10 Steps To Running A Marathon—You Really Can Do It!

marathonPhotographed: By Christian Brecheis.
“I like seeing myself naked. I have abs! And, that's all thanks to running,” says Jessie Zapo. One the founders of New York-based running crew Black Roses NYC, Zapo has run five marathons since 2010, including one ultra.
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If that’s not enough motivation to sign up for a marathon, Robin Arzon, a running coach and fitness journalist, ran her first marathon in 2010 to raise money for MS. There are lots of great causes you can run for, like the leukemia and lymphoma society or breast cancer. And once you commit to raising money and tell your friends and family, you’ve got to run!
But, if a positive self-image or saving the world isn’t motivation enough, let’s break it down in cronuts. In 2012, Runner’s World/Everyday Health found that a woman burns an average of 2,880 calories while running a marathon. That’s like half a dozen cronuts!
Motivated now, but wondering how you’re possibly going to make it 26.2 miles to the finish? The truth: it’s going to be tough. But with the right preparation, you can do it! Here’s how:
Feet First
Being comfortable with what you run in starts — literally — on the ground. To make sure you’re in the right running shoes, Arzon — who knows the importance of footwear after running five marathons in five days across Utah this May — recommends getting a gait analysis. Many local running stores offer this free assessment of your stride and foot strike. Runningwarehouse.com provides one virtually. Another must have for running long-distances: breathable socks, made of a material like Nike’s Dri-Fit.
Look Good, Feel Good
You’re also comfortable when you like what you’re wearing. There’s no reason you need to look like a lycra-clad superhero, unless you want to. Look for clothing that that breathes well and doesn’t restrict movement, and don’t be afraid to wear what flatters. For Zapo that means split shorts, which allow her legs to move but also makes them look nice.
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Get Moving
Before you jump into training, take a couple months to get up to speed, advises Hal Higdon an author, coach, and longtime Runner’s World contributor. Higdon wrote the book on marathon training — it’s called Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide — and recommends taking two to three months to walk and run your way into shape, especially if you don’t have a background in running.
marathon2Photographed: By Tom Hull.
Follow A Plan
Higdon recommends starting training 18 weeks out. His website includes free, 18-week plans for all levels, from novice to elite. They’re all workweek friendly, with long runs on the weekend. You gradually increase the length of your runs to a peak of 20 miles three weeks out from the marathon. From there, you taper to arrive at the event fit and rested. It’s a model that, according to Higdon, has worked for first-time finishers and Olympic trial qualifiers.
Stick To It
On paper, 18 weeks doesn’t sound too bad. But, it can be easy give up on a cold morning before a 12-mile training run. That’s why Zapo thinks running with others is a great idea. It keeps training interesting and you hold each other accountable. To help avoid mental fatigue, incorporate cross train with spinning and yoga.
Listen To Your Body
To help with muscle tightness and fatigue, stretch regularly and use a foam roller. But, Arzon warns that if you’re experiencing any acute pain, to get checked out by a doctor immediately.
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Start Conservatively
If you’re shooting to run 10-minute miles, cover your first two to three in 11 or 12 minutes. Work up to speed as you work down your nerves and excitement. To help, Higdon suggests starting with a slower wave or falling in with a slower pace team.
Eat Early, Eat Often
As you start running longer distances, your body needs food. Use long training runs to figure out what you can handle. Arzon recommends taking in 100 calories per hour through gels, like GU, as well as electrolyte drinks, like Gatorade or coconut water.
During the marathon, use mile markers or a watch as prompts to eat and drink. Try to eat and drink every 30 to 40 minutes, or five to six miles, advises Arzon. Don’t wait until you feel hungry because once you’re on empty there’s no recovery.
Pace Yourself
Higdon has run 111 marathons, but he couldn’t finish his first two. He’d go too fast and couldn’t make it to the line. To avoid his mistake, don’t get caught up in one-on-one battles. Some kids are just really fast, as are their grandparents. “Don’t be afraid run slow if you have to,” he says.
Finish Strong
You did it! But, before you grab that cronut or six, spend a little bit of time cooling down (stretching) and refueling (water and carbohydrate and protein-rich food).
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At most marathons, you can check a small bag at the start to have waiting for you at the finish. Arzon recommends packing it with something warm to wear, because you’ll quickly start to get cold, and a pair of comfortable, open-toed shoes, because you’re going to want to get out of those sneakers. Those white Birkenstocks will have never felt so nice, even if they don’t look it.
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