Your Cheat Sheet Guide to Running a Marathon

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Running a marathon may seem impossible, horrible, and downright scary. I mean, don’t people lose toenails from running that far? And while a marathon is nothing to scoff at, anyone can do it if they’re physically and mentally prepared for it. That’s the catch. Running a marathon takes a lot of mental strength, dedication, and time. It’s not easy, but if you’re ready to jump in, it may be one of your most impressive achievements. Major bonus: You’ll feel physically amazing. Ready? Let’s go.

Step 1: Make a plan

Just like you don’t go to the gym on your first day of weight training and bust out a 200-pound deadlift, you also can’t pull on your sneakers, head out the door, and run an eight-minute mile. It takes time to adjust to a new physical activity and if you want to last longer than one month of training, you’re going to have to slow it down a bit. Choose a beginner’s marathon training guide like the ones offered by Hal Higdon, but be realistic with the expectations you set for yourself. Be honest regarding your schedule, time, and physical fitness.

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Step 2: Find your running style

When you first start running you will learn a lot about yourself. Do you like to run alone or with a running partner? Are you a morning, afternoon, or night runner? Do you like to listen to music, audio books, or talk with a friend? Find out what you need to show up every day and run without feeling like you’re being tortured. If you have trouble staying motivated, search for a running buddy who is more seasoned and even a bit faster than you. You’ll be challenged and inspired.

Step 3: Get the gear

When you’re training to run a marathon, you won’t want to be running in your basketball sneakers. Stop by a running store and have them analyze your gait and foot strike to find the perfect pair of sneakers for your body type and running style. Not only will new shoes be good on your feet and body, but there is nothing more motivating than having a new pair of shoes to break in. Check your closet and make sure you have a good pair of running shorts, pants, and plenty of layers (depending on the climate). You’ll be spending plenty of time in these clothes so skip the cotton and pay a little extra for fast drying, sweat-wicking technology.

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Step 4: Reprioritize

Running a marathon means long weekend runs and serious training throughout the week, which isn’t conducive to happy hours or drunken Friday night escapades. There will be times when you’ll have to sacrifice your social life to ensure that you’re ready for your morning run. Evaluate your priorities for the months leading up to the marathon. It will be worth it when you come home feeling smug after an early 10-miler and your hungover friends haven’t even gotten out of bed.

Step 5: Evaluate your nutrition

As you train like an athlete, you’ll also want to start eating like an athlete. You’ll be burning more calories and your appetite will increase. Don’t stuff your face with sweets, frozen pizza, and chips just because you feel like you can. When you’re training for a big event, you’ll want to eat nutrient-rich, whole foods that help your body perform. A typical marathoner’s diet is around 65% carbohydrate, 25% percent protein, and 10% fat. According to Runner’s World, you’ll want to fill up on seeds, fruits and vegetables, animal dairy products, fish, and lean meats.

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Step 6: Race day prep

If you follow a good marathon training schedule you will feel physically ready and — though nervous — mentally ready to face race day. Prepare for all the little details that have the ability to make a long, hard run even more difficult. As a rule of thumb, you won’t want to do anything out of the ordinary. Find your perfect night-before-the-race dinner and test it out by eating it the night before an early morning run to make sure it settles well. Many runners go with whole-wheat pasta and chicken, but it can vary from runner to runner. The same goes for breakfast. Experiment with power gel or energy beans to see if you like the burst of energy they provide mid-race and be sure to sip water regularly, but don’t over do it.

Step 7: Kill it

The second you start running the nerves will disappear. If you’re trying to make a certain time, stick with your pace leader or keep an eye on your watch. Be aware of your body and how it feels. If you feel sluggish then revaluate mid-run to set realistic goals. More often than not, the adrenaline and energy from other racers will have you moving faster than normal, but either way the goal is to finish the race. Regardless of your time, you’ll feel amazing and proud. There’s always next time!

Consult your doctor before you begin training for a marathon. And pay attention to any potential aches or pains your body may encounter as your train.

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