A lot of runners hit a wall training for their first marathon, especially when they do their first 14- or 15-mile long run. Sure, they’ve likely done 13.1 miles in a half marathon, but somehow going past that distance is a post-half marathon barrier that makes newer runners want to quit. I have two in-laws training for their first marathon, so I asked my local triathlon club and the LinkedIn Marathon Finishers Group this question- “How in the world did you break through that training barrier for your first marathon?” And you know what? The world answered back.
Roman, a software engineer from Ireland, said he used ‘pure determination’, but also made sure to never run too fast on long runs. Derek from Toronto used what I like to call the ‘planning ahead’ and ‘family bribery’ methods. He and his brother signed up for the Disney marathon almost a year out, and booked the plane tickets and hotel for their families at the same time. They knew they couldn’t back out because they’d invested so much money into it, and they got the support they needed from their families for those long training runs, because, hey, they’re going to Disney World! Wayne from the UK advocated keeping detailed notes on your training to track progress. Twan from the Netherlands, and my fellow BEAT tri club member Kathy, shared what was probably the most popular advice- get a good running mate to train with you. You’re not going to skip that 5:30AM long run if you’ve got a friend waiting out there in the cold. (Well, I might, but you probably wouldn’t.)
There was some great brain work from the folks stateside as well. Chris in Denver advocates doing core work and cross training. Bradford and Thomas, both from New York, (along with a number of other runners) advocate a focus on nutrition- you have to have a good plan in place, and practice it during your long runs. You need to eat your GUs, drink your Accelerade, and know what your body can handle and can’t. You’re doing something you’ve never done before, so you need to fuel differently than you do running a 5K.
Amy from Minnesota had one of my favorite bits of advice. She told as many friends as she could that she was training for her first marathon. Not only did that keep her from backing out, but she also found support and encouragement from all those people who were asking about her training. A cheering section is vital!
Bill, an engineer from Michigan, had what I thought was the best way to conquer the mental hurdle: “First-time marathoners should never think ahead of where they are in training. 14 is tough, if you think about the other 12 you’ll eventually have to run. Just focus on the 14 that day, and get through the miles. The next week, you’ll be ready for 15 and then 16 and so on. By the time you get ready for the real long runs, you’ll be ready for them, but the idea seems daunting when you’re just over the half marathon distance.”
Personally, my love of orange Jelly Belly sport beans- which I only allowed myself to eat on long runs- played a big role. Knowing I was going to have the delicious treat helped me get up and get going. I also bought a copy of 26.2 Marathon Stories, and only allowed myself to read the next story if I’d hit that mileage.
So what helped you break through that barrier? Leave your comments below!
Brian Lord has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal and on BBC radio, and has had his works appear in 40 different publications in the US, Canada, and Israel, although none of that had anything to do with triathlons. He is the lowest ranking board member for the Brentwood Endurance Athletic Team, Nashville, TN.