to get better at running you have to run. However, from past running experiences I knew there was more I needed to be doing to improve my performance and strength and I made one of the “rest” days on the training schedule a strength day instead. I did 3 sets of squats with 8-pound weights that I would curl as I lowered and shoulder press as I stood up. Each set included 12 reps. I did 3 sets, 12 reps of forward lunges holding one of the weights and would twist my core to the opposite side of whatever leg was forward, come up and switch legs for one rep. I hated those. I did lower back, triceps, abs, and other core exercises that I would vary, but each work-out was about an hour every time. I’m sure if I did this, or any other strength routine, more than once a week I would see more obvious improvements but I think even this minimal approach contributed to my strength while running.
Because we only had nine weeks to complete a 16-week training plan, I decided early on that it would go much better if I significantly reduced my alcohol intake. At first I decided to have zero alcoholic drinks which I was successful at for about two weeks. I am not a daily drinker or an excessive drinker, but I had it in my head that the less alcohol in me, the better I would run. Ultimately I ended up with one night a week that included alcohol, usually Fridays, with a 3-drink allowance and preferably the lowest calorie drink available. It helped that I have other friends who are also interested in weight loss and achieving a healthier lifestyle so we were able to check each other in social situations. Now that I am much more accustomed to consuming minimal alcohol, I think I will be able to maintain drinking less overall which is simply a healthy decision to make.
What else went right?
I got used to running in the cold. At first I wasn’t sure I could adjust, but after researching the right gear and trying out different layering combinations, I was able to find the right set of layers that worked for me in varying temperatures. I also became acutely aware of the need to hydrate on longer runs and had a fuel belt that I wore several times to make sure I was comfortable with it. Each long run became one more dress rehersal for the marathon itself.
I continually told people I was training for a marathon so that I would be accountable for that goal. I blogged about what I was doing. I read about how other people trained and ran marathons to stay motivated. I signed up for races and set running goals for after the marathon so that I would always have something more to work toward.
For my first marathon, I think I did a lot of things right. This is not to say that I didn’t have some lessons learned along the way and I’ll share those next, but I think the thing that worked best for me was simply staying excited and focused on my marathon goal.